PRET-A-METIER "MAUD HELINE, DESIGNER"
After having worked for multiple fashion houses and becoming a mother, Maud decided to breakaway and start her own collection. Here’s her story.
I grew up in France and moved to Paris when I was 17 where I studied Fashion at l’Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. I won a one year scholarship to study at the Academy of Art in San Francisco where I fell in love with the US. When I moved back to Paris, I worked for several years in different fashion houses including Isabel Marant and Balmain before moving to New York where I worked at Maiyet. I then got married and had a baby. And to be honest, after having delivered my daughter naturally, I felt I could do anything. I always wanted to have my own line but I never felt the urge to do it before I became a mother. Becoming one prompted me to take control of my life. It just felt like the right time to do it.
PaM: What was the first step you took in order to make the switch?
During my maternity leave, I started to design. I quit the job I had at the time and started renting the studio I currently have in Gowanus, Brooklyn. The space, the windows, and interacting with other artists in this shared space really helped me to break away from the corporate world. I felt inspired and it’s ten minutes away from my house. I feel free when I ride my bike to get here and when I work in a charming studio away from the effervescence of Manhattan. This is where I designed my first collection.
Influential people and some good friends kept asking me about my collection, telling me that all my pieces were wearable and asking where they could buy them. Two friends offered to help me shoot a lookbook and then I sent it to a few carefully selected stores. Barneys came back with some interest, we met and they bought the entire poplin story.
PaM: Was it a conscious decision to have your designs made here in New York?
I wanted to be part of the entire process, from start to finish. I wanted to be close to the product to control its quality. And I feel it’s a strong statement to have the clothes made here in New York, and I will continue to do so for as long as I can.
PaM: Being a wife, being a working mother and working on your collection around the clock…how do you do it?
[Laughs] Good question! I’m like a machine, I don’t overthink it. My priorities are definitely my husband and my daughter. Before I met my husband, my work was my priority. But things change. Work isn’t the essence of life.
I dedicate a number of hours a day to my work. I leave the house at 9am and come back at 7pm every day. After I come home, there are no electronics around me so that I can play with my daughter. Once she goes to bed I can go back to work or spend some time with friends and my husband. If you plan ahead and make a schedule, you will be alright.
PaM: Do you feel you made mistakes when starting your own business?
[Long pause] A mistake is not a mistake. You know what I mean? I may not have been prepared for a big presentation, I may not have had a business partner I could have discussed everything with. But if I had waited for everything to be set up before I actually launched my collection, then I would never have done it. I’m learning so much right now and I’ve grown up a lot since I started all of this. I am also very fortunate to have all the great advice and support from my husband, Carl.
PaM: What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of starting their own business?
There is a place for everybody in this world, so don’t compare yourself to others. What others are doing will please some people, but what you are doing will please others too.
PaM: Do you feel that people in the Fashion industry help each other and are there for each other?
It depends. There are a lot of different types of people in the Fashion industry, just like in any field. My friends in this industry have been really helpful and supportive.
PaM: What’s next for you?
In the short term, I am opening the e-shop in a couple of weeks and I would like to get more points of sale in the US, Europe and Asia! As for the next collection, it will be very much the continuity of what it is today: feminine, high quality, white poplin shirts made in the US, even though I want to add bottoms including pants, shorts and skirts.
PaM: When you look at your designs, what words pop into your head?
Pure, graphic, rare and wearable. As beautiful inside as the outside.
PaM: What I love about your designs is the simplicity. You can dress them up or dress them down. They’re so versatile.
They’re classic designs with a little twist. They bring a bit of my Parisian style to the US market. Parisian women don’t differentiate a day outfit from a night outfit; they are always elegant. A woman can wear one of my shirts during the day at work and then grab drinks with her friends in the evening. For example, I wore the Aronikdress with flat elastic black shoes and it looked great. Or you can add a pop of color with shoes and jewelry, since all my designs are white and subtle.
PaM: Do you think that this subtlety is what defines the French women’s “je ne sais quoi”?
Their outfits look easy. French women look like they put absolutely no effort into what they wear, when in fact they do. Everything is thought-out, it just doesn’t look like it. It’s never too much but it’s always good enough.
PaM: Well said. You worked in Fashion before starting your own brand. How did that experience help you in your current endeavor?
I learned a lot from working with Isabel Marant. She has an amazing eye and is extremely good at choosing colors. She is also not a red carpet lady, she is just doing her own thing regardless of what others do, and I think that shows real strength. From the different brands that I worked with, I learned how to develop a garment from start to finish. Dealing with all the deadlines, with all the factory-related hiccups that can arise, the fact that it’s not a perfect science. Garments are made by humans so they can’t always be perfect. This aspect is the hardest to accept, because when you design a piece you want it to be perfect. But you have to let it go. And making a garment involves a lot of people: from the pattern maker to the person who makes the sample, to the grading process, to the final production. It’s a huge process. So you have to learn how to manage all of these aspects.
PaM: You take care of the business aspect of your brand, and this isn’t something that you necessarily had direct experience in. How do you deal with that?
[Laughs] Well I’m learning a lot! And I’m very open to all the advice I get from people who surround me. No one is perfect in every field; the secret is to be surrounded by well-intentioned people who can help you. And my thoughts go to my husband, Carl, who has 15 years of experience in marketing and business. He is my greatest help.
PaM: It’s impossible for one person to possess all the skills you need to be an entrepreneur. A manager is only as good as his or her team. And you need to be willing to learn!
PaM: And lastly, what do you wear at the office?
I wear jeans and fun knitwear sweaters. And I will definitely wear a lot of my designs as soon as Summer finally arrives!
Maud Heline is available in stores at the following locations:
- Barneys on the Upper East Side, New York
- Barneys on the Upper West Side, New York
- Barneys in Brooklyn, New York
- Barneys in Beverly Hills, California
- Colette in Paris, France