When she’s not racing to a photoshoot or swapping style notes with a bride, Gold Coast-based couturier Helena Karkovic can often be found hand-sewing at home. In her happy place. “I know it sounds like I’m a workaholic but sewing lace detail is one of the most relaxing things I can do,” she laughs. “It’s hard to stop and I often do it on my days off.”
This surprising relaxation technique is Helena all over: a hands-on creative who is constantly imagining, dreaming, and challenging herself. Never one to shy away from a sexy silhouette or a well-placed ruffle or Swarovski crystal, the designer has picked up a string of industry awards over the past two decades for her label Helena Couture Designs.
And while her sculpted-to-fit gowns are renowned for their chic contemporary profile and handmade quality, Helena’s personal approach has also helped make her a go-to on the Gold Coast, Byron Bay, Brisbane, and beyond. Glowing testimonials from her brides speak to a passion and experience that seems to spill effortlessly from life to art.
We caught up with Helena to chat Cinderella moments, modern brides, and that lace obsession.
Can we rewind to what first sparked your interest in wedding dress design …
As far as I can think back, I have loved not just wedding dress fashion, but ornate evening wear too. I do remember the story of Cinderella being read to my sister and I when we were young. We loved the dresses Cinderella’s fairy godmother made for her, including her wedding dress. So maybe from there, my interest was sparked.
What inspires you & who are your style icons?
For me, the question is more “what doesn’t inspire me”? So many things inspire me, but they usually always involve the environment around me at the time: movies, music, fabric/materials, people and places, experiences.
Describe your style in a few words:
Modern, yet timeless, elegance. Sexy. Romantic
What’s your process when designing a new collection or gown?
I always have a base idea in my head, often with a figure shape in mind. I then imagine the mood or environment of the wedding where the gown might appear and that influences the finer details. Or, I see and feel the materials I’m going to use and let them lead the way.
I design a lot by experimentation too, as I am always trying to push myself to design and create something new or play with new techniques. I push my boundaries in my daily life, so it’s only natural I do the same with my designs — I believe it makes me a better bridal couturier. Always aspiring towards feminine originality, I focus strongly on flattering the female shape and environmental factors.
My mind is forever working up concepts and ideas for new designs, sometimes making it hard to sleep, until the design or the dress is finished.
Do trends matter?
Yes, but they will only be flattering on a bride if the chosen trend works for her. We are so lucky that in the bridal industry there are many ‘on trend’ styles, and I focus on using the aspects the bride likes to design and create a gown that will flatter her.
Do you have a favourite material to work with?
I love working with all types of materials, but I guess my favourite would be lace, whether it’s manufactured in Europe or Asia. During COVID-19 isolation and the quiet months following, my staff and I put the many tubs of remnant laces I had in stock to good use. We hand-sewed the laces, some only A4 size or smaller, into an entirely new design. I absolutely loved doing this. I was in my very own utopia, but at the same time was also relieved when the design was finished, as we’re talking 100+ hours for one gown!
What fascinates you, and how does this feed into your work?
I am, by nature, an inquisitive person, and when my mind is stuck on something I will research it until I am content with the result.
Is there a celebrity you’d love to dress?
Pink, Angelina Jolie, Delta Goodrem, Adele: women who are willing to wear something flamboyant, while showing off their figure and personality.
What is your most treasured possession?
It isn’t really a ‘possession’, but it is still the most treasured thing I have in my life: my family and closest friends. I’m so lucky to have them in my life and each brings something uniquely special to our relationship.
What advice would you give brides-to-be searching for their dream dress?
The most important thing a bride should look for is the right style of gown for her figure shape. In this era of so many different styles and price brackets, you don’t need to end up with second best. Go for something that will be flattering for you.
What has been your biggest achievement in two decades as a bridal designer?
The numerous awards I’ve won over the years (when I used to compete) is definitely one. But the greatest achievement is the number of happy brides who had faith in me to dress them on their wedding day. When I read their testimonials, I realise how much of a positive impact I had on them during their journey of creating a dream dress for that special day. It really is hard to top that.
What’s next? What are you looking forward to for your label?
At the moment, I’m focused on getting my brand online even more than before, so it’s visible to a larger audience searching for their dream dress from their computer screen.
Want to know more? Pop on over to the Helena Couture website.