Las Vegas designer explains how she overcame immigration obstacles to launch career

Get fashion designer Ermelinda Manos talking about her passion and it starts to sound like she’s making magic.

“I never questioned it, I never doubted, I know it’s what I’m always going to do. When I start designing, even when I look at a piece of fabric, I just, I’m in love. I could be locked up in a room and just design. I have thousands of ideas and I can’t even explain it,” she says.

Those ideas mostly manifest in the form of evening and bridal wear with tulle, feathers, sheer lace and lots of sparkles. They’re staples she’s crafted a fashion career from in a city that’s not exactly known for its fashion scene or culture.

In a book released this fall, “Lost in Las Vegas,” Manos reflects on the beginning of her career and pays tribute to the city that became home for her when she immigrated from Greece at age 12.

Manos paired a selection of her designs with various locations of historic or cultural significance around the city: a tulle skirt and vintage U.S. military parachute with a barren desert landscape in reference to Miss Atomic Bomb, a black sequined evening gown and black lace gloves outside the Mob Museum. With photographs at the Fremont Street Experience, Las Vegas Academy, El Cortez, the Plaza and Binion’s, the book features downtown heavily. Throughout the book, she chronicles Las Vegas’ growth.

Now 30, her own Las Vegas story began when, at age 12, she moved with her family into Circus Circus on the Strip, “where the cigarette odor of the casino carpet and slot machine sounds felt oddly comforting and all of my friendships with other kids lasted only a few days or the lengths of their family’s vacation,” she writes in her book. Her family lived there for about three months before moving to Summerlin, where she attended Becker Middle School and then Cimarron-Memorial High School.

Though her family immigrated legally, when Albanian-born Manos underwent the court process to become a U.S. citizen with her mother, both had their legal status revoked, making them undocumented. Manos’ status was tied to her mother’s because she was a minor. Manos was 17 when the court’s decision came down, and suddenly ineligible for college scholarships.

“It pushed me back so much, because I couldn’t go after my dreams the same way my friends could,” Manos says.

She attended the International Academy of Design and Technology in Henderson nonetheless, where she brought the timeless, glittering creations off the paper and onto the runways. Upon graduation in 2009, it was easier, she found, to start her own business as an undocumented immigrant than to secure a job at an existing company.

The immigration battle has been a constant in her life since those first days at Circus Circus. Over the years, she watched Congress fail to pass the DREAM Act, a bill first proposed in 2001 to give undocumented high school graduates a pathway to legal status.

Once President Obama approved the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy in 2012, Manos worked with Nevada Congresswoman Dina Titus to regain legal residency, though she is still in the process of securing citizenship. Her immigration status forced her to aggressively pursue her dreams.

“In a way, that kind of helped us connect as well because I was also an immigrant as well when I was young. I came to this country very young, just like her. It was a struggle to go through the right channels to become a proper citizen,” says Winnie Shao, owner of the manufacturing company LV Apparel Development. Manos helped Shao break into the fashion industry when she graduated from the International Academy of Design and Technology in 2012, and they’ve since collaborated on various projects, with Manos designing and Shao handling the more technical aspects of creating clothing.

Manos’ first clothing line debuted at LA Fashion Week in 2009. “Lost in Las Vegas” includes designs from the years since then. In the next year, she’ll release another line and has plans to sell her designs in brick-and-mortar stores.

“Both of us are really hoping on building the fashion community here in Las Vegas,” Shao says. Both place a high priority on creating opportunities and jobs in the city.

In one of the final images in the book, the model poses in a bright blue mini dress and red pumps in front of the “Viva Lost Vegas” mural just off Fremont Street.

“I wanted to do that, to dedicate (the book) to (young immigrants), that they don’t have to be afraid or ashamed of anything, they can always look at this book and feel encouraged,” Manos says. “And not just for immigrants, but for anybody who’s ever felt lost or had any battle in their life.”

Read more from Sarah Corsa at Contact her at and follow @sarahcorsa on Twitter.

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