On stage, a figure dances, the smoke surrounds her silhouette and she becomes the negative of a silver print. Her shadow against the cloud of white is a terracotta orange, but the palette hues are murky, leaving traces of her movements in the way images stay in your view after staring at the sun for too long. It is extravagant, effervescent, ethereal but eternal. From the floor, a motionless crowd watches the scene with reverence. This, here and now, is an encounter with the divine, a time when the arts – music, dance, and high fashion – align with the perfect chemical reaction of an open heart and unholy faith. Florence Welch sings for us, and yet I can only gaze at her dress. It’s what I imagine Shakespeare’s Ophelia or Botticelli’s Venus would wear. I am dedicated.
I then realized that a large part of my experience was due to the very nature of the fabric that enveloped Welch’s body. The first thing I did when I got home was to investigate the origins of such a work of art. This bohemian and vaporous long dress was created by Alessandro Michele of Gucci. It was reminiscent of the clothes other 70s icons like Stevie Nicks and Joni Mitchell wore, but I had never seen anything quite like it. It was dreamlike in the most vital way.
Barefoot and carefree, Welch flipped a switch in me – a switch that translated into my life and into my own artistic expression. That night I witnessed the power of high fashion in art: one can do without the other, but together they become a powerful culmination of grace – embellished musical notes by the flares of a dress, trimmed with the same detail with which a painter exercises his brush on the canvas. This time, the medium was the body — Welch in Mantegna’s Polyhymnie des heights Parnassus. The muse of music before my eyes.
Now I can’t think of Welch without seeing her in my memory as an elegant fleeting beam of light. That spark has stayed with me ever since, and fashion has become something I really appreciate, especially when the artist intentionally combines an aura, an energy with a vision. Only then does a person become a character – that is, something more than just a subject before our eyes; something to consider as one considers a painting on the wall. In a character, fashion becomes a transition to her intentions – her inner narrative, her alter-egos and her psyche.
I believe that fashion has the ability to say, in great detail, everything that cannot be put into words. It is the intermediary between preconceived ideas about a person and who they really are. Self-representation, through skin and fabric. Haute couture is just as respectable an art – just as complex a craft – as any other. It is fashion taken to its highest form – the adaptation of a talent to the customer’s taste, by hand and by heart. Sew to fit the moves someone will be performing on stage, study every inch of someone’s body to allow for that move. Embellishments like harmonies, trimmings like syncopated rhythms, bursts like Welch’s vibrato.
In an age of fast fashion and fast-moving trends, the timelessness of handmade creations is evident. For me, no one handcrafts clothes as beautifully as Teresa Helbig, a Barcelona born and based designer who is so much more than that. Her studio works on a cradle-to-cradle production system, which means that every inch of fabric is used, every material has a purpose, and every material is purchased intentionally. Most importantly, each drawing is unique – because there will never be two of the same paintings, only the original.
She has been dressing women in the artistic industries for years – actresses like Ursula Corberó or Halle Berry, and singers like Rigoberta Bandini or Luz Casal, among others. Her latest collection, the ‘Helbig Music Fest’, is inspired by some of the music icons of the last century – PJ Harvey, Janis Joplin, Debbie Harry – and every creation deserves a place on stage, from that orange mini dress I could imagine wearing Lana del Ray and it’s the perfect blend of chic and metal; to this matching white, platinum blue and pink set reminiscent of Dua Lipa’s outfits; to this vanilla maxi dress that dances the fine line between Woodstock and Coachella.
Under the slogan “A Helbig woman never goes unnoticed”, Helbig has managed to create designs that break the boundaries of trends and time. Helbig is the intersection of craftsmanship and confidence. His creations will make you fall in love with the simplicity of tweed and the difficulty of embroidering it. His pieces are works of art and his studio is a museum. In it, a small team of mostly women work closely together throughout the creative process, from the needle that sews the spine of a dress to the final detail of the sleeves.
Helbig designs with the hope of empowering and does just that. None of his creations go unnoticed – each is the result of hours spent taking care of every detail. It’s about painting and repainting, playing with angles and daring bold color palettes and taking care of the creation itself more than the clothes. In this collection, the resolution of design must materialize on stage, in the catharsis of self-expression, through music and fashion.
A person on stage is the final piece of the puzzle in creating a work of art. It is neither opposed nor similar to performance art – think Yoko Ono’s “Cut Piece” – rather, when worn by someone practicing their own type of art, high fashion becomes a performance in itself. Alessandro Michele captured the essence of Welch, and through her designs she completed the narrative – a flesh-and-blood sculpture. Helbig, I know, could be part of Welch’s story.
Haute couture is an art in itself, but when it mixes with other disciplines, its effect is intensified: it is no longer just a garment, but a story; it is an imperative piece in the creation of an icon. Think David Bowie and his multiple stylistic alter-egos, Dolly Parton’s glittering matching ensembles or, more recently, Harry Styles’ jumpsuits. Live music can do without high fashion – we’ve seen icons like Jim Morrison and Sting rock jeans and plain Ts for decades – but with it, you find yourself thinking about attire the same way you remembers a piece that made them feel something in a gallery, or on the lines they remember a book that made them cry, or on the song that is a memory box of a time once lived… it becomes a memory, forever.
Daily Arts Editor Cecilia Duran can be reached at [email protected].