Rather than writing a how-to article on how to find the perfect dress, I’ve decided to feature some of my favorite stylish divas from Opera Diva Dress Collection who embody OPERATHLETIC’s motto, “Opera Singers are Vocal Athletes.”
These three beauties are also interested in how their health and psyche affect them on and off the stage!
OPERATHLETIC is thrilled to have Suzanne Vinnik, Founder of the Opera Diva Dress Collection, contribute to the blog! Her passion for all things opera and fashion is absolutely contagious. Ms. Vinnik interviewed three diva-licious ladies about how they navigate the dress racks to find the perfect gown for their performances, as well as how they stay healthy while on the road. Thank you, Suzanne, Jessica, Karolina & Chelsea for being a part of OPERATHLETIC!
Holistic-Gown Hoarding-Southern Belle
In addition to her lovely voice, Jessica has some of the greatest petite gowns (size 2 to 6), is an Arbonne consultant, and is pursuing training at The Academy of Healing Nutrition to become certified in integrative healing and nutrition. The program is an overall look into food energies, healing with food and herbs, and a variety of mind and body healing practices. When she finishes she’ll be able to take on clients as a Wellness Coach. This spring, she is also going to get her personal training license.
What do you look for when you are buying a gown?
Obviously it depends on the type of event. Most of the time, I find gowns when I am not searching for them. I enjoy being able to find a good deal, and a good fit on my own time. Nothing is more stressful than needing a particular type of gown and having to scour New York City for a particular idea in your head. Any time I’m in a discount store, I always check their formal sale racks. If I have a gig approaching where a Glitz & Glam gown is required, I will hit up the fashion district, or independent dress shops (usually wedding dress stores). These are the places that don’t always have a gown to fit, but a good deal will allow me to pay for alterations. There are also plenty of formals to be found buried in consignment shops (not just in NYC!).
How did you come to embrace your body?
I did not begin to fully embrace my body until sometime in my late twenties, a year or two after moving to Washington Heights. Growing up in the south with a “round asset” as a child, earned me a lot of names, and bullying (as early as 1st and 2nd grade). My mother said I used to look like a “toothpick with an olive out the back.” I remember the first time a boy told me he really liked my big, bubble butt. I was shocked. Even through adolescence, and being known as the white girl with a bootie, I still dressed to conceal it at all costs. Anything that flattered, rather than accentuated my backside. Even as a performer, I always chose concert and audition attire that hid my curves below the waist. It wasn’t until I embraced myself in the culture in uptown Manhattan, that I truly accepted my body type. No, it was not the cat calling that made me more comfortable with revealing a big butt, rather, watching how beautiful, curvy Hispanic women carried and dressed themselves. Their confidence was inspiring. Add that to a time when big butts are viewed as desirable (or as my friend Cathleen says, currency), and I came to accept, and eventually accentuate, my “greatest asset.”
Do you ever have to alter your items? Where do you go and what do you have done to them? Tell us your secrets!
I have also embraced the fact, that I cannot always buy stuff to fit off of the rack. It is OKAY to spend money on alterations. This goes for street clothes too! Down on Orchard Street is a little gem of a dress shop, with a woman with an eye for fitting women. I have trusted her with altering her own dresses, as well as bringing her outside gowns. I am also not afraid of the local dry cleaners & alterations. I was in a bind last year to have a semi-formal dress altered, and the seamstress at my dry cleaners was very skilled in her ability to deal with fitting me into a dress.
Many times I have the waist of skirts and pants taken in to fit my hips/butt to waist ratio (because no one really makes anything for a 26″ waist and a 40″ bubble butt). With short legs, I am no stranger to finding the perfect pair of jeans and knowing I’ll have to have them hemmed – I have even learned how to do this myself from my own mother. Ordering dresses blindly online, to hand me downs, to losing a lot of weight in 2006, to buying sample dresses, I have had many seamstresses take in dresses to fit my body. Having a thin torso and round butt (measurements 32″-26″-40″), I have had so many dresses taken in at the bust, the waist, and had to be let out around the butt and hips, and then always hemmed (to avoid wearing 6″ heels).
In this new phase of your life what are your goals?
I want to bring wellness to the singer community and educate singers on how to take care of and maintain a healthy instrument from a holistic perspective. My dream is to open a wellness center particularly for singers with other classically trained vocalists who understand how to heal a musical instrument, not just a body!
Since you are selling beauty from the inside out… What are your favorite products that you live by to look your best on and offstage?
Last year a friend of mine introduced me to a new product she was selling: Arbonne. I had no interest. Fast-forward to earlier this year when I became a consultant. Arbonne products changed my skin like nothing I have ever used, and I will never use anything else. Their skincare, hair care, and TRULY amazing cosmetics, have cleared up my skin, and I kid you not, I receive compliments almost daily about my skin and makeup.
Being a conscious consumer (aware of what I purchase to put in and on my body) I now make sure that the beauty products I purchase are free of parabens, phthalates, and certified vegan (no animal testing).
“A Statuesque Mezzo with a Massive, Sinfully Rich Voice”
The NEW YORK OBSERVER, put it best… Karolina is “A statuesque mezzo with a massive, sinfully rich voice.” I first encountered this Greek Goddess of Style at Mannes College of Music where she literally blew my socks off in a master class and I secretly envied her wardrobe!
What factors do you consider when designing custom clothes for auditions and concerts?
Even though the dream to expand is undeniable …so far I have only designed for myself, which means my first consideration is that the garment truly compliments my curves. I know my body well, so I recognize my “ problem ” spots, my assets, which shapes work for me or not and how to balance things out in order to create the figure I like on me. Then there is the issue of fabric in terms of travel. A gown or cocktail dress that is beautiful, but creases very easily and requires 40 minutes of steam to get back in shape is useless for an opera singer!
Another important element is uniqueness. Since I am designing and having it custom made, I can indulge in putting my mark on it and not looking like a bridesmaid from the rack. I personally love vintage fashion inspired looks, so that usually comes through in the design. Last but not least … Color! Not so much for concerts, but for auditions, for me this is imperative. We often wonder how boring it must be for an audition panel to sit through and listen to so many singers per day, but what about the visual aspects? I am certain people who hear auditions get sick of the little black dress and more to the point if you wear something un-original, you make it even harder for them to remember you. I love entering an audition room and immediately getting a compliment on the color of my dress!
Where do you shop or have items created?
I consider myself very lucky to live at a time when there are so many brands and shops for plus size people, so I fortunately can get a lot of great items online. That is such a convenience especially since I am not a fan of hectic, in-store shopping. I especially love ‘’ simplyBe ” a UK online store. However, when it comes to gowns the options are more limited for me because even though there are plenty of nice plus size gowns, to find one that is also made with a 6’1″ tall woman in mind is extremely hard. And then the two to three gowns that fit both these criteria end up being worn by every single tall and plus size opera singer around, which makes it not ideal.
That pushed me to create my own clothes. I have only worked with Jenny Couture in NY so far and loved it! I have a very clear idea of what I want and can design it, but I can’t sew to save my life, so it is great to have someone like Jenny who does couture and designs, to not only lend her expertise but also to be happy to work with my designs. It is co-creating in a way.
How did you find Jenny Couture? Can you provide contact details?
I was so very lucky! I found out about Jenny through a basic yelp search. She had great reviews from users who looked rather stylish, so I made an appointment mainly to look around. I loved the pieces I saw in her studio, so that was that. I believe that her website is still under construction, but her phone number is +1 (212) 997 4102.
Where do you find fabrics?
That’s another thing that Jenny does for me. I tell her what I am looking for in terms of “wearability” and finish and she suggests a few fabrics that would work, shows me samples, we decide and then she buys it for me. Something I figured out since I started designing my dresses back in London is that it is more economical to have the designer or seamstress buy the fabric, as they usually get discounts, because they buy from certain stores frequently and in bulk!
What is the value of making items for you?
I would say each dress runs about $500-$1000. It mainly depends on how luxurious the fabric you choose and how much of it the design requires. It’s not cheap, but it is a matter of priorities. I would rather have only a few, great quality, unique dresses that fit me beautifully (especially important for a 6’1″ plus size singer!) that I can wear for years and slowly build on that collection, than to have many cheaper dresses that don’t fit right or that everyone else is wearing. So for me it is worth the investment. But I understand that it’s not for everyone.
Where do you get your confidence as a performer? You have nerves of steel to sing your repertoire!
To be fair, I have not yet sung the hardest roles for my voice (The Ortruds etc.). I don’t know that I have nerves of steel, but I recently discovered that the only way for me to get through repertoire like this is sharp mental focus while staying calm and trusting my technique. Trusting that I know exactly how to get through the various difficult phrases and simply performing the technical tasks as practiced, without listening or reacting to my sound is what keeps me going.
Have you ever been insecure and how were you able to overcome it?
Most definitely, yes! Perhaps surprisingly for some, despite my size, I have always been confident in most aspects of my life that I can think of. With one exception: singing. Singing was for the many years something like a thorn for me. I was convinced that I would never manage to refine my technique and consequently would not have an operatic career. I tried very hard to change my mindset and to consciously redirect any negative thoughts into a more positive “I can and I will “ mode. Meanwhile, I also took the steps required to fix my technical issues, changed teachers and continued working really hard on my voice. So eventually the two came together: I started singing much better and getting more work, which as a result boosted my confidence and helped me get over my insecurity. It became apparent that what I was doing was indeed working out for me and that the old insecurity (as with most insecurities) was not based on true facts, but rather fear and a distorted image of how I was supposed to be, how I was supposed to sound and by when things should happen for me technically (vocally) and career-wise.
Has there been a specific moment where you knew you were over the old insecurity?
I had a pretty defining moment this past summer. I was singing some management auditions and in one of them they told me that even though they were impressed and thought I was ready for a career, because of my weight and height they didn’t think that I would get cast in the smaller starting roles that everyone has to go through before getting a big break. They were honestly very gentle and almost kind in saying this to me and kept reiterating that I shouldn’t be upset about this because they really liked my singing. My response was something along the lines of “No problem at all, I am very grateful that you are being honest and I understand your concerns. But I have faith that wonderful things are about to happen for me and truly they already have started happening, it is now palpable. I know that I will sing, so please don’t worry…I am not disappointed. You just won’t be the person who got me there and that is totally fine “. We parted ways very warmly. Then later on I remember feeling so shocked that not only this person’s “rejection” had not upset me, but that I also had the confidence to respond and make it known that there were no insecurities being triggered from this interaction. It was a pretty wonderful feeling.
What are your other hobbies besides singing and designing beautiful clothing?
I read a lot and I am very much interested in art film (with a soft spot for European films). But my big love is dancing! I enjoy Ballroom, Latin, and samba to belly dancing. It is a good way to exercise, but mainly to connect mind and body. When dancing starts, all worries are left behind.
What is your dream role?
You know that it is cruel to ask a singer to pick just one role! Even though I have already sung Azucena (Il Trovatore) and Zita (Gianni Schicchi) I cannot leave them out, because I could sing them forever and ever and be ecstatic every time. From those I haven’t performed yet, hands down…Klytaemnestra (Elektra)!
“Siren of the Sea”
“Siren of the sea”… Chelsea currently headlines exclusively on The Regal Princess line. We bonded over our love for sequins, fake hair pieces and singing a production of Carmen in a pile of dirt during our undergraduate studies at Texas Christian University.
How do you find dresses?
I’d consider myself an athletic build; I have really broad muscular shoulders, big muscular arms, a larger ribcage and a tiny waist so it is difficult to fit my body if there are straps because it pinches under the armpit area. I usually get bigger sizes and then take them in if there is something that I really like. I find that strapless dresses are easier to fit with my body type. Sleeves are always too tight on me…. The struggle is real.
Where do you get your alterations?
Mom’s Alterations in Arlington, Texas! Since we discovered this place in college, I still go there for all of my altering needs. I really do! It’s so inexpensive and she does an awesome job. On the ship a lot of the costumes are provided for the productions but if it is my personal show, I’ll bring 2-3 along with me.
What is your routine at sea?
I like to work out 6 days a week with one day to rest! There is a gym and they offer class everyday. I’m in better shape at sea! Ideally, I do 30 minutes of cardio and one hour of strength training. I’m an advocate of weight lifting. Many singers shy away from it because they think it will make you tense but if you breathe correctly while doing weights it actually makes you stronger and improves your singing! I think I am a better singer because I’m physically stronger. My support is so much better than it used to be!
How do you stay healthy at sea?
I am a Young Living distributor because I travel so much. I’m flying, staying in hotels and on the ship. These places are a breeding ground for germs. I’m getting paid to sing for a show and at sea… if you are sick there it is difficult to get better.
I have a travel diffuser that I take everywhere with me! It makes my room smell great and makes me feel more at home because it is often very lonely! There are so many wellness benefits to the oil. You can contact me via my website www.oilyhour.com to purchase and for more information on how these products have kept me medicine free since June!
As a singer what is your favorite oil product?
I love diffusing peppermint in the bathroom to open my sinuses before singing. It gets all the junk out!
There are also nutritional drinks and bars I’ll eat and drink because I have to avoid temptation of the really incredible food offered on the ship! I’ll eat my bar and stay in my room.
How many gowns do you travel with?
When I am at sea, I usually bring three gowns. I probably only need one because my other costume is provided. There are formal nights—you can’t wear the same thing twice! I usually bring nicer cocktail dresses as well that could double for my show if I need them as a back up. I ALWAYS pack my main gown in my carry on and bring a backup because you just never know what will happen at sea!
Opera Diva Dress Collection has so many talented, creative and entrepreneurial divas with unique style. I always look within the group before I go out and buy things and hope our 4,600+ members do as well. I’ve tried to make this group a place where we can support one another mentally, emotionally and financially. If we all work together and share our information, I believe we can change the arts from within and of course make some extra coins!
If you haven’t been on recently, please check out the latest items for sale, and rent. Interesting threads are provided by YOU, OUR MEMBERS! If you aren’t a member, I look forward to personally accepting you into the group!