Textile designer Helena Bajaj Larsen.
Muhammad Yusuf, Features Writer
Indian-Norwegian designer Helena Bajaj Larsen was born and raised in Paris. She moved to New York, where she pursued a Bachelor in Fashion Design at Parsons School of Design, graduating in 2017. Currently based in Dubai, her focus has been on textile design and the exploration of surface design, through various mediums. She speaks to Gulf Today on how her life designs her work:
Why did you decide on textile designing?
Well, one might argue there is definitely fifty per cent of a painter (like my mother, renowned Indian painter Sujata Bajaj) in me as most of my textile work involves a lot of painting. Abstract painting, more specifically, which is the style I have been privileged to watch my mom work with since I was a kid. Academia wise, I was actually very academic in high school and funnily did not even have one art class as part of my curriculum!
That being said, every subject always felt like “school” and never like something I wanted to passionately pursue as a profession or a degree. I do still really enjoy writing and did a few gigs as a freelance writer for travel magazines (Conde Nast Traveller, for example, and a few others).
Where do you feel more at home — India, UAE or France?
France and India, definitely the most. France, because I grew up there and still spend most of the year there. I feel I connect with the way of life and also have a very special affection for Paris as a city — none compares (especially for someone in the arts, it is ever-inspiring). India, because I would travel there a lot as a child and always felt very connected to my family there. Today I have through my brand seen yet another facet of India, as it has become a place of work and a place I have many industry contacts as well as dear friends. The UAE I am grateful to as it has enabled me to run my business smoothly and opened its arms to me, people, opportunities, etc. It seems you knock on a door here and people actually want to know what you are up to. Perhaps it is not yet as saturated with creative people as other places, meaning there is more room to grow.
How have the Indian, European and Middle Eastern cultures impacted your work?
Indian in a major way, through its history of craftsmanship — most of the techniques I work with today I learned how to do in India and continue to do so, to be able to get my results in studios over there. My love of colour, detailing, gold … all these things are also very present in Indian aesthetics. Middle East I wouldn’t say influenced much, as I did not spend my formative years really in the region nor did I undergo any sort of training or courses in design in the region either. That being said, due to having Middle Eastern clients, I had to dabble with shapes and constraints I hadn’t worked with prior. I did some Abayas for example, a silhouette I knew nothing about — so in that sense it has been very interesting! The European influence probably comes through the silhouettes; they are all fairly minimal and linear, no-fuss pattern making is almost the mantra when it comes to how we construct garments.
Who is your market? What is your price range?
The price range really differs but usually begins at 2/300 euros and goes up to 2/3000 euros. The market is quite diverse! In this last month, there have been orders from Hyderabad (India), NYC, the UK, Oklahoma, Greenland, Paris, Indonesia … So it really differs and the best part is I always get to meet interesting new people as well and often clients become long lasting connections, bordering more on friends than work relationships.
Do you find the physical or the conceptual side of your work more demanding?
The physical is definitely more demanding as I start with fabrics that are entirely white and have to fill them bit by bit and all by hand. It is very demanding in terms of hand labour itself. Conceptualising has never been that complicated for me personally as usually the colours guide themselves a little bit, so if I start with something, I progressively feel what might look good next to it, over it and above it. Composition happens as I go along; it is not meticulously pre-planned.
You have won awards, exhibited internationally and are a label to be reckoned with. What would you like your legacy to be?
I would hope that as the brand expands I am able to reach a larger and more diverse audience. Nothing would make me happier than to imagine the HBL client community as a consortium of different cultures, walks of life, personas. It would re-enforce the global aspect I try to infuse into the work and that is also so characteristic of my life and upbringing itself. I also hope one day that I will be in a position where more of the work and proceeds can be devoted towards giving back in some shape or form to artisan communities and educational initiatives for young girls across India. We are already working with great suppliers that support this ethos and mentality. So I can only hope to do more and more of this!
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