Helmer Joseph is on poise to fashion fame. Since he debuted his Canadian collection during Montreal Fashion Week in 2007, his name–and designs–have become a force in Canadian fashion.
Born and raised in Haiti, Joseph came to Montreal in 1978. He says he knew early on he had a thing for fashion and the craftsmanship of clothes. “Even in my young age I did not want to be dressed as my brothers were dressed and I did not like the tailor my family used,” he says. At six years old, he became fascinated by his mother’s sewing machine and began sewing to help his mother. As soon as he could, he went about studying fashion. At age 17, he took a three-year course in tailoring and that was it. While a sought-after designer, Joseph is a tailor by trade/
He left Montreal for Paris shortly after finishing his studies at Lasalle College. While in the City of Lights, he practiced his craft with some of the biggest names in fashion–John Galliano, Thierry Mugler, Karl Lagerfeld and Christian Lacroix. He says he found the fashion world in Europe open to him as a Black designer. “In 1983, Paris offered the possibility to make contracts for haute couture while working on their collections,” he says.
He also traveled to France, Italy, Japan and Spain. He even trained in knits, embroidery, art and textile design. He stayed in Europe for 20 years.
Actually, Joseph was poised to quit fashion when he returned to Montreal, but he couldn’t. Fashion was and is his calling, he says. According to Joseph, he enjoys the “mastery of the technique and the ease of the creation and manipulation of color.”
His designs have been described as “free of superfluity, minimalism and fluff.” He used his own savings to start his business in 1990 and today his designs range in price from $300 to $2,500 and his high-end women’s fashion has an array of pieces.
He says one of the highlights of his career has been presenting his collection at the various African Fashion Week shows, such as Senegal’s Dakar Fashion Week during which he had a show this year. “I loved that I was able to have the opportunity to present the collection in more than six African countries,” he says.
Outside of Africa, however Joseph is dismayed at the lack of Black models during Fashion Weeks worldwide. “To imagine in 2013 that Black models are not considered as a product as fashionable is a scandal,” he says.
Joseph says he hopes to help other Haitian designers. “I will always be there to help start their careers,” he says. And it looks like Joseph won’t be leaving fashion anytime soon. “I enjoy the freedom to express myself without constraint and I enjoy the recognition and appreciation of my colleagues for my work,” he concludes.