Matija Vuica – “WORK, WORK, PERSISTENCE, FAITH …” Croatia Taking On The World Of Fashion


Couture fashion hand made in Croatia
Photo: Matija Vuica collection

Matija Vuica

Matija Vuica: designer, singer, couture dresses as well as theatre costume designer – originally from Metkovic, Croatia, she has been living in Zagreb, since 1978. Her singing career started in 1981 with a group called TROTAKT PROJEKT. Alternative new wave rock sound alongside with a unique image, classified them as a cult band of the 80’s. Later on, the group changes its name to GRACIA, whose lead performers are Matija Vuica and Jurica Popovic. Simultaneously with her singing career, her fashion designer career took off and her first collection was presented in 1981. In the 90’s her love for fashion that mirrors pride, excellence and living magic transforms into a professional career. These are the years that established her as a creator of unique evening gowns and since then her exquisite, couture creations have firmly taken her into all occasions’ dresses including stunning, world-leading wedding dresses and breath-taking special events couture dresses. For the past couple of years Vuica’s creations started taking on the world – far beyond Croatia, the latest being 2019 Oscars in Los Angeles. I have spoken with Matija Vuica in Zagreb in June 2019 and here is that interview, out which come principles that should guide all in any walk of life they choose to tread.

What role do fantasy or imagination and dreaming play in your work?

Fantasy or imagination and dreams are a spiritual exercise that is an integral part of each or all of the set goals in life or of every creative process. To imagine on a “large scale” about some idea is not child’s play but truly a part of the plan for a goal. Intuition guides me in everything I do and I allow it to be the leader in my creative process, although my intuition has been nourished by my imagination, dreaming and desires over a long period of time, but above anything else by love towards fashion or the expression of fashion. That’s why it’s easy for me to allow the creative process to flow without calculation.

A Matija Vuica creation

You recently said that everything has to be unique, that there is no duplication or run off. So, your creations are couture dresses. Your comment on this please.

From the very beginning I enjoyed playing, always creating new solutions that are different from previous ones. I’ve never done a series of same models simply because that was boring to me. Croatia is a small country and I knew that in the segment of the evening fashion there was a need for dresses that were unseen before, unique, and on that I based my brand. And that was my trademark since the beginning, which I have never strayed from even though I perhaps could have more easily made more profits if at the beginning I opted for some simpler creations. Hence, the reason why I will not do run offs or duplicates, I would like every woman to have a unique dress that’s hand made.

In your opinion, how important is uniqueness to a woman, or to a man for that matter?

As a matter of priority, a woman dresses to be appealing to other women, that is, so she can receive compliments for her dress from an another woman. That’s why a woman wants to feel powerful, appealing and sexy on special occasions, of course. To show respect for the event one is attending is a most important thing and that respect is demonstrated through dressing, through presentation of one self.

Matija Vuica with some of her bride’s gowns
Photo:Ina Vukic

Each dress you produce has its own personal state of being. How do you manage to achieve this and what goes through your thoughts when creating dresses?

Every artist gives his identity, his personality, to his works; a painter to his painting, a sculptor to his sculpture, a musician to his musical notes, and I give my elation, my love, I bring into my creation every atom of my energy and the adrenaline, that elation carries me, my identity carries me when I create that dress. Because I put together, I keep joining pieces of lace on a mannequin for as long as it takes, until I am fully satisfied that it is what I imagined it to be. That’s why my dresses are recognisable and different from the very start. And what is really important they cannot be copied, because I bring my identity, my personality into them and that is impossible to copy. That is exactly like painting with fabric.

Matija Vuica: reality and dreams are a part of everday life
Photo: Ina Vukic

If we say that you create dresses in a space that’s between reality and dreaming, what would your answer be?

Reality and dreams are a part of everyday life, sometimes dreams are more real than reality and both point out to one’s interior and exterior, which when balanced or when doors are open in both directions, everything functions in the best of ways. Of course, there is a need to work hard on all that, to develop, to invest physical and spiritual energy, to give the last atom of energy so that the interspace you speak of is always fluid or flows.

A Matija Vuica creation
Photo: Matija Vuica collection

To what do you attribute your great success in women’s fashion scene the most?

With work, work, persistence, faith in myself and even a tiny grain of talent the results come. Many talents are lost because they are not recognised or too little work is invested in order for them to become fruitful. I have the fortune to be a workaholic by nature, so work to me is really a hobby. And I did not need to calculate, not at any time, and then the cosmos simply recognises that and provides returns. It feels as if I joined myself to the cosmos, to heaven, through an invisible pipe and I give all of myself to it, I send everything up there and then it comes back to be at the moment when it s recognised. And so, if everyone does the same, all such investments are rewarded. One must always be thankful, I have my own prayer of gratitude without which I do not leave my house in the mornings and that prayer is thankfulness for everything I do, for being given the opportunity to do what I do, thankfulness for al the people who work and collaborate with me, thankfulness for all the ideas and projects that come to my mind, thankfulness for love and, finally, thankfulness for everything I have. And when I come out of my house with that payer I am not afraid of anything and all the doors are open. The common term for all that is: go positively through life.

A Matija Vuica creation
Photo: Matija Vuica collection

At this year’s Oscars three of your dresses were worn on the Red Carpet. Who were the women who wore your creations, what does such success mean to you, in what words would you describe the path to this great success on the world’s scene of high fashion?

Something wonderful happened to me on Hollywood’s Red Carpet and that is that two Channel 5 (KTLA TV) Anchors, reporting for television from the Red Carpet wore my dresses, presented them on live TV in the best of lights and spoke of my name, and that meant the most to me as this was the first appearance ever of a Croatian design on the Hollywood Red Carpet. The TV Anchors were Megan Henderson and Megan Telles. And the third woman who wore my dress on that Red Carpet was actress Annalynn McCord. Everything we spoke about here in this interview resulted in the Oscars event. That means, work, devotion to our work, positive energy, all that with a grain of luck and cosmos’ blessing we spoke of resulted in this crescendo. Actually, I’m lucky that my current assistant Zvona Vuckovic simply sent photos of my creations to some people in Los Angeles t literally make me accessible to them, and that was recognised by Ivan Bitton. Even before the Oscars, last year, my dresses were featured in various events abroad by Carmen Electra, Laverne Cox, Rumer Willis and others, and that was like some first test for me for the American podium of high fashion. Now I’m continuing on that path and who knows what surprises await me in the future.

Annalynn McCord in Matija Vuica dress
Oscars 2019


MeganHenderson in Matija Vuica dress
Oscars 2019

Megan Telles in Matija Vuica dress
Oscars 2019

As in all things so too in fashion one needs to have firm beliefs, solid goals. What are yours?

Always the one and only and the most important thing is to work with honesty at what I do, with full energy, and the goals comes on their own. Goals are paths that are realised with such approach, they appear all by themselves and come to fruition. A lot of small goals lead to a big one. I have come to the places about which I once dreamt, and now I want to be accessible to different parts of the world, not because of some wealth accumulation or to sell huge numbers of dresses, because that is impossible to achieve with the type of production I am in, but because of personal satisfaction and confirmation to me personally that these dresses of mine do have a place in the world.

A Matija Vuica creation
Photo: Matija Vuica collection

Early July this year, Alenka Bonic is opening an Artelier at hotel Shraton on the Park in Sydney, Australia, where Charles Billich’s works of art and your dresses will be offered to the public. What does this mean for you? What does this mean for Croatia itself or its name in the world?

That will be the crown of all the small successes that have so far aligned with each other to lead to that event. I could not even imagine that appearing at the Oscars would attract the attention of people from different parts of the world, and when Alenka Bonic called me, and when soon after our first conversation she flew to Zagreb to meet me and to tell me of her ideas I was absolutely delighted. First of all, with her as a person with an open heart and sincerity and with her idea to open an Artelier where my unique dresses would be exhibited and sold alongside Charles Billich’s works of art. This is that peak, the top heights where art and fashion meet together. The idea was gladly approved of by Charles Billich and his wife Christa and this is just the beginning of a wonderful collaboration. It’s sad, I must say, that there is no office or institution in Croatia that would keep abreast of individual successes of Croatians in the world and especially not in fashion, one doesn’t come across any support of note and individuals like myself are left to themselves. To me personally it means that it becomes known that I come from a small country called Croatia and an even a smaller Metkovic, and that I can proudly say that I would encourage other attempts to make an impact outside of Croatia’s borders. Because the brand of a nation lies with prominent “jewels” individuals like myself create for the world; they and their ceativity and efforts also make their country of origin recognisable. Today, Croatia is most recognisable by its tourism industry and some successful business industry but fashion is also that through which we can become widely recognisable – after all, half of the world’s population is female and their influence on branding is significant especially if we add to their numbers the influence they have on attitudes and choices male population, their friends and partners in life, have.

Matija Vuica in her creative space in Zagreb
Photo: Ina Vukic

How important is it to you that through your highly appealing and delightful fashion creations you are also recognised in the world as being Croatian?

That is very important to me and I cannot separate that from my creations. I would love the most to include that in my logo as in, for example, “Matija Vuica Croatia” so that the name of my country, Croatia, is spoken every time my logo is read out or pronounced.

Where do you see yourself and your creations in ten years?

I do not like or want to know that because I simply like for life to surprise me. I want to participate in the creation of the future but not to outline it in advance. I will just imagine it into reality as I go along.

Interview by Ina Vukic

2019 School Graduation ceremonies
Matija Vujica’s delightful creations saw two young ladies
with Down Syndrome shine – absolutely!
Photo: Screenshot



A Matija Vuica creation
Photo: Matija Vuica collection



A Matija Vuica creation
Photo: Matija Vuica collection

Croatian Diasporan Voice Presents Lifetime Achievement Award To Charles Billich

Awarding Lifetime Achievement to Charles Billich
Croatian Diasporan Voice
From left: Branko Miletic, Anne Dujmovic, Ina Vukic,
Alenka Bonic, Charles Billich, John Ovcaric
Mary Suminga, Valentin Perkovic

Recognising the dedication from the Croatian diaspora to the nation building of the independent and democratic Croatia, to the well being of Croatian people wherever they may be, has been a tireless, selfless pursuit of many people of Croatian descent living across the world, outside Croatia, for several decades. Recognising and awarding that dedication has been a goal of the Croatian Diasporan Voice association to which I proudly belong. On Saturday 9th December 2017, in the company of many distinguished guests from the Australian community, the worldwide renowned artist and humanitarian, Charles Billich, became the first inductee of that Hall of Fame dedicated to Croatians who have and who excel in their tireless dedication to the prosperity and well being of the Croatian homeland and Croatian people. An annual event for this Award is planned.

Lifetime Achievement Award
for helping Croatia from the diaspora

On the night of the Award presentation to Charles Billich in Sydney, Australia, the Member of Croatian Parliament for the Diaspora, General Zeljko Glasnovic, arrived to the ceremony via Skype from Zagreb, Croatia with the words that included:

“… independent Croatia was created in sweat and blood …Charles Billich is a part of that birth, of the rebirth of Croatian freedom. He is a great ambassador of Croatia, and I’m overwhelmed to be here at this commemoration to him … follow Charles’ example, he is got this, he has led by example and Croatia is one of them… Stay true, follow the course, and don’t stray from dimension – never quit. I wish you all the best, Merry Christmas and may the birth of Christ come to you with the best, thank you all …”

General Zeljko Glasnovic
Member of Croatian Parliament for the Diaspora

At the moment of the Award presentation to Charles Billich, John Ovcaric, Vice-president of the Croatian Diasporan Voice said that “this Award represents Lady Liberty, who we affectionately call Jelena, after Jelena Zrinski, the last of Croatian royal family and she represents the Croatian people and their defense of Europe from invading (Ottoman) forces and we feel that it’s a very apt figure and one that represents also the determination of Croatians such as Charles who worked tirelessly in this country to represent Australia first and foremost but also to represent our culture. Charles it is our great pleasure to present this to you as the first inductee of the Croatian Diasporan Voice Hall of Fame.”

Charles Billich and Christa Billich
Walking into the Hilton Sydney
Award night hall
9 December 2017

Charles Billich was visibly deeply touched by the honour bestowed on him, saying:

It’s like getting an Oscar for something that you’ve done, but this is better! Thank you so much. I am deeply touched and I declare I’m undeserving of this fuss, but yes, over time I have painted a few paintings that have skimmed over the history of Croatia so the highlights and symbolism of Croatia are thus recorded and it’s my intention to keep on doing it at an accelerated pace because I don’t want time to run out. My schedule is very, very busy and I have to rationalise my time from now on. Every moment counts and through hard work, working many hours a day, seven days a week, I achieve a modicum, a little fraction of what I would like to achieve, but even that little is holy to me. Thank you!

Charles Billich (L) John Ovcaric (R)

Reflecting upon his own past when he was persecuted by the former Yugoslav communist regime and upon this Award, Charles Billich said:

“Thank you the brotherhood of Croatians. I said that word, brotherhood, because I believe in that word perhaps a little bit more than in the word nationality, you know, we are brothers and sisters.

We are within parameters of this definition brothers and sisters with all the other tribes in the world. But in this, to each his own, I am very proud to be part of the Croatian tribe.

Ina Vukic (L) Charles Billich (C) Nila Oreb (R)

Tonight is a great surprise, I was not expecting it. You know, such a tribute to me, my work has just started …thanks to the inspiration of my new country Australia and my old country Croatia – beautiful people who populate both countries…

I have a body of work coming up in the future, which may disappoint you but will stun you. So bear with me for a little while longer and you will see something decent and professional coming out of my brushes. One of the things I want to do in the near future is a monument to another pioneer of Croatian and global links – Marco Polo – he is a super hero in Croatia, he is a superman, he is the one who established contacts with the Far East, particularly China, Mongolia and virtually put Croatia on the map – for all times. I’m working on a great monument to Marco Polo, which will be erected in Korcula, which is a Croatian island, the island where Marco Polo was actually born.

Charles Billich (L) Valentin Perkovic (R)

I compare tonight and I compare my joy that I feel tonight with the joy I felt a long time ago, since a century ago it seems, but it was only maybe 1952, I think, when something really unexpected happened like tonight was unexpected and which filled me with great joy. Now, if that’s possible in a communist country where I was in prison.

But because of prisons being so overpopulated and crowded finally the communist Yugoslav government, which dominated over communist republics Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia the government had to do something in order to satisfy the insistence of the International Red Cross to do something about the status of the persecutions of Croatians. I was in the prison one day and I was serving a ten-year sentence for political reasons and sedition when there was some announcement. And it was announced that because of the overcrowding of the prisons there would be an amnesty and the amnesty actually included some half of the jail population.

And guess what! I was one of them! I can’t tell you the joy I felt at that moment, I was orgasmic, it was really something I can’t describe, I couldn’t sleep for two days after that – and this night is like that – thank you very much. Thank you to all the Croatians and Australians. Za Dom Spremni! (For Home Ready!) We are ready to defend our home.”

To capture in this article the character, the mood and the significance of this event here are other speeches of note delivered at this event.

John Ovcaric, Croatian Diasporan Voice/ Glas hrvatske dijaspore:

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen
Dobra večer Dame i Gospodo

On behalf of the Croatian Diasporan Voice,and the entire Australian Croatian community I wish to welcome you all to this gala event in honour of Charles Billich, recognising his lifetime achievements and contributions not only to Australia, but his community and his beloved country of birth Croatia.
My name is John Ovcaric, founder and vice-president of “The Croatian Diasporan Voice” and it is my sincerest honour and privilege to serve this evening as your master of ceremonies.

Before we commence with an evening that we all hope will leave lasting impressions and memories with you all, I would ask that we all take a moment to first recognise not only the man we are here to celebrate but also his dedicated wife.

Ladies and gentlemen, could I ask you all to stand and join me in a round of applause for Charles and Christa Billich.
This evening has played heavy on the hearts and minds of many for some time now.

Croatian Diasporan Voice as an association was formed not only to represent the interests of Australian Croatians, who now number in the vicinity of some 200,000, but also to preserve our cultural heritage.

Women of Croatian Diasporan Voice:
From left: Mary Suminga, Anne Dujmovic, Ina Vukic, Alenka Bonic

As Australians we embrace all that it is to be Australian, Australia gave us the rights and opportunities that our forefathers left their place of birth to seek in order to provide their children that which they yearned for but could not have.
The story of Charles is no less dramatic.

Having suffered as a young student the repercussions of speaking out against tyranny under a communist regime
And having any resemblance of freedom taken from him, Charles also looked beyond the beauty of his homeland seeking afar a place where, as an individual and artist, his artistic abilities and beliefs could merge and express themselves.

Australia provided him those inalienable rights, and in return he reciprocated by adding to its unique and rich cultural beauty through his work.
Charles, this evening a number of your friends, admirers and those privileged to be custodians of one of those works are here to celebrate with and honour you
Yet so many more, that you don’t know this evening also celebrate with us.

Each of us here this evening will at some point stop and reflect on a work you have created, a work they may have, seen adorning a place
All too often we forget that a digital world can never replace the expressions of an artisan who not only through the subject, but through its creation conveys emotions that existed as each brush stoke was executed.

When you create Charles, each of these brush strokes captures a small moment in time, they capture the essence that is you, and it is the colour, texture and their interplay together that capture the hearts and minds of those that admire.

These moments pass for you as you transition from one creation to the next, but for us, you are most certainly thought of and admired somewhere, every minute, of every day as we focus on each and every stroke, a moment captured in eternity, a moment that inspires and delights.
After this evening comes to an end, and you return to your studio and your easel, we sincerely hope that the memories of this evening in some small way inspire you, that as you create you know that the beauty you bestow upon us all will live forever and that this brings a smile to your face in return.

David Jakic, President of Australian Croatian Chamber of Commerce NSW:

David Jakic
President, Australian-Croatian Chamber of Commerce NSW

Dear friends, colleagues and guests,

Firstly, I would like to congratulate the team at the Croatian Diasporan Voice for creating such a sensational event.
John, Valentin, Branko, Ina, Anne, Mary and Alenka you have done such an amazing job in helping us create tonight and it’s an honor that I am able to stand here and express my appreciation for this memorable occasion.

To be honest… for my first official speech as president I’m nervous… it had to be at a night that’s appreciating such a inspirational person Mr Charles Billich.

Now for people that might be wondering why I’m slightly nervous, I just want to take this moment to recap on some of Charles achievements…
• Paintings for the United Nations in New York
• 2 Paintings at the Vatican
• The official artist for the Olympic games of Sydney 2000, Beijing, Athens and Sotchi
• The key to the city of Atlanta
• Charles art is on the Nobel peace prize certificate
• For me, my favorite… He purchased a beautiful Bentley.

Now I know I can go on much more but I’m sure you get the point…
But then, it doesn’t end there… not only did achieve so much, he is a man with an enormous heart.
This is a man who has not had it easy;
• He was imprisoned overseas for standing up for what he believed in a communist regime
• As they did, he came here on a boat which I’m sure wasn’t the ‘ovation of the seas’
• He helped Europeans coming to Australia find work
Again, I could go on but the one I love… he was once a taxi driver… so much respect.
Mr Charles Billich, You are an inspiration to so many and your work has brought so much happiness to people around the world.

Australia may claim you as their own; Croatia theirs… but its only fair to say that both countries should be proud to call you their son as you are an international treasure.
Please raise your glasses…”

Ina Vukic, Croatian Diasporan Voice:

The only embroidery of friendship is fidelity”, Antun Starcevic, 19th century politician and writer referred to as the father of the Croatian homeland.
It is both an honour and a pleasure to be with you all here tonight when we celebrate excellence and outstanding dedication and devotion from the Croatian diaspora to the advancement of our Croatian homeland. This award tonight is also given in recognition of Charles Billich’s enduring vision for a free and democratic Croatia and his enormous contributions to the defence and promotion of truth and Croatian name throughout the world – not to mention his outstanding humanitarian generosity.

Croatia! The cradle of Croatian peoples’ existence; the mother of our history; the father of our freedom fighting spirit; the grandmother of legend and the great grandmother of tradition; the grandfather of Za Dom Spremni (For Home Ready) and the great grandfather of patriotic love and resolve.
Patriotism and nation building has been the Croatian diaspora’s artery of existence.

Patriotism means a love of country.

Yet, that on its own – says very little.

We can, after all, love many things in different ways, but to love something always means to have certain devotion, and to care for that object of love in a special, thrilling way.

For a Croatian migrant to love and succeed in the new, as well as the original homeland, translates into that special love, that special devotion.
Some people express that special love through momentous actions that touch a whole nation.

And Charles has been and is right up there with them!

Many today regard patriotism with scepticism.

In a globalised world, multiple identities, nationalities and allegiances are commonplace.
Many would say that it would be better for us simply to celebrate our common humanity, to become citizens of the world – and not worry about our country of origin as well as the one we have built our lives in, being special.

I disagree. I don’t believe that we should abandon patriotism because patriotism is to countries what self-respect is to individuals:
You need it as a condition of collective self-improvement.

The unspeakable and brutal losses of family lives, the oppression and persecution by the communist regime of former Yugoslavia are all too well known to the young Charles Billich, way back then.

But Australia has been a balm that only a homeland can provide; another homeland that gives you freedom to nurture your dreams for the country of you birth and helps you work towards realising them.

Over almost three past decades I have had the privilege and utter delight in being touched by the selfless stewardship championed by Charles for a collective wellbeing of the Croatian people in the homeland and those in the diaspora.

Charles Billich has consistently and steadfastly delivered not only to Australia but also to Croatia on actions that are so important to our collective wellbeing.
Both countries have benefited richly from the talented and dedicated Charles Billich over several decades.

16 January 1992 was a day when Australia became among the first non-European countries to recognise Croatia as an independent and sovereign state.
Here, in my hands I hold the testimonial of that very day when we celebrated that momentous occasion of which Charles was a significant part!
I am gifting this publication to you Charles as one of the many beacons for Croatian freedom you have held in your hands throughout many years!
I salute you, Charles Billich!

Portrait of late General Praljak.
John Ovcaric (L) Charles Billich (R)

To honour the unwavering determination in defending the Croatian people from the brutal attacks waged in Bosnia and Herzegovina by Serbs and Bosniaks/Muslims during the 1990’s war Charles Billich unveiled on this night his portrait of the late General Praljak, who recently committed suicide in the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in response to the injustice pointing to Croats served by the tribunal. The proceeds of the sale of this portrait are intended for helping the late General’s family. May the proudest and the highest bidder for this stunning portrait do Croatia proud also!

This Award giving event for dedication to Croatia’s freedom and democracy was also organised with the memory to the 18th anniversary of the death on 10 December 1999 of Croatia’s first president dr. Franjo Tudjman! His determination for freedom inspired also the whole of the Croatian diaspora to become a major element and fighting force, alongside Croatian homeland forces and people, in achieving independence and democracy. With profound respect and fond memories Croatians in the diaspora – remember! Ina Vukic

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