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Interview with Dress Designer Helen Rhiannon

(May 07, 2009)
Interview with Helen Rhiannon
 
Helen Rhiannon Gill, from Swansea, is fast establishing herself as one of the foremost couture dress designers in Wales.  Helen launched her label Helen Rhiannon in 2005, specialising in bespoke, and limited edition, dresses using rich, luxurious fabrics. Her confidence with draping, style, fabrics and cut are easily evident in her pieces.
 
Helen Kooywood
Helen at Oriel Kooywood Gallery, 2008
 
Helen is keen to dress for 'real' women, and happily welcomes commissions from women with curves. Her designs are a celebration of the female form, and she has continued this trend by extending this ethos to a small (but growing) collection of hair accessories and fascinators.



Helen 10
Photograph courtesy of Helen Rhiannon,
taken by Gareth Danks - Life Photography
 
We caught up with Helen between glamorous fashion events:


 

CC ... You've studied fashion extensively. Beginning at  school, then undertaking a Foundation Course and studying fashion design at university. To anyone interested in pursuing a career in fashion, do you recommend this as the right route?

 

HR ... I would recommend anyone who is interested in fashion to choose Textiles, Design Technology or Art in school as these subjects really teach you about what design is and the history of design.  Always choose subjects you enjoy.  I didn’t know what I wanted to be, so I just chose what I enjoyed and then did a Foundation Course.  This allowed me to learn about sculpture, photography, fine art and fashion so you get a good all round portfolio to take to University. 

 

Fashion Design in London, was the next step.  Being in London allows you to see the industry first hand and be able to be involved in events like London Fashion Week.  It was the best city to be in to study Fashion.
 
Helen 1



CC ... You showcased your collections at
Graduate Fashion Week, London, 2003. That must have been a really exciting opportunity, showcasing your work to a large and influential audience.

 

HR ... Graduate Fashion Week was an amazing experience.  After three long, hard years of work at University, having your work on a London catwalk was the best experience a designer can have!  It gave me a taste of what I could achieve and opened my eyes to the industry.  The show was so professional and visually exciting.  I am still very proud of my collection today.

 

 

CC ... What are the main themes that influence your collections?


HR ... I don’t design around seasons at the moment ,as I am not producing collections throughout the year. But when I do design, whether it is for my label or a client, I will look at everything around me for inspiration.  I love colour and so love to experiment with my colour palette. 

 

I will also look at work by other designers past and present.  Fashion is one big cycle so you can always take a feature from an old design and make it new and contemporary within a new collection.  I am also inspired by patterns around me in everyday life, shapes and also by fabrics.  Sometimes, a fabric alone can give you inspiration for a new design.
 
Helen 2
 
 
CC ... Are your collections are available at any boutiques iat the moment?

 

HR ... I’m currently just working on bespoke orders for clients but I do create new pieces throughout the year for my label.  I am not selling into shops at the moment as I would rather concentrate on creating beautiful clothes for customers that are willing to pay for something designer and individual.  The shops are becoming so competitive with prices, I feel that the quality could be lost within the clothes.

 
Helen 3
Photograph courtesy of Helen Rhiannon,
taken by Gareth Danks - Life Photography


CC ... You designed a dress for Katherine Jenkins that featured in the 
Cool Cymru collection by noted fashion photographer Terry Morris. It must have been really exciting to be involved in such a prestigious, charitable event.

HR ... The
Cool Cymru project really opened doors for me and allowed me to step up a level.  Everyone is fascinated by ‘celebrity fame’ so I was lucky to get a lot of exposure after the exhibition was launched.  I got to meet Katherine on the day of the shoot.  I only had measurements for her the day before the shoot, after the three dresses were finished, so as you can imagine my stomach was in knots hoping the dresses would fit! Thankfully they did and the shoot was a success. I am really grateful to have been involved in such a fascinating project.

 
Helen 5
Photograph courtesy of Helen Rhiannon,
taken by Gareth Danks - Life Photography


CC ... What's even more wonderful is that the dress you designed for Katherine Jenkins then went on to be auctioned, raising £500 for the Noah's Ark Appeal. Are you involved in any other charity events in 2009?

 

HR ... Raising £500 for the Noah’s Ark Appeal was the real icing on the cake.  I was very proud to have been directly involved in raising funds for such a fantastic charity.

 

The gentleman that bought the dress sent me a very kind e-mail saying how great it was to own such an interesting piece.  He was originally from Wales so was pleased to have contributed to a great charity and to own something that was involved in such a special project.  That made my day!

 

In 2009, I am hoping to be involved in a range of charitable events.  I will be hosting my own fashion show as well as contributing to one for the George Thomas Hospice.  I will also be involved in organising another show on the back of the hugely successful, Fashion Rocks in Swansea.  The year is already looking packed full of events!


Helen 6
Photograph courtesy of Helen Rhiannon,
taken by Gareth Danks - Life Photography
 

CC ... You recently designed the dress worn by Liza Lazarus - Miss Universe GB winner. That must have been a really exciting opportunity.

 

HR ... Designing the dress for Miss Universe was a really different and exciting project.  The dress was quite over the top and great fun to design and make.  Seeing Lisa wearing it in Vietnam in the Miss Universe Final was another very proud moment for me in my career.  Not many people can say their design has been seen on the stage worldwide!
 
 
  Helen 9
Photograph courtesy of Helen Rhiannon,
taken by Gareth Danks - Life Photography


CC ... You launched the Helen Rhiannon label in 2005.  Starting  any new business is tough. What types of hurdles have you come across and how have you overcome them?


 

HR ... The main problems any business will come across are money and time!  To be in business needs certain skills and one of those is determination, which I have lots of.  There are constant struggles, especially in times like these, but you learn to work around them and do the best you can in the circumstances.

 

I am solely in charge of my business and don’t employ anyone at the moment.  I feel that my business provides a very personal experience so it does not seem right to employ someone just yet, although a spare pair of hands is always useful! 

 

There are many hurdles in business but I feel they mould you into a better and more determined business person.  It’s all about believing in your business and striving to achieve your goals.

 


CC ... In September 2008 you were awarded the 'Young Home Business Owner of the Year' award, which was a great achievement. You must have been really excited to have won the award.


HR ... 'Yes, I was very pleased with that award as it came out of the blue!  I had an e-mail with an application form attached which I filled in and forgot all about it, until I was told I’d won my category. 

 

'I was also very proud to have won Swansea Bay Young Achiever Award in Business in 2007.  That same year, I was also a finalist in Swansea Bay Woman of the Year Awards.  It was fantastic to think that a panel of people decided I was worthy of being short listed, let alone winning an award!  All the hard work pays off when you are recognised for your efforts.



Helen 11

 


CC ... Where do you see the Helen Rhiannon label in five years time?

 

HR ... Five years seems a long time away, especially when every week brings a different challenge.  I honestly don’t know where I’ll be but I hope that the Helen Rhiannon brand continues to grow and I work on more exciting projects. 

 

Who knows what is around the corner, but it is exciting to be on the rollercoaster ride that is being a fashion designer!

 

 

CC ... Helen Rhiannon, thank you.

 

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