Text Matteo Mammoli
Via Montenapoleone, not only street-level boutiques. Upstairs, far from the shouting of fashion, the showrooms receive reserved customers. Here Helen Yarmak, fashion designer, manufacturer of jewels and fur coats, has her own here – other two are located in Moscow and New York.
Helen was born in Kiev, Ukraine. Her girlhood was lighted up by two passions: science and design. The first is linked with rationality, the latter with creativity – I wonder what is their common thread: “When you are gifted for logic, it means that the left side of your brain works a treat. When you feel creativity, the right side is working. Let’s say that my two sides has always been speaking to each other, and I let them do it”, this is her reply, in English, with a Russian accent, while she seats on the white sofa, a row of fur coats beside and before her, the jewels are on a small table – the latest collection. She is wearing two pieces, a ring and earrings – the Paraiba.
She holds a degree in mathematics, a doctorate at the Kiev State University, and she started working at the Cybernetic Research Institute. Then “it was the time of the Perestroika. With my husband, we moved to Moscow. The government decided to cut science funding. Thereby, those with a scientific education were obliged to adapt themselves, taxi drivers men and waitresses women.” Helen has persisted in the path of creativity and she started working as a designer.
Stones are her passion, she knows every aspect. I think of Guinizzelli – “The fire of Love comes to the gentle heart like as its virtue to a precious stone” – And I ask her if she believes in the properties of stones: “Yes, I think they are a source of positive energy. We are given energy by the stones we own. Our Japanese customers taught me something, I’ll show you.” She clutches her Paraiba in one hand, while in the other hand she unites her thumb and forefinger, “Try to get my fingers separated – she challenges me – Force them. You cannot, because the stone is giving me energy.” Conversely, she does not believe in horoscopes: “I had two husbands, they were born in the same year, on the same day, but they had two completely different personalities.”
Before interviewing her, I had a look at her Instagram profile. International celebrities like Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Sharon Stone, Jennifer Lopez wear Helen’s jewels and fur coats on the red carpets around the world and on the covers of fashion magazines. Customers, not friends: “Do you think it is possible to have friends in the star system? They are all too busy. They come to my showrooms, if they like something – and can afford it – they buy. We never make presents to stars, this is our policy. You can make donations to a charity, you can make presents to your friends, but not to celebrities.”
Helen divides herself between Russia and the U.S., but she is always travelling: “I live on the plane. Every time I go to a place, I would stay there forever, whether I find myself in Asia, America or in Italy.” She comes to Milan twice a year, all the jewels and the fur coats are manufactured here. I am interested in those hung here. Helen’s assistant shows me the sable. With a few artful gestures and unbuttoning, shortens the fur coat until only the shrug remains: “Versatility is the new feature of this latest collection: furs can be disassembled – sleeves included– according to needs.”
I go back to Helen to learn more about jewels. “When I started as a designer, it still was an affordable stone, – she explains me while she takes off the ring with the Paraiba – now it is off limits. It is my favourite one, it shines, it emanates positive vibrations. Its value is inestimable”. Then she shows me a ring with red opal and another one with three stones – pearl, ruby and sapphire. There are also jewels for men, to be launched on the market for the first time in September.
Her customers love peculiar objects, “most of them are very generous husbands – she jokes – and self-made people.” Also many women visit her ateliers, “business women, they come here exhausted after work, they try on the fur coats, the jewels and they start singing, they smile, they feel at ease.” Few years ago, I was awarded a prize as best designer at the Metropolitan Museum. “A series of experts in the field were present, one of them told me: ‘this is the first time I see a jewel that makes me smile’. This is my satisfaction, making people happy with my creations. Design is about making people happy.”