Vania Romoff the person and Vania Romoff the fashion line are very similar. Pretty much one and the same, actually. There’s an air of elegance and ease when either one enters a room, whether it’s the fair-skinned, soft-spoken woman or a dreamy, floor-sweeping creation by the former. There’s a quiet yet commanding confidence in Vania, the kind that can only be the product of not having it easy. It may not seem like it, but she fought tooth and nail to get where she is today. Behind her romantic, flowy dresses and her feminine bows and flounces is a strong cocktail of blood, sweat, and tears—Vania is living proof that fashion is neither as simple nor as easy as it appears.
Vania grew up in Cebu, among the rolls of fabric in her grandmother Viring Romoff ’s atelier. “My earliest fashion memory would probably be me picking out fabrics in my grandmother’s stock room,” she recalls. She remembers one occasion clearly, when she had to dress up in a costume for school. “I think it was for World or U.N. Day, and I had to dress up as someone from Spain. I was picking out red, floral rolls of fabric, telling my grandmother what I wanted to wear.”
Her grandmother’s atelier was her second home. Vania’s grandmother is known to be the first couturier in Cebu, and Vania was always surrounded by fashion. “Every time after school I would visit, and I was always surrounded by seamstresses, my aunts getting fittings, and different rolls of fabrics.” It’s almost common sense to think that, even just from her childhood stories, Vania would eventually end up in fashion. Both her mother Virginia and older brother Anthony are in the fashion industry as well. Fashion, arguably, wasn’t just part of Vania’s upbringing—it’s in her blood.
Despite her obvious career trajectory, fashion wasn’t always in the cards for Vania. “Actually, my family didn’t really push me to be a designer,” she says. Her mother wanted her to take a more “traditional” route, and Vania ended up graduating with a business degree. But even though her first degree helps her do business today, fashion really is Vania’s strong suit. “I didn’t know how to do anything better,” she says, recalling her decision to become a designer. “I was mediocre at everything else, and I felt like I had a good hand at designing. It was the one thing I knew how to do pretty well.”
It all sounds like the perfect formula—coming from a fashion family, being naturally good at designing—but even then, early on, Vania did not have it easy. Vania’s mother didn’t want her to move to Manila to take up fashion—she is, after all, the youngest. And even though she managed to broker a trade—finishing her business degree in exchange for being able to pursue what she wanted after—this did not include the montage of inspired moments, working hard, and meeting new people. “It was kind of scary because I was always the outsider; I didn’t speak much Tagalog, and I left my whole family in Cebu.” She had a few cousins in Manila, but no immediate family. Vania was alone and had a lot to prove.
Vania forged on and attended the School of Fashion and the Arts (SoFA). But even then, it was an uphill battle. Despite coming from a family known for fashion in Cebu, Vania had to slowly introduce herself to the world of Manila. “I knew the contemporaries of my brother, but I would have to say, ‘Hi, I’m Vania, I’m from Cebu.” Slow and steady wins the race, so they say, and it sure seemed that way, the finish line quite a ways off.
Leaps and bounds
Vania started off joining bazaars, with a label that didn’t bear her name. About a year after graduating from SoFA, Vania made a ballsy move and opened her own boutique—and closed up shop soon after. “I only had one or two clients a month, and I had so many seamstresses,” she said. It wasn’t just about designing any more, it was about putting up a business. “In a nutshell, that didn’t fly.” But she realized one crucial thing: that you don’t always get everything you want in an instant. Things turned around, again slowly and steadily. “It took me a few more years to really be able to get that rhythm, to get that steady level of clients.” She worked from home, converted her living room into a studio, set-up production in her second bedroom. “And it kind of took off from there,” she says.
Despite getting her groove back, Vania had another thing to do: step out of her family’s shadow. Her brother Anthony was a mentor to Vania, providing critical yet crucial advice. But, as with any student, it’s hard not to follow in the footsteps of your teacher. “In many ways, I would say that my work is rooted in his aesthetic,” Vania admits. But as she progressed, Vania grew into her own designer. When designing, the first thing she asks herself is, “Will I wear that? Does it look good on me, or will I look like a crazy person?” The ultimate goal of Vania’s designs, apart from being consistent and upholding a certain standard and aesthetic, is to inspire the wearer and make them feel good. There is, of course, her standard description of her work being “feminine, romantic, clean, and elegant,” she says, but her design sense—the one she’s grown into and is nobody else’s at this point—is and will always be rooted in feeling good.
The growth and coming into her own design sensibilities is marked by Vania’s newest collection, a series of both pre-order and ready-to-wear garments. Working in close partnership with Ayala Land Premier, Vania will debut the pieces at the company’s newest luxury living space, Park Central Towers, built right in the heart of Makati.* The partnership came about due to a mutual respect between Ayala Land Premier and Vania herself, whose design sensibilities seem to meet eye-to-eye. Both Ayala Land Premier and Vania have consistently created products that are sophisticated, timeless, and ultimately classic.
Apart from growing into her own aesthetics and values, Vania is growing into something else these days: being a mother. She finds herself having to find a groove again, this time balancing her work with her daughter Emilia Simone, who is just a little over a year old and learning how to walk. Vania’s innate love for fashion has fueled her determination up until this point, but her newfound maternal love is unlike any other. When Vania talks about her work, she is confident with the slightest bit of firmness; but when she talks about her daughter, her voice is a little bit softer, more caring, with a hint of that crack that comes only with the subject of something so precious. “It’s a kind of love that you can’t describe,” she says.
Of course, raising her firstborn comes with the growing pains. Building a brand and raising a baby are two very different things, but Vania is using the one thing she’s mastered over the years: learning to figure out things on her own. When thinking about what the biggest challenge of motherhood is, Vania says: “It’s that I’ve never been one.” And in true Vania fashion, she’s learning along the way. “I realized there’s no right way to do it…there’s no proper handbook.” It’s a lot of trial and error, but if Vania’s journey up to this point has taught her anything, it’s that she works hard until she figures it out.
Nothing worth having or doing ever comes easy, so they say. It might be slow to the point where you think you’re never going to get there, but if you stay consistent, you will, without a doubt, win the race. If there’s anything Vania has proven, it’s that good things don’t come to those who wait, but to those who persevere. – Neal P. Corpus.
Produced by Martin Yambao
Photography by BJ Pascual
Styled by MJ Benitez
Makeup by Omar Ermita
Hair by Mark Familara
Production design by Princess Barretto
Shot on location at the Ayala Land Premier Park Central Towers showflat.
Vania will debut her new collection on July 8, Saturday, at the Park Central Show Flat, Glorietta 3 Park, Ayala Center, Makati City (in front of 6750 and Makati Shangri-La).