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With celebrity fans like Jennifer Garner and Selma Blair, Helena Quinn is a women's line that specializes in jackets, vests, and blazers with details such as exaggerated point collars and leather contrasting. Designer Andrea Racey is a former costume designer who worked on the sets of Heroes; she's also a graduate of Columbia College Chicago and a fan of Gwyneth Paltrow and Costco.
We caught up with Racey to discuss her dream-state-induced design process, why her pieces are perfect for Chicago girls, and more. Get to know this ebullient young designer—you'll fall in love, guaranteed—then stop by Edith Hart to meet her on Saturday. The trunk show goes from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and there will be plenty of bubbly.
Gone With the Wind was an early inspiration for you. Apart from Scarlet O'Hara, which other movie characters have inspired your fashion sense?
This is a tough one—there are so many amazing female characters! But here are my top five in no particular order: Julianne Moore in Boogie Nights, Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, Gwyneth Paltrow in Great Expectations, A Perfect Murder, The Talented Mr. Ripley—and any movie she did while dating Brad Pitt! Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface. And Diane Sawyer every night on ABC News . I realize she's not a character, but I couldn't not add her.
You've described your line Helena Quinn as an "ode to your grandmothers." What were your grandmothers like, and which of their characteristics have inspired the line?
Both of my Grandmothers were Irish-Catholic and had eight children. Eight! The impact of that statement hits me more and more as I get older and have a greater perspective on what it would entail to raise eight healthy, happy, successful, and emotionally-sound children. They were both smart, witty, maternal, loving, and had a quiet but fierce strength that could be felt by anyone around them. There was a gracefulness to each of them that in most ways is indescribable by words. So when I began Helena Quinn, and thought about the characteristics that I wanted the line and clothes to embody, it was this illusive balance between strength and femininity that each of my Grandmothers possessed so effortlessly.
I think right now especially there's a conversation going on for women about how to do it all: How to be a respected working professional and use the opportunities the generations of women before us have afforded, but also be a partner and a mother and retain the roles that are inherently feminine. Thats sort of the conversation I have in my head as I design, and I always go back to my grandmothers. How can I create clothes that embody what a woman is innately, which to me is that balance and duality of strength and femininity—grace.
What are the main differences between working in fashion design and costume design, and which do you prefer?
Fashion and Costume are very different animals. In costume, you're typically seeking to enhance a character's personality. You're working to help define the character through their clothing. Its not so much the costume designer's personal perspective on style, as it is a collaboration with the director, and all of the other departments—the director of photography, the lighting department, set design, makeup artists, and hairstylists—to create something much larger than any one individual department. It's a very inspiring and fulfilling thing to be a part of when it all comes together.
Fashion is much more of a personal expression for a designer. You're basically saying "here's what I think, world, here's how I see things." It's scary as shit but also indescribable when it comes to fruition. I'm a terrible sleeper, so I keep a sketch pad by my bed and will draw ideas when I wake up in the middle of the night. Most of the time I'm in a half dream state, so I'll come back to the ideas in the morning with fresh eyes, and re-sketch them. The fact that I literally get to take ideas from a slightly different level of consciousness, and see them actualized by the amazing pattern-makers and sample-makers I work with, still boggles my mind. I'm grateful every day to be doing this.
You have a very select list of stockists, with only one store in Chicago that carries Helena Quinn. What makes a store a good match for your line, and how did you begin your relationship with Edith Hart?
My Dad—disclaimer, I love him—is obsessed with Costco. Disclaimer: I also love Costco. He came to me once super-excited and said,"Hey! Andy! What if Costco picked up the line? Should we call them? How cool would that be!" I was like "Meh, let's maybe put it on our list of backup ideas?"
A store is a good fit for Helena Quinn to me if it caters to a clientele and demographic that Helena Quinn would resonate with. Meaning: its helpful if the brand is "hanging" with other lines that the same target customer would be looking for. Morgan was opening Edith Hart around the same time that I was launching HQ. A mutual friend introduced us, and Morgan became the first boutique to pick it up. She pushes the line like none other, and Chicago is the best selling market that I have right now by far.
You'll be in Chicago this for a trunk show at Edith Hart. Which of your pieces are you most excited to show to the Chicago shopper?
I'm super excited for the Chicago shopper to see the Sam Vest. I love this piece so much mainly because I'm proud of the versatility and layering ability of it for my Chicago girls. It's a hooded vest, and being a former Chicago girl myself, I understand how the weather can create a love/hate relationship with the city. One minute it's sunny and 65 degrees, and five minutes later its raining and hailing and you're like "ugh my hair, GFY Chi". Cut to 12 minutes after that. It's sunny again and there's a rainbow over the lake, and you think, "this is the best place on earth. I want to get married, have babies, buy a puppy and solve world hunger today." Hopefully the Sam hoodie will lessen the anger/rage phase of that 25 minute period just a little.
What do you like to do in Chicago?
On a good day, Chicago is the best city in the world. Having gone to school here it will always have a piece of my heart, so just being in its energy is inspiring to me. I still have a lot of friends and family here so I love to spend time with them. But a perfect Chicago day for me would go a little some thing like this: A morning run—who are we kidding, brisk walk—down Lakeshore, then back up through the Lincoln Park Zoo. My girlfriends would be brunching right at the end of my run so I would meet them for mimosas at Crosby's or Tempo, to rehydrate of course. From there we'd do some shopping on Southport or Damen and Division. I also love Penelope's and Sarca, and of course Ikram is always incredible.
Then, I'd walk back to the hotel for a little siesta, I love the Hotel Lincoln right now but The Drake and The Peninsula will always be favorites. For happy hour I'd meet friends at the J. Parker, Signature Room, or Barrelhouse Flat. Dinner would be Big Star or Girl and the Goat. Then drinks and dancing at Kingston Mines, The Underground, or Social Twenty Five. And after all that, I'd probably need Lou Malnati's, regardless of my hunger level.
· Edith Hart [Official Site]
· Helena Quinn [Official Site]