Partially deaf designer,Lea Vrebac, is known for her symbolic collection, “Can you hear me now?!”. Through her design work she aims to remove the stigma around hearing impairment by reassuring others that they are not alone and to embrace this unique characteristic. We had the pleasure of counting Vrebac to one of the fifteen April 2021 Global Young Talents. Read further to find out how the designer has grown to cope with being death and how this has inspired her work.
1. As someone who has been wearing hearing aids since her childhood, how would you describe your journey so far? Also, can you tell us more about the social situation of the hearing impaired and the revolutionary development of hearing aids as your collection, “Can you hear me now?!“is inspired by it.?
The social situation of the hearing impaired has changed a lot though the years. At the beginning of the 16th century hearing amplifiers did not exist and people with a hearing disorder were excluded from the society and treated with less respect.The first electric hearing aid was invented in 1898 and since today a lot has changed. The hearing aids of today are so small that they are almost invisible and hearing-impaired people are treated as everyone else It all started when my parents noticed that I have problems to understand the people around me, as I am always asking them to repeat what they said. At that time I was four to five years old. We went to a lot of doctors in Croatia, as they always diagnosed a 40% hearing loss on both ears, but until today nobody knows what caused or causes my disorder. I got my first hearing at the age of six. Everyone can speak in normal volume to me as long as they look at me and I can see them and follow their lips through the conversation to make clear that I understand everything right. Reading lips was a skill that I naturally learn by myself, without realizing that I do it all the time. My fashion addresses these issues. Hearing aids can be very fashionable and unique accessories. I have been wearing them forever and want the world to realize that every hearing impaired is a normal, fashionable and loving person.
"My journey was a mix of acceptance and insecurity."
2. Every Outfit tells an unique story based on your own experiences, it takes a lot of courage to do that. What motivated you to put your story out and empower others living with the same condition?
Many people are still ashamed of their hearing aids and try to hide them as best as possible, as I did at the beginning. I know how that feels. Various everyday situations like speaking on the phone or speaking to someone in a very noisy environment are hard for the hearing impaired. But one can also focus on advantages like a very peaceful sleep without any snoring, no clock ticking or no traffic noises. I also know that it is harder for people who suffer from a hearing loss in a higher age. As a child you grow up with it and you learn faster how to deal with it. As an adult who is already used to hearing the world for so many years it is just a very weird feeling to have lost this ability. Adults always feel kind of very old when they need hearing aids, because they are often worn by older people and that is why they often don’t want to show them. This way of thinking must change. There are plenty of people suffering from hearing loss at a very young age. This is not just a higher age disorder. Whatever it is, there should be no reason to be ashamed of who you are. People need to learn to accept the things they can’t change and make the best of it. There are a lot of more things in life to worry about, but a hearing disorder shouldn’t be one of it.
3. With the bright colour palette used in the collection, can you elaborate more about it and tell us what do they represent?
The main colours of my collection are blue, red and all their different shades, which represent the two graphs of the audiogram. Red always marks the right ear and blue the left ear. This also reminds me of my hearing tests. I always got a pencil at the end of a test, where one side was blue and the other one was red. That was also the pencil they used to draw my first audiograms. In Croatia they drew it manually, because at that time they didn’t have the computer programs to do it digitally.
"The reason I printed my own audiogram on this skirt is, that this outfit kind of represents my own story and that my life shouldn’t be defined by a piece of paper."
4. Some of your looks, can transform into two looks, you also printed your own audiogram on fabric, and a special stitch, could you tell us more about the meaning of these designs?
Yes, that is the look with the long blue skirt. It can transform into two looks because there are always two sides of a hearing disorder. At first the model holds the skirt over her head, so that she can’t been seen. This is the side with the fabric I printed my own audiogram on. When you are diagnosed with hearing loss, you first only see a piece of paper with a blue and a red graph and the doctor tells you that your hearing results are lower than average. This piece of paper might change your life, you are scared at first and some people might look at you different when they hear the news. But then the model tears her skirt down and presents herself in bright and shiny colours. The audio diagram results underneath are still the same, she is the same person as before, with her bright, joyful and colourful soul, a normal human being. That is why there is a big ear on the skirt with the slogan „still human“. Additionally, the skirt has a special stitch which is shaped like sound waves. The reason I printed my own audiogram on this skirt is, that this outfit kind of represents my own story and that my life shouldn’t be defined by a piece of paper.
5. How would you describe your experience of getting the chance to work with one of the biggest hearing aid companies “SIGNIA“, which is also your sponsor of this collection?
I identified 150 possible sponsors and sent an email with my presentation and my plea to be sponsored. I got various very positive feedback and found in “Signia hearing” a main sponsor that loved the idea of combining hearing aids with fashion. They decided to sponsor a young unknown fashion student. I even became one of the faces in their campaign for their newest Styletto hearing aid. They offered me the best possibility I could only dream about. It was a very rare and amazing feeling to actually know that your hearing „disorder“ is being honored and is one of the reasons I got the chance to present my work at the Paris fashion week 2020. This experience really taught me once more that you always have to see the positive sides of something and make the best of it, instead of focusing on the negative parts and allow them to distract and control your life.
"My collections are a reflection of my nostalgia"
Discover La Vrebac full collection
Words by Lupe Baeyens