Helene Florence - New Orleans

Photograph by Bella Florence

Helene Florence New Orleans

I have always been drawn to fanciful and unusual fabrics, not just for their intrinsic beauty, but by the possibilities of what they could become. An iridescent scarf, majestic tapestry or charming homemade quilt could all become something else with a simple fold or scissor cut. As a child, I played in my mother’s closet, twirling around in a kaleidoscope of stunning scarves, draping them around me, pretending that I had designed something unique. I didn’t act on this impulse to make things, however, until I was well into my museum career as an education curator in New Orleans. I loved working with the cultural riches of this captivating city, but a stroll through a Kyoto flea market in 1997 awoke my craving to collect textiles, namely the gently worn, discarded kimonos I found that seemingly called to be saved from a premature end.

There is a name for this: Kimono reform. Recycling, repurposing yet never forgetting their cultural and ceremonial origins. This is my objective, what excites me. I am careful to use only kimonos which have been discarded, landing in either flea markets or vintage fabric lots. They may have a tear or a stain. They will never again be worn for the purpose for which they were intended, but they are still visually stunning and rich with the secrets of whoever once owned and wore these magnificent garments. It’s reincarnation for clothing. The past soul may still be in the garments but the physical manifestation is new, fresh. That is what draws me to these textiles in particular- the care and intricacy with which they were created, their importance in the ritual life of an ancient and modern culture.

Each of my pieces is created by hand in New Orleans. Besides the kimono, I often incorporate other new or exotic fabrics and embellishments such as agates and vintage jewelry. In the past, Anthropologie carried my one-of-a-kind pieces and also produced three of my designs which were placed in various stores around the country and London. Currently, I sell at occasional trunk shows or by word of mouth. My goal is to produce something elegant yet fun and original that no one else has thought of in the same way. I want my pieces to be that special item that completes an ensemble and makes someone feel unique. I hope you enjoy your chosen piece and wear it for years to come.