Hellen van Rees is a Dutch fashion and textile designer who graduated from Central Saint Martins in London – alma mater to Celine’s Phoebe Philo, the late Alexander McQueen, Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci, Hussein Chalayan, and other fashion greats – with a master’s in womenswear fashion design. Since leaving school in February 2012, van Rees has amassed an international list of stockists, further expanded on her collection of signature handmade textiles and garnered a following that consists of Lady Gaga, “it” blogger Susie Lau, and British Vogue.
In case that’s not enough, she has been named one of Fashion Scout's Ones To Watch, awarded with the Humanity in Fashion Award at Berlin Fashion Week, and included on the list of semi-finalists for the inaugural LVMH Young Fashion Designer Prize. She sheds light on her brand, her style icons, and what you won’t learn in fashion school …
How old are you and where are you from?
I’m 28 and was born in Gouda, The Netherlands. I’m now living in Hengelo, The Netherlands.
Tell me a bit about your brand and how you think it is different from other brands.
It is an innovative fashion label that offers high-end contemporary womenswear alongside a small accessories and interiors range. It is an environmentally conscious brand that uses mostly organic textiles and production leftovers for creation of its garments.
All collections feature unique textiles, contrasting textures and innovative finishes that are developed and hand-made within the atelier. This way we create completely unique fabrics and garments that you can’t find with another brand.
Who are your fashion icons?
Sofia Coppola, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Emma Watson
What has surprised you the most about the fashion industry so far?
Mostly just how difficult it is get the right stores to buy the collection. I knew it’d be a challenge. It’s not only depending on the collections (if it’s something original, if it fits in their range and fits their clients) but also if there’s enough buzz around the brand. This often depend on getting the collections in the right showrooms, etc., which costs a lot of money for which you need sales. It’s kind of the chicken and egg story, and it’s a challenge to break through that.
Also, I’m always happy to see that so many people who hold a high position in the industry are always so nice and supportive when seeing collections from new, small brands such as mine.
What is something they don't teach you in fashion school that you think is important to know?
My education has been completely on the creative side, having done a BA Fashion Design and then on to an MA Fashion Womenswear. So, I did not know anything about the business side of fashion apart from hearing bits here and there in internships and talks. I’m not sure if I’d change that, though. I started out very intuitively and based on my own strength, which is textile development and manipulations.
This made my work stand out and get noticed. If I had a more business-oriented education, I’m not sure if I’d get that same result, because my work did not (and still on some level, doesn’t) make sense business wise. It’s very time consuming, old-fashioned way of working and producing garments, all done within one atelier, like a couture house, as it can’t really be outsourced.
I have to grow my business organically and develop my own in house production as demand grows, but I find that also very exciting about my label. I’ve learned a lot along the way since I started, and am able to apply that, but very much in my own way, which might not be the easiest, but it’s definitely authentic. So, I think you have to learn those things from your own experience, rather than through education.
What have you learned about the business aspect of fashion so far?
I’ve learned about everything that happens after finishing design and development of a sample collection and presenting it. How showrooms work, what buyers expect, how to calculate my prices, what mark-ups are applied, dealing with production and delivery, shipping overseas, press releases. Oh, so many things!
When you are not working, how do you like to spend your free time?
Simple things, I like to hang out with friends, play board games. Or watch series like Breaking Bad, Homeland or House of Cards. I also like growing herbs and vegetables on my roof terrace.
What are you obsessed with right now?
Website rebuilding. I’ve just relaunched my website. So, the last few days were constant collecting and resizing images, adding content and information to the templates. I have to get it out of my system a bit now that it’s mostly finished, and do some other stuff, like starting to work on AW16, and preparing the last things (line sheets, travel & accommodation) for the SS16 showrooms in a few weeks.