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From LA to Maxmo

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Helén Hirvelä designed clothing for the world's celebrities. Now she has flown home to Vasa after 11 years in the US. After many years as a photographer's model she has found her place in life. She hand-sews unique garments - among her clients are Janet Jackson, Alanis Morisette and actress Hal.

After living 11 years in Los Angeles and working as a photographer's model and as the manager of a boutique, Helén decided to return to her home city of Vasa. Before that she had designed and sewn clothing to sell in various boutiques in fashionable Beverly Hills.

Although she has flown all over the world, Vasa has always been home to her. The contrast is great "from LA to Maxmo" where she spent the summer at her villa fishing for perch. She laughs readily. One notices that she has lived abroad because she rolls her r's and switches to English in a pinch. A few words of Vasa slang are slipped in now and then.

She grew up in a caretaker's home at the Wasa sailing club together with her mother's parents. Later she lived in Spain four years but returned to finish school and go to the Vasa driving school. She began to study at art school in Nykarleby but got a job at an advertising agency. She said, "I was impatient in Vasa and moved to Helsingfors to work as a manager of a clothing store. That's where my interest in clothing had its beginning."

It was also at that time Helén was sought out by fashion guru John Casablanca who wanted her to take part in "Look of the Year" modeling competition that is somewhat like the teenager's equivalent of Miss Universe. "It ended up that we were two girls who went to Sicily to represent Finland and three months later I got a modeling contract. At first I wasn't interested because I had a good job in Finland, but I decided to take a chance. And this is the first time I've come back," she said with a laugh.

Later she got a modeling contract in LA and stayed there. But after a year she knew that she needed a rest in her modeling career and took up sewing. She had begun to sew as a child when she lived with her mother's mother and her father's mother who was a dressmaker.

"I began to sew again during my spare time and made my own clothing. One day I was asked if I would take part in a fashion show with my clothing. I laughed and said Yes, but never considered it seriously. I saw no future in sewing. But the reaction was positive and I immediately got orders."

Today Helén sews exclusive clothing that sells in three different boutiques in Beverly Hills. She makes two of each garment which interests the artists' world. "Celebrities can be sure that another person has the same garment if they buy my clothing," she said. She sews tops, ponchos, small scarves and dresses with beautiful glittering trim and unique decorations. "In the US it is very unusual for anyone to sew by hand. And it is time-consuming so that is why clothing costs so much." She says that it is important to be sure that one does not get carried away by the fashion world. "Many came into the boutique and saw my clothing. For example, Janet Jackson's stylist came in and if she didn't buy anything it's possible that she remembered what she saw and will remember me another time."

The demand for Hirvelä's clothing, which goes under the logo: "Hirveläbyhand", increases; therefore she plans to expand. In the fall she may hire someone who can help her sew the basic clothing so that she can concentrate on the artistic designs. She said that Vasa is the best place to find beautiful trimming. She told about Britney Spears who bought a couple garments. She asked where the wonderful trimming came from and "I nearly laughed when I told her I bought it at the Citymarket in Vasa."

For Helén's fall collection for the US she plans to use Österbotten's trim. And she is satisfied about life in her home city. "I chose to change my life and come home again. If I missed anything from the US, I would not be here."

Cecilia Thylin, Vasabladet, published in Norden Newspaper 29 July 2004

Translated by June Pelo


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