Helena Fejkova is a well known name in this country - she is a leading Czech fashion designer whose models make a statement at any gala evening. Seeing her showered with bouquets on the big night, you'd think her life was all champagne and roses - but of course it is a lot of hard work and a feeling of responsibility for her employees.
" When we set up this business it was wonderful. It was like planting a bare twig that took root and blossomed. There was so much enthusiasm. My husband and I were both divorced with children so we had this big family, two average incomes and a lot of dreams. That was in 1988 and we opened a small fashion gallery at Flora. The timing was perfect. When the revolution came we suddenly saw all the possibilities opening up. Local people weren't thinking about fashion then, obviously, but we suddenly had a big foreign clientele. They came here with great curiosity - as if they expected us to have just climbed off the trees - and they were amazed that we had so much to offer in terms of fashion and art. The gallery offered dresses, leather accessories and jewelry at the time, and even some graphics. It was all of excellent quality and very cheap for Westerners."
Helena was always attracted to fashion design - although under communism the road was long and winding. Initially she lived in a small town, so she produced fashion for "her drawer", as she puts it. When she eventually moved to Prague, she got a job in the sphere of culture and wormed her way into the fashion business. She would produce two or three pieces that would be shown in a mixed collection. It wasn't what she wanted - but it was a start. There was plenty of talent around she says, and those who could afford it - the communist elite, people from the sports and arts world - benefited from it. Fashion designers also made money by making clothes for film and theatre companies. To this day, Helena finds inspiration in period costumes and puts on period fashion shows, for instance a baroque period fashion show complete with accessories and all. In one of the country's many chateaux or in the Prague Castle gardens on a summer's day, a period fashion show is truly enchanting.
So apart from history - and world fashion trends - where does Helena Fejkova seek inspiration ?
"I see inspiration in almost everything - it is all around me - and it need not necessarily be in the form of clothes. It can be in the atmosphere, a snatch of music, a person, a place and even my own imagination. Sometimes my own clients inspire me to try and create something that I feel will complement their style, who they are, but it is also the places I visit. For instance, some of the silk dresses you saw at this fashion show were made from silk that I bought on a recent trip to France. That's why I picked the Edit Piaf songs to go with it. It is not that I was inspired by French fashion as such, but by the atmosphere of Paris. I love that city. I sit and dream of what life could have been like... for instance when Henri Toulouse Lautrec sat in a small caffe ...and my imagination just takes off. One of the dresses on show here tonight was born of that moment. "
There was a lot of French chic on the catwalk that night - not just in the clothes shown, but in the way a model would wink at the crowd of photographers or play with a feather boa. However, if that leaves you with the impression that Helena produces creations suited only for the catwalk - then you're wrong.
The fashion show was a mix of winter, spring and summer day dresses, a jeans line and some terrific evening wear. While some were daring, every single one of them was wearable - even the haute couture selection that was the highlight of the fashion show. Helena says that while she loves to let her imagination roam, "wearability" is a necessity.
"Of course there are financial constraints. I cannot afford to create chimeras. Every one of the things you see here tonight is wearable. I need to show things that people will want to buy - not just admire as beautiful chimeras. They need to be able to carry them off wherever they are going to wear them, and you expect the clothes to make a statement. I often create something special for my clients on the grounds of whatever idea they come to me with. I am not against that - I like clients who know what they want - but there must be room for me to be creative as well. If a client has worked it out to the smallest detail she can go to a good seamstress. She doesn't need me. And if they come to me, I assume they like my work and can trust me to create something special that will complement their style."
About thirty per cent of Helena Fejkova's clientele are foreigners. They either live here or they pay Helena one or two visits a year. The rest are Czechs - from all social strata - aged sixteen to sixty and over. Wondering through her luxury boutique in the famous Lucerna Palace, I was amazed that the price tags on some great looking dresses did not make my eyeballs roll. True, some of them cost fifteen thousand crowns - the average monthly wage - and more. But in an effort to make her creations accessible to Czechs, Helena sells some of her stuff for as little as three to five thousand. Seventy percent of her clientele is Czech and, as she says, life is not easy - "when it is not one thing, it is another." After the floods she could tell that people had less money to spend. And Helena does think about the less fortunate. She regularly organizes fashion shows for the disabled - with her models walking alongside "models" in wheelchairs. Why should they not enjoy life's pleasures, she points out? She's certainly a trend-setter - there aren't that many events for the disabled in this country despite the fact that things have gradually been changing for the better.
Asked what her "dream" is, Helena Fejkova says she just wants to go on creating beautiful things in a world that is far from perfect. Inevitably, we touch on the war in Iraq - and Helena admits that she hates the violence that fills her living room when she switches on the TV at night. The war has even put her own plans on hold.
"I was meant to leave for France shortly. It was all arranged that I could sell some of my clothes in a Paris boutique. But now with the war in Iraq those plans have been shelved. Everything seems to be at a standstill. There's a crisis there as there is one here. So we'll have to wait and see how things turn out."
If you'd like more information about Helena Fejkova, or plan to visit her boutique, you'll find all the information you need on her website at : www.helenafejkova.cz
Photos: Marie Votavova
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