They say that eyes are the windows to the soul but for Lisu Vega, they’re also a source of artistic inspiration. Occasionally, even a doctor’s visit can spark a vision. When the Miami-born, Venezuelan-raised fashion designer started experiencing eye pain due to stress, she wasn’t expecting to find the theme of her next collection at the ophthalmologist. But after a bright red laser flash, “The Story of the Eye” was born. For spring/summer 2016, Vega created original textiles using retinal scans and red teardrops, a tribute to one of the most challenging moments in her life.
“I was working for three months, day and night, to prepare for my first show at New York Fashion Week in 2014,” says Vega. “When I came home, I used art as a relief. If you feel emotion, just paint it.”
Even with an insanely busy schedule, the self-described “designer mama” shows no signs of slowing down. Since her Miami Fashion Week debut in 2012, Vega has commanded attention for her ready-to-wear collections and exhibitions during Art Basel, many of which are inspired by colour, environmental sustainability and her indigenous roots.
“In Venezuela, everyday is sunny, so you see powerful, vibrant colours all the time. My background is Guajiro, so I love to do tunics that really flow. I like the feeling of being free, like you don’t have to worry about anything.”
Art has always been intrinsic for Vega, who began her career in experimental graphics in Maracaibo. At that time, she would often work in the streets, finding pieces of metal and using an oxidization process to transfer pigment onto paper. When she returned to her birthplace of Miami, Vega began her foray into fashion, with a focus on making her own prints and using primarily organic and upcycled textiles.
“I’ve always reused materials because I hate waste. I believe we have the potential to change the planet and I want to teach my children how they can do that,” she says. “Producing everything in the United States is challenging because it’s so expensive. You make less money but you’re happier because you’re helping the local economy.”
Working in her home studio in Miami’s Little Haiti district, Vega usually wakes up at 4 a.m. to capitalize on her early morning “creativity explosions.” She often designs with her newborn son wrapped around her and on Sundays, she paints and dances alongside her artist husband, Juan Henriquez, and their eight-year-old son.
“We’re an art family! Last year, my son asked me to collaborate, so we did a collection together,” says Vega. “I would never want to create a very commercial line because I don’t follow trends. I believe in creating my own trends.”
It’s Vega’s original style and contemporary features like cut-outs and sculptural neck pieces that set her apart from other designers in Miami. And the city is taking notice. She was recently commissioned to create a silkscreen gown for Athina Klioumi de Marturet, the wife of acclaimed composer and Miami Symphony Orchestra maestro, Eduardo Marturet. In 2014, she won a competition to become Eastern Air Lines’ head designer.
“In the ‘60s and ‘70s, flight attendant outfits were so sophisticated. The general concept was to imagine flight attendants in 2020, but I also wanted to bring back that chic vintage style.”
Even designing something as seemingly mundane as a uniform, Vega brings an expressive approach to everything she touches. From Nina Simone’s song, ‘I Put a Spell on You,’ to harrowing tales of Mexican immigrants journeying to the states, the designer pulls from emotional moments in history.
When books and songs won’t do, she opens her front door to explore Miami. Whether she’s going for coffee in Wynwood, catching an exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami or simply wandering, the city is one of her greatest sources of inspiration.
It was on one of these walks that Vega found a location in the Design District that served as the thinking grounds for ‘The Contemplation,’ her 2012 art collection about recycling, “I needed to find a special place to connect me to Miami. I visited this emblematic spot twice a week for a year to think and take photos before the demolition. With the photos, I created a collage for the textiles,” says Vega. “This spot doesn’t exist anymore, but it lives in the fabrics.”
In the ever-evolving city of Miami, it’s the visionaries who grab onto moments and eternalize them, even if they happen at a doctor’s office. If you keep your eyes open, a flash of light just might trigger a masterpiece. ■
*As seen in the Vol. 1: The Miami Issue (March 2016)