Maud Heline’s resume reads like an aspiring fashion designer’s dream. From studying at l’Ecole de la Chambre in Paris and winning a scholarship to the Academy of Art in San Francisco to working at Isabel Marant and Balmain in France and then Maiyet in New York. I met with Maud Heline in her calming airy Paris-meets-Brooklyn studio at Manufacture New York to hear her story as she recounted the path that led to creating and launching her namesake line.
People’s early lives are so interesting and diverse; I am curious about where you grew up and then when and why you decided to move to NY? I grew up between Angers (where you have medieval castles and the river “La Loire”) and Le Pouliguen in Brittany (where you will find sea salt, crepes, and oysters) I moved to Paris when I was 17 to study at L’Ecole de la Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne. I won a scholarship to study for a year at the Academy of Art in San Francisco when I was 21. I started to work at Isabel Marant at age 23. It was my first job and I loved it. I always knew I would go back to the US. I spent most of my summers as a teenager near Los Angeles. I have a real affection, admiration and respect for the US. My husband was already living in New York when he proposed so I moved back to the US very naturally.
If you are not in the studio, what does your life look like/ What do you do with your time and energy? During the week it is a lot of back and forth between the studio in Brooklyn and midtown in Manhattan where I develop and produce my collections. In the morning I like to have a quality moment with my daughter and get a lot of pleasure dressing her up and having her ready to go to the day care. Same thing on the way back home after a long working day. My pleasure is in reuniting with my daughter and give her all the playful energy I have left! If I ever get some time in between family coordination, I like to walk in Prospect Park and always have an eye on the exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum. If my schedule permits, I like to have lunch with friends but I wish it was more often.
You have an impressive educational and professional background. What is it like to go out on your own? This is called growing up. Relying on ourselves only. Trusting our instincts. Not getting influenced by others. To me, working on my own really connected me back to myself. It is extremely challenging, but I really feel alive.
You started designing your line as a portfolio to get a job. When and how did it transform from a portfolio to your namesake line? I rented a semi-private studio in Gowanus through Brooklyn Art Space. Once a year they are organizing “Gowanus Open Studios” where anyone can visit artist's studios for a week-end. We pretty much had to participate because it is like being part of a community. I was shy to show my work but the feedback was really rewarding and gave me the strength to put my collection out there.
How did becoming a mother influence the decisions you make as a designer? All I can think of is going through pregnancy, delivery, and becoming a young mother brought me a strength I didn’t think I had. After giving birth I thought “Now that I experienced this, I can do anything.” Also being a mother teaches you how to push your limits and puts all priorities back in order.
Once you decided to start your own line you made some bold decisions about where you would like to sell your line. Where did you send your first look books and what was the response? After the “Gowanus Open Studios” event, I wanted to get the feedback of respected and mature eyes in the fashion world. That’s how I thought of sending the look book to Colette and Barneys New York. Having an immediate positive answer from both was one of the most beautiful feeling I ever felt.
Your line was well received and you had some exciting success early on. Tell us about seeing one of your pieces on a celebrity for the first time. When I saw Scarlett Johansson wearing Aroze Shirt for a Saturday Night Live video, I couldn’t believe it. My heart was speeding up, I couldn’t get this dumbstruck smile off my face, I couldn’t say a word.
What does sustainable mean to you? Sustainable means to me traceability, respect of the environment, respecting human rights. Producing everything in New York gives me the assurance that the seamstresses are well paid and allows a lot of transparency about where and how my collection is being produced.
Where is Maud Heline produced and how do you choose your materials? The collections are entirely developed and produced in New York. It wasn’t easy to find the right partners at first. The factories want to make sure you are a serious person and to make make sure the quantities will follow. I select my fabrics and trims very carefully and I am very faithful to my mills.
I like natural fibers so my poplin is 100 % cotton. No Polyester. The poplin comes from a very respected mill in Italy.
The trims are also 100% cotton and are made in Switzerland. Concerning the buttons, I like Rivershell or horn buttons. The more natural, the best.
Transparency is something the global fashion industry is struggling with. Why is it important to you as a designer to know where your materials are coming from and be able to see first hand where your line is being produced? With my experience and the number of articles I read everywhere about global production, I realized there can be opaque situations. I didn’t want this to happen to me. Emailing can be very convenient but there is nothing better than sitting with the people you are working with to get a true understanding of where you would like to go together. The more the factories know you and your aesthetics, the better job they will do. When they will be producing the pieces for you, they will be thinking of our conversations together rather than thinking of a brand with no soul behind.
Each piece is beautifully detailed while always maintaining a simple clean elegance. Tell us about the special significance of some of the details in your Fall line. The palette including new colors like Rose Quartz and Charcoal are directly inspired by crystals and their meanings. Some people believe crystals can bring you great energy and can create respect and compassion. With everything that is happening in the world these days, the collection was inspired by my emotions. The tricolor trim I added on some shirts is a tribute to the Paris attacks. The white which is my reference color and is a symbol of purity.
Who or what inspires your designs? I started to design with an old box of laces and fabrics my grand-mother gave me. I started by making” vintage and romantic” pieces. I then thought I wanted to go to the essence and simplify the most I could to keep only the necessary details and gives it a fresh and modern look. That’s how my vintage lace became a graphic trim and the old silk I had became a crisp poplin.
How did you discover Manufacture New York. Tell us about working in their innovative environment. When I had to move out from my previous studio in Gowanus, I didn’t want to go to Manhattan and wanted to stay in an inspiring environment. I had a visit from the founder of the website “Of a Kind” and she mentioned this space. Funnily while looking for creative spaces earlier that week, I ended up finding Manufacture New York as well. I visited the space and fell in love with its spirit and with the building.
How would you describe your personal style? Laid back, Tom Boy, with feminine treasure pieces.
Describe your ideal wardrobe? It would only be made of natural fabrics which last forever. Silks, raw silks, cashmere, wool, cottons… I also like the “gypset” allure by mixing clothes and accessories bought while traveling.
Who or what influences your style? Traveling influences my style for sure and summer time. I feel way more creative in the way I dress when I am in a warm environment.
What makes you feel beautiful? Being Tan and feeling free.
What are you proud of? My daughter and my independence.
What advice do you have for aspiring designers? There is a space for everyone. Do not follow what others do. Just do what you feel not following the trends. What you do will always be a non-stop trend if you pass on who you truly are through your designs.
As an entrepreneur what was the best advice that you have ever received? To be well surrounded.