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Interview: Hellen Van Rees

Tuesday 21 August 2012

 Talented designer and innovative thinker, Hellen Van Rees has a habit (a good one that is) of thinking outside the box. Seeking inspiration in all sorts of places, it seems there are no boundaries for this young talent whose latest collection takes our breath away: handcrafted 3D shapes feature, attached to completely seamless woven garments; it’s no surprise that she’s been named One to Watch for SS13.    

Congratulations on being selected as “One to Watch” this SS13. How did you feel when you found out you’d won and how did you celebrate your achievement?

It was great! I felt very happy and also relieved. I’d started working on my new collection already, not knowing how I was even going to show it, so to get this opportunity was a very good thing. I celebrated by going out for a lovely dinner with my parents and boyfriend.

Your AW12 collection was inspired by an array of influences; please tell us about these inspirations….

The main influence was the traditional tweed ladies suits by Chanel in the early 1960s. This came about when I visited their shop on Bond Street in London, just to look around, and I was very impressed by the level of detail and the huge variety of yarns that are in their textiles. Their richness made a big impression, so I started experimenting around that idea.

I’d also been researching square shapes for a while: squares in patched tarmac; tiles; architecture and contemporary art – I translated 2-Dimensional and 3-Dimensional squares into textures, some with tiny cubes on. It was when I started playing with one of the samples with tiny cubes, trying it on a Barbie doll and taking pictures that I came to the idea to make the cubes really big, because it looked really cool on the Barbie! I think the impact of the collection is this powerful because it’s a clash of something very rich, and very traditional with something modern and quite crazy.

Your entire collection is woven from recycled yarns; what gave you the idea to execute your garments in this way? Is recycled fashion something you’ve always been passionate about?

This idea came from the Chanel tweeds I mentioned before – the fabric had all kinds of yarns combined into one. I started combining loads of different yarns that I had collected over the years and taking interesting threads out of other fabrics that I had. I spent a lot of time developing my weaving technique and making different colour/texture combinations. 

It’s all done by hand, so I didn’t have to weave a square and then cut my pattern pieces…. this is how I came to the idea of weaving in the shape of the garment. This way I throw nothing away and I can make a completely seamless garment, which makes it a lot more interesting and special.

So my main materials, the yarns, are all remnants. I buy production leftovers from a knitting factory that won’t be used because it’s too little for production, but it’s perfect for me.

Do you remember who/what sparked your love of fashion design? How old were you when you made your first garment?

My love for fashion came about quite late, when I was 16. I was always making things though, mostly drawing before then. My first ever garment was a mini collection inspired by some Givenchy couture pieces I saw in a newspaper – I made about 3 outfits Barbie size. My first proper “human size” pieces were made when I started my BA fashion design, in 2005. The more I got involved in fashion, the more I loved it.

How would you describe your own personal style?  
I don’t think my own personal style is very interesting…. I’m a bit of a tomboy.

When you’re not working, do you read? What’s the best book you’ve read recently and why was it enjoyable?
The Horn Blower series, by C.S. Forester. It’s quite an elaborate series of books about a young Royal Navy officer and his career during the Napoleonic era. It’s good because it’s historically very realistic, quite technical, but there’s also just enough emotion and the stories are very adventurous and exciting. I think I’ve read the whole series at least three times!

Do you have any advice for those looking to pursue a career in fashion design and where do you see yourself in five years time?

This is very cheesy advice, but it’s very important and sometimes difficult: do your own thing; it’s the only way to be original and stand out from the crowd. In five years time I’d like to be doing what I do now…. and much more!

Words: Toni Ogle