Before she even knew how to sew, Helena Pasquier was making clothes. At just four years of age she designed her first outfit: an orange felt skirt with a matching top, laced together with strips of felt. “I think it runs in the family,” she says.
Pasquier, who launched the brand Helena Magdalena with her brother, Paul, last year, comes from a family of creators. Her grandparents were revolutionaries in the lingerie business, starting the company Aubade and pioneering undergarments like the strapless bra and G-string. Coming from such a background, Pasquier had always dreamt of starting her own company. When Paul visited Brooklyn from France last year, the siblings decided to go for it.
Despite producing their first collection just before the outbreak of Covid, the brother-sister team have been able to forge ahead. “We are still at the very beginning and are growing, slowly but surely,” says Pasquier. The Alchemy Line, their first, uses upcycled fabrics and has a femme warrior meets space traveler feel. A pair of high-rise pants feature a surprise in the form of a low scoop back. The Artemis top is more bra than shirt, a statement piece made from silver leather and metal hooks that is bound to turn heads. Outside of tops, pants and skirts, the line includes more of the unexpected: a shoe harness, a veil that can double as a protective face covering, a cut-out hooded blazer.
For Pasquier, the process of designing is an adventure. The vision evolves as she works, a process she describes as “visceral.” “I can get inspired by absolutely anything,” she says. The lowback pants, for example, came from noticing how often men feel invited to put their hands on that part of a woman’s body. Pasquier wanted to make a statement. “Showing my vulnerabilities makes me feel stronger,” she says, “but revealing my body parts is not an invitation.”
In addition to her creative drive, Pasquier is motivated by the concept of slow fashion. Instead of the mass-produced, consumptive nature of other high fashion brands, she is seeking to forge a different path within the industry. “I think making timeless designs will always be more desirable,” she says. “The development of fast fashion has a terrible impact on the environment and the communities where it is made. I believe it is totally possible to be a successful fashion brand without harming the environment, and I am determined to prove it.”
Slow fashion doesn’t just mean lower production, it means respecting the communities where you produce, offering alteration and mending services so a single garment has a longer life. And, most of all, “not following fashion trends and this insane rhythm of production,” explains Pasquier.
The siblings are just as innovative when it comes to their business dealings. This past October, they organized a Covid-friendly fashion show on the streets of Williamsburg. Models wore Pasquier’s AL-LĀT veil and stayed distant, the street chalked with “Helena Magdalena.” You can also find some of her pieces at Malin Landaeus, the popular vintage shop at 157 N. 6th Street. Future plans are varied and include developing their online presence and designing costumes for an immersive dance performance. “That’s a very interesting creative adventure,” says Pasquier. “We would love to do more of that!”