Helen James collection: New romantics
In the past two years the fashion landscape has changed dramatically, moving away from conspicuous branding to quality materials and craftsmanship.
It's a healthy shift, and one that suits our creative pool of indigenous designers -- none more so than Helen James. "I always struggled with that pressure of producing two collections each year," she says. "My stuff really isn't seasonal. It's not trendy. It's timeless. And so I am starting to work in a different way."
Originally a textile designer who hand-produced her own fabrics, teaming them with soft leather and suede in her capsule collections of obi belts, bags and sumptuous silk clothing, Helen has recently launched a range of beautifully romantic headpieces, called Florica by Helen James, some of which are available exclusively from Helen's online shop, Florica Etsy. The headpieces are aimed predominantly at the bridal and race-going market, and can also be worn as a necklace, or as an embellishment for a belt.
"If you have a very simple dress, they really transform it. They're very feminine and vintage-ish," says the Westmeath-based designer. "I was playing around out in the studio and I came up with this new technique to make them. I wanted the petals to have a stiffness so that they would stand and have body, so I fused the silk satin that I use."
In terms of fashion, competition is fierce at race meetings. When attending, the sole objective is to stand out and make a statement. You will notice that invariably the winners of best dressed lady competitions opt for classic with a twist. These headpieces would make for a great twist.
Helen has always been an original. Talk to any boutique owner who stocks Helen James and you can be sure that they will extol the virtues of her obi belts. Obi belts are to Helen James's collections what monochrome is to Chanel: a foundation there is no getting away from. Available in leather or silk, plain or heavily embroidered, they breathe new life into an old outfit, and give you a waist you didn't realise you had. The price tag of roughly €175 has never been a deterrent to fans. And, given that the items have been made lovingly by hand, using the finest fabrics, they scream quality and they are extraordinarily useful.
The Japanese influence extends to Helen's womenswear collection too; it's available on a made-to-order basis. "I plan on expanding that idea of more bespoke items. I really think that is where the market here is now," Helen says. "I can't compete with Topshop -- nor do I want to."
PHOTOGRAPHY BY EJ CARR
WORDS BY ANDREA BYRNE
STYLING BY HELEN JAMES
FASHION EDITED BY CONSTANCE HARRIS