Eggs Benedict: Interview With Helena Manzano
Alexander McQueen said that in fashion ‘it’s all about the individual and personal style’ and Helena Manzano is like the living proof to that. She’s a London-based designer with a major crush on Matisse and a passion for Japan. And guess what, on the day of the interview Helena first takes me to a Japanese café and then the ‘French House’ in Soho where Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon used to hang.
Helena likes to say that she ‘creates garments’ and takes what she does very seriously. She regularly travels around the world looking for new fabrics and researching ethnographic dresses, and trying to find that one perfect silhouette.
Here she talks about her inspirations, influence from her Spanish grandma and explains what it’s like being a young designer in London. Ohhh, and look closely at the model – she’s got cat’s eyes…and I mean it guys! Meow.
How did you get into designing? Was it something that you’ve always wanted to do? – No, it wasn’t. It all happened accidently. I always liked clothes and so I started going to this dressmaker’s studio so she could teach me. She was a really old woman and then I just started liking it a lot.
How old were you when you started doing this? – 23
Is LCF the first University that you went to? – Yeah. I also did something like masters in the art field back when I was living in Spain but I didn’t really like it. In the end I qualified and worked as a stylist but I became instantly bored. So I quit it, I mean I did the course and worked a bit but I didn’t like it.
Why did you find styling boring? – I prefer to create a garment rather than choose someone else’s garments for someone else to wear.
Back in school would you make clothes for your friends or family? – Not really
What’s your background in art? – I have been taking photographs for years. More recently I have been doing a project with my boyfriend. We travel a lot and I research fabric and the ethnographic dress of women and men from all the places we go. We document everything with photography and also film and my boyfriend makes field recordings. I’m interested in the craft of the garment, it’s not really about fashion itself.
In terms of art are you more into painting or sculpture, who’s your favourite painter? – I don’t have a favourite anything but I love Naum Gabo, Matisse, Henri Rousseau, Gauguin… It’s really hard to choose your favourite artist, author or painter. I’m also really into ballet. My mother used to be a dancer.
Where does your inspiration come from? My mother dressed amazing. I enjoyed watching her and her style developing through the various stages of her life. I’m really into factory workers at the moment too. I made an apron for my last collection- I found two dusty old kimono’s fabric rolls in an antique shop. I did some research in the library and came across a photograph of an old Japanese lady, like a housewife, she was working in a kind of an apron. She reminded me of my gran and how she also wears these kind of silhouettes during summer. The apron collection came out of that.
Do you wear your own clothes? – Yes, but mostly I wear my mum’s clothes and my grandma’s. I also buy designer stuff from eBay.
But do you have any fashion obsessions? I’m not very obsessed with fashion itself but I appreciate good design and quality.
But still, who do you like from designers? – Obviously, Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, Dries Van Noten, Balenciaga, Comme de Garçons, Margiela…
If you had an opportunity would you wanna work with them? – Yeah, definitely. I would like to do an internship with any of them. I think it would allow me to learn a lot of innovative pattern cutting.
Where do you keep all your clothes? I have a small studio in my house
What about your style, do you think you’re still developing or you feel like you’ve found your niche? – Yes, of course I’m still developing myself but I think the collection I’m preparing now is getting closer to what I suppose is the definitive identity of my brand.
Do you ever feel embarrassed about stuff you did before? – Not really. But when I look back I realize that I’ve been developing something, I guess.
What’s your biggest dream? – I just want to have my own brand, a nice respectable brand with good durable clothes.
What does your house look like , is it simple or loaded with some unimaginable stuff? – Yeah, it does have a lot of stuff, when I travel around I always bring a lot of things and I also have lots of plants. It looks like a jungle.
Ok, what are your favourite magazines, do you ever buy any? – I don’t really buy many but I like A Magazine, Encens… And
I-D issues of the 90’s are very cool too.
Do you think studying at LCF has helped you mature? – In general yes. I like it because they have good machines and technicians that will help you if you have any problem. My favorite part is having access to all of university of the arts libraries they have amazing books and lots of great old magazines.
Back in school were you like the popular one or the nerdy one? – (laughs) I was just ordinary
But friends that you have are they’re from the fashion world? – No, not really
What do you listen to right now? – I listen to a lot of classical music when I’m working. I don’t know I like a lot of different music… Pharoah Sanders, Camaron de la Isla, Fennesz, White Noise, Broadcast..
Do you go to gigs a lot? Yeah, but when I start doing a new collection I tend to lock myself in the studio and I don’t really see anyone. I started doing my new collection three weeks ago and I’m aiming to finish it by February. I’m away for the whole of December and am stressing out about although I did go to see a triple ballet at the Royal Opera House recently.
Does London inspire you at all or are you more a ‘nature’ person? – Somewhere between both I guess. Sometimes I get fed up with London, my boyfriend’s mother has a countryside house in Yorkshire, it’s like 300 years old, very beautiful so we go there quite a lot. We have a friend there who lives in a caravan and he drives us around searching for birds. He’s a mad ornithologist so is quite fun. I like London but I don’t find it very inspiring.
If you could chose where to live, would it be Europe or like Japan? I would love to live somewhere in Asia learning crafts for two or three years but in long term I suppose let’s just see what happens.
What advise would you give to people who want to start making/designing clothes at your age? – They should just do it. Remain strong and persistent. It’s a very competitive and cold industry.
Photography: Masha Mel
Model: Kitty @ Select
Interview: Olya Avstreyh
All clothes by Helena Manzano