A model wearing swimsuit by AMER_ICAN x MIU, presented during Miami Swimweek.

Overcome Adversity & Change

The inspiring story of Vesna Cremona, from her years in ex-Yugoslavia to founding AMER_ICAN: fashion and purpose.

By Virginia Mayer

Updated 12:15 am EST, December 12, 2023

Published 01:03 pm EST, December 13, 2023

Photo Credits

Creative Director: Nestor Camacho
Styling & Production Assistants: Oriana Calcanno, Zechariah Singh, Luana Chanusca, Amy Ramirez, Laura Soto, Paola Novelli, Natalie Solis, Giovanna Kawamura
Model: Torian Wilson
Modeling Agency: The Walk Collective
Make-up Artist: Anna Primac
Photography: Flávio Iryoda

Vesna Cremona –creator of AMER_ICAN– walks through Murray Hill, Manhattan. She’s exactly on 34th Street and Second Avenue and we can hear the loud noises of the city that lives in almost everyone’s dreams. If there’s something absolutely real about New York City, it’s how crazy inspiring it is. So, let’s start at the beginning. When we asked her who Vesna Cremona was she got very excited:

“I had a vision coming from a background in the luxury market, branding, sales, and fine arts schooling. I thought companies should communicate with their audience in such a way as to make culture together rather than just selling to them.”

The Origins

Vesna Cremona grew up in the U.S. because her father was a diplomat of ex-Yugoslavia. She got here when she was 4 to 9 and then 15 to 20 years old. She later had a very tough immigration story. “That fight to become a citizen really ties into AMER_ICAN”, she claims. This vision or platform she had for a community started as a project and is now a creative space that communicates and has its own voice. It creates with clients and brands but also has its own voice through activations on social themes: “We all individually have the power to make a difference, together we can create impact.”

The Melting Pot

“I really think that in New York, I do feel American. My definition of AMER_ICAN is: Multicultural. Loving that feeling! Now, the American dream post-Covid-19 needs a bit of help from its community. I think we, as a community, should come together to work and help each other achieve our goals. I love that through AMER-ICAN we can get very creative with collaborations for social impact.

And yes, I do feel this is because it’s a melting pot. I love that it’s all colors and creeds and we can really learn from each other’s differences. We just need to listen. We came to a place where we’re not from and we need to listen. Really, the art of listening, wanting to hear each other, and expanding our views. The beauty of America is our individual power, which is our collective power.

There’s nowhere in the world like this melting pot. My first color memories were in Chicago. And I think it bothered my dad, that I was growing up without having strong ties to the motherland. Though, I did go back home in elementary, high school, and college, it was the same again. I really grew up in two parallel systems and my homeland felt very restricted compared to the U.S.”

Vesna’s Relation to Fashion

She worked in high-end jewelry and the luxury market. It all started with the idea that sales will move towards building a culture with the audience and not just “telling the audience your story or about the product.

Fashion is a microcosm of culture, so she started with AMER_ICAN as a project of telling larger narratives. She went to brands she knew for clothing donations for Gisele Fetterman’s Free Store, did an exhibition at A.L.C. store and a shopping event matching donations to the Free Store. She also exhibited her work at the Coterie Fashion Trade Show, got nominated by FGI (Fashion Group International) in the Collaboration category, etc.

And AMER_ICAN is now coming out with collab products as an additional medium of cultural communication for social impact.

The Idea Behind AMER_ICAN

“It started by recognizing divisions already happening in America for several years. During Covid-19, we all had the chance to slow down and kind of see the world in a new way or even ask ourselves what we wanted to do. And that’s when I had an idea to highlight the “ICAN” in AMER_ICAN. Something I always felt in the U.S., is the personal power vs. socialism’s ‘collective mindset’.

The idea was to celebrate our shared identity and our differences as a strength. Because I saw firsthand in Yugoslavia what can happen when people in power play on differences and make you start seeing an enemy in each other. The country spiraled into a gruesome civil war and no longer exists. How surreal, not to have a country of birth…

It’s a very dangerous space to occupy because we can have differences in opinion on everything, but we cannot see an enemy in each other. We cannot. Not in our family, not in our friends, not in our fellow Americans.”

How It Started...

“And that’s where I started and trademarked AMER_ICAN. This was interesting because it’s such a name that’s kind of common, but it comes from when I was growing up in the U.S., I always felt it. It’s like I had two separate parents: My parents and then the U.S. parent like a surrogate country.

When I was growing up in the U.S., I always felt that I was asked my opinion. I felt I had personal power, whereas back then in Yugoslavia, even though it was the best of what the East had to offer, you had to conform to the rules of society. I always felt constrained. Especially when everybody wore scratchy blue uniforms to public school and saluted Marshal Tito.

America always felt like a place where you’re an individual; individualism is so important. I thought that with AMER_ICAN we should bring that back, stop pointing fingers at each other, and use art as an incredibly powerful tool in creating emotions and really telling larger narratives. Also helping communities in need because everybody became in need post-Covid-19.

We were all hit, and I think this is where everybody could feel each other’s pain. I thought this was a perfect moment to launch AMER_ICAN, a creative space with a social angle. I would love to build it as a cultural communication brand and am still calling it a space because everything we produce, whether art, literature, fashion, or merchandise, will have the star on it, which stands for: We write our own stories. It’s a way to communicate. A culture communication brand”.

AMER_ICAN’s Values & Purpose

The first thing is, they feel they can make a difference. Be the difference. Secondly, to tie commerce to community and profit to purpose, focusing on social sustainability and brands that give back to the community they operate in. So, tying that profit and purpose can go hand in hand and AMER_ICAN can show how it’s done. Third, to create a culture of participation and contribution

It’s also about educating brands and raising awareness because, sometimes, brands are too focused on sales. Of course, there are bottom lines, but there is a way to incorporate the community in telling their story, not just the story about the product. The customer and audience care about social values, and they should. Purpose does not mean one cannot earn.

Tying profit to purpose is really important. And telling larger narratives and including black and brown communities that have not had exposure.”

About having overcome adversity, Vesna feels like she has the street credit to speak to anyone, anywhere. Because she went through such a difficult immigration battle that she understands what it’s like to fight for your life and basic freedoms: “Being able to connect is really important!”

AMER_ICAN x MIU Collection presented at Miami Swimweek

“It was incredible! I was introduced to Professor Nestor Camacho and when I told him about the Tolerance Poster Project, the creation of renowned artist activist Mirko Ilic (which was the first one we did together) he said: ‘This is bigger than any of us.’ I was just so impressed and inspired by his students’ necessity and need for this beautiful project of tolerance. We are now looking forward to bringing the Tolerance Poster Project to Miami!

Professor Camacho had the idea that Miami International University of Art & Design (MIU) art students produce posters on the theme of tolerance and that Fashion students produce garments: Two mediums in communication with each other. I was very inspired by Camacho’s vision and the students’ work. So, we had the work on exhibition at DK Display, in New York City, for several months.

They’re so talented and again, from so many different countries with such beautiful visions. One student did a dress and a poster of a Green Card. It was so creative. We continued with Miami Swim Week where, after working together, we realized how much we were inspired by each other, the professor, the students, and myself. So I spoke to them about what the freehand star of AMER_ICAN means, which is our logo and symbolizes: We write our own stories of the AMER_ICAN dream.”

A Clear Vision from the Start

“Professor Camacho had this vision from the start, so he told his class more about it and that we do garments (swimsuits and leather jackets), all with the AMER_ICAN star. So, we walked the runway and had our song play -written by Dizzy Sense, a Bronx hip-hop artist who’s in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Love Supreme hip-hop, Broadway show.

And now, because of the students at MIU plus Professor Camacho’s vision, we have our own flag because they did a print of the AMER_ICAN star. We’re a collective that really believes in big ideas, creativity, and art, bringing different formats of art together and expressing we can make a difference. We have the power and we are Americans, we just need to take action, lead with creativity, and even help the current social landscape to come together because we really need to.”

Garments, Jackets, and Bathing Suits!

“We collab with product partners: Leather jackets by the Walter Baker brand and jelly footwear by Carmen Sol. We were supposed to start sales at national retailers and were going into a contract with MIU, but they closed suddenly. So, we’ve contacted all the students because we want to continue working with them directly, which is great because our work doesn’t stop even if the format has now changed.”

What's Next for AMER_ICAN

The Tisch School of the Arts in New York accepted Vesna’s work for a master’s program in Art Politics. She loves working with students and being a student, finding it so incredible and exciting. She says she stays creative and works in collaboration. Something she loves because it’s a way to bring in bigger brands and bridge the established with the emerging, it gives artists platforms to express their creativity: “Art is such a powerful medium!”

The Wonderful Tools of a Privileged Background

To conclude, we were wondering if we could state Vesna lost her privileged status in order to be able to help others in need. This is her reaction:

“That’s how I’m interpreted a lot of the time. Yes, I grew up privileged in the U.S. as a diplomat’s daughter but coming from a country in Eastern Europe. Growing up, one is aware of the East versus the West, which is a big separation, especially with Socialism/Communism vs. Capitalism.

However, my immigration saga brought me to a very, very difficult situation where that privilege was gone. I was out of status. I lost a lot, was undocumented, and couldn’t work. It was really dire. So out of that adversity, I got the skill that was like an internship for business, because you just have to keep problem-solving while fighting for your life.

The adversity of fighting for my citizenship for over a decade, being undocumented, and having such a struggle; that war gave me the insight to be able to identify with communities that are struggling rather than the privileged ones.”

In conclusion, had Vesna remained privileged, she would have not been able and so inspired to bring in communities in need and work on social causes that need all of our attention.  

A toast to that!

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