Archive for January, 2010

Art and commerce

Ohhhh, this New Yorker cover by Haitian artist Frantz Zephirin is rich looking (and colorful!).

There are framed prints of this cover available at http://www.newyorkerstore.com  to benefit Partners in Health and their relief work in Haiti. To me, the artwork for this cover (though painted) looks like a woven tapestry.

And this knotted tapestry, designed by Fred Tomaselli, called “After Migrant Fruit Thugs”, from the Arts & Leisure section of The New York Times, is really beautiful. The artist was approached by the owners of the “Rug Company” in London to design a tapestry to be knotted in China. The initial art was a multi-media collage which layered paint, photographic bits and real leaves, while the woven interpretation is a glorious display of intricate knotwork, rendered in silk, wool and metallic threads, drawing on hundreds of years of skilled Chinese textile artistry.

I have tapestry on my mind because I’d hunted down a picture of one of my mother’s tapestries from 1976, for a friend’s daughter who’s learning to weave and had chosen the same combination of shiny and soft materials.

“Designer, you’re getting distracted!”

“James Patterson?!! Is that really you??”

“Yup, Patterson here(!)…. You have a fabulous New York Times Magazine cover this week from Jan 24th to cut up for your paper doll project. It’s clean and designerly, it has lots of nice colors (including sparkly silver for goodness sake), it’s got some fun spacial play with the books in front of the type… and it’s got me in it!”

“Ummmm. Yes, I can see that….”

“So, what exactly are you waiting for?”

“Well, I like to look around to fuel my creativity.”

“Ok, I grant you that, but let’s talk about your production level.”

“All right.”

“How many of these outfits do you make in a year?”

“Well, A low number would be fifty two, one for each week, but actually, I make outfits from supplemental covers too, you know, from Fashion, Travel and Style New York Times Magazines, and sometimes I make additional outfits from the inner magazine pages if I’m feeling particularly inspired.”

“Ah, that’s pretty good…. I only put out an average of nine titles a year…. Do you have help?”

“No, I design and fabricate all of the outfits myself.”

“Just think of the possibilities if you had a staff like mine! You could have co-designers, marketers, publishers…. How many copies do you produce of each outfit?”

“Only one.”

“WHAT??? I produce fourteen million of each of my books and they’re published in thirty eight different languages! On top of that we do multiple reprints, and they keep selling like hotcakes.”

“Wow, that is impressive.”

“How do you market your work?”

“Oh, I don’t. I just take a picture of each one and put it up on my blog.”

“But how can you make money at that?”

“I’m actually not very good at making money.”

“I see…. Then why do you do it?”

“Well, I enjoy it, and I think other people do too.”

“Hmmmm. But if you printed fourteen million of them like me then you could sell lots of them!”

“Paper doll outfits?”

“I see, you do kind of have a point….”

Today I have a sophisticated color palette to work with. My skirt is reminding me of a striped, vintage, Roman silk scarf, and I actually own these shoes! They were handmade in Peru years ago for Sigerson Morrison when they were just starting out. Their workshop was in a little room next to mine in the Cable Building at Broadway and Houston in New York City. Back then friends could pick leather and trim colors from swatches and have their Sigerson Morrison shoes made to order! I hope the Project Runway judges will feel I’m back on a fashionable track.

Read Full Post »

For love of hue

My friends have different reasons for not wearing color. Some admit to being afraid of it, while others profess a love of its absence. All of them use black as a springboard for creative expression. There are always multiple layerings of related tones, symphonies of harmonizing greys, hints of silvery shimmers paired with textural fuzzy surfaces. I seem to be attracted to color and pattern first (plums, olives, magentas, little touches of blue or yellow), and then go for texture and lots of fun details: embroidered and knitted embellishments, stripes, polka dots, piping, buttons, beads, bangles, my checkerboard-sided glasses…. and yes, I wear all of it!

While poking around my basement this week I found the fabled paper dolls of my youth (Eureka!!). I found the ones I remembered and also found many more which will make their debuts in posts to come. I found my first pop-up paper dollhouse…

and I found more outfits than I could possibly imagine. The curious thing is that I don’t remember how into it I was. Here’s that mod little crayon doll from third grade I had written about in “Mother love”. I remember now my concept was that her friend (with all of her accoutrements) be made of cut paper. The friend was to have all cut paper furnishings in her part of the house, but I guess I ran out of steam. I’m amused that I’d thought of making the wall cabinet open and close and I’d made the doll and her swimsuit two-sided. It’s a nice precursor to the pop-up dollhouse we make today which also has an opening door for the oven and printing on both sides of all the pieces (http://www.hestiahouse.com).

I was a clown in my 3rd grade Halloween parade. My mom, Muriel Nezhnie Helfman, made a huge tapestry of the event she called “Wild Cherry Charms”, which was an exploration of women’s roles in society and sexual stereotyping in young girls. Clearly my mom had no fear of color either…. When she was a child she loved looking at the world through candy wrappers so here we are in her rosy vision.

I see I had a clown costume planned for my doll (after all, there was already a Star Trek number!), and in case you’re wondering how they survived all these years, paper dolls apparently need food for sustenance and these dolls had plenty. Notice especially the tiny white teacup with the handle as seen from above….

I am surprised at how many outfits I had made for the crayon doll, how many pairs of tights with shoes, and how many of them I made in similar colors. Apparently I realized even then that yellow isn’t just yellow, that there are many yellows, many whites, many shades of blue, and I’d like to point out by proxy that the same is true for black….

Which brings me to the disappointing Jan. 17th New York Times Magazine cover.

I know we are in dire times. There are many serious issues of concern today: Haiti for one, the war, the constant threat of terrorism, the recession with all its far-reaching ramifications… all good reasons for designing black covers, but that doesn’t mean the covers can’t be nuanced and rich and interesting. I’d like to share another cover coming out of NY this week, The New Yorker for Jan. 18th, by Viva, which I think is a far more beautiful interpretation of designerly dark monotones, (and what’s more, it’s charming!). Honestly and truly, all these luscious deep shades basically add up to black. I’d like to think of it as the new black, and I hope it catches on.

“You know Designer, we normally don’t like to see costumes on the runway.”

“I know Nina. I just wanted to make a clown suit for old time’s sake.”

“Well, it is a fairly nice one, but I hope you keep fashion in mind for next time. ”

“Thank you Nina. I will.”

Read Full Post »

Ooh la Los Angeles!

“As you know Designers, Project Runway is now in fabulous LA which offers all the hip happenings you could ever hope for. I know you’ve already been to Food to buy this week’s challenge fabric, The New York Times Magazine cover for Jan. 10th…

but this week we have a surprise for you! One of our beautiful models has been invited to participate in a paper doll show at the Fifty 24 LA Gallery sponsored by M.I.S.S. Omnimedia and Upper Playground, and since it’s here in Los Angeles, you’ll each be designing an outfit for yourself to wear to the opening!”

“Here’s the poster for the show….

And here’s our model flaunting a couple of styles inspired by the ever fashionable Miss Ommnimedia herself, Gabriella Davi-Khorasanee, (http://www.missomnimedia.com) using some ephemera supplied for the event.”

I was reading through the rest of the paper and found a look by Dries Van Noten in the Style section that I absolutely fell in love with. This is the outfit that will be my inspiration for today. Here it is big with a short Derek Lam number in back, both displaying a nice mix of prints, something I’ve always loved.

“Ok, Designer, are you ready for the runway?”

“I’m ready Tim!”

“Ok, let’s go!”

Ilisha Helfman will be included in the Paper Doll show at Fifty 24 LA Gallery, 125 6th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90014, 213 623-4300, Tu-Sa 12:00-6:00. The show opens Jan. 14, Downtown LA Art Walk and has a second opening Feb. 11, Downtown LA Art Walk, and goes through Mar 30, 2010. http://www.missomnimedia.com

Read Full Post »

Inventing beauty

Here we have an interesting kind of hoarding: bankers, bailouts and all those bucks.

In an odd sort of way, I don’t see the value in this kind of collecting because it’s not being used to better the world or to create something beautiful.

When you think about it, that’s a lot of paper!

There are so many nice things you can do with paper….

Robin Black writes about her house being suggested for a TV makeover by her disapproving neighbors in the Lives column, also in this week’s New York Times Magazine. She describes the range of emotions that swept her from embarrassment to an almost giddy optimism about the prospect of having her house, and her life, transformed on TV, and ultimately the disappointment of being rejected by the producers, in favor of another house with a shabbier facade.

I’ve been thinking lately about a beautiful series of watercolor paintings on paper my father, Sheldon Helfman, has been working on for an upcoming show: http://www.sheldonhelfman.com.

My dad revels in seedy facades.

He likes rust and stains,

and peeling paint,

and urban grime and decay,

and handyman solutions for things that need repair.

He can find beauty in the most common vernacular,

which I think is truly a gift.

It’s very possible my father would find beauty in Robin’s house just as it is, so I hope she takes heart.

My vernacular this week is yet another black New York Times Magazine cover, this one from Jan. 3rd. Here is my attempt at inventing beauty.

Read Full Post »


This is always a bittersweet issue. It’s a celebration of the best (with a dash of the quirkiest) we offer to be sure, but it’s sad that the honorees are no longer with us and can not appreciate being featured in this glorious way. Here’s the cover of the New York Times Magazine for Dec. 27th, The Lives They Lived, and also a tribute from me to Irving Penn (a rearrangement of his flower photograph from inside the magazine) in appreciation of his indelible contribution to fashion photography.

“Designer, those are some catchy tunes you’ve been humming this week.”

“I know!  Ellie Greenwich’s songs from the early 60’s are fun to sing and nice to work along to.”

“I bet Naomi Sims would have looked striking in your poppy dress.”

“Oh thank you, I wish she could have tried it!”

“There are so many inspiring people featured in this week’s The Lives They Lived issue: doctors, politicians, union organizers, journalists…. Here’s hoping we can also do and be our best, in the decade to come.”

Read Full Post »