When Dania Heller greets you, she flashes a big smile, looks you straight in the eye, and gives you a genuinely awesome hug. Last week, I previewed the Hellers‘ latest collection, and although it was my first time meeting the designer, she instantly felt like family. Dania’s familial demeanor can be attributed to the fact that she runs her 3-year-old clothing line with her brother, Yoram, who’s based in Los Angeles. She lives in Tel Aviv, which is where the Hellers is produced. While the expertly tailored line of vintage-inspired garments does exceptionally well overseas, Dania is ready to bring the line stateside – and she plans on moving here along with it. Here, she reveals the retro inspiration behind her designs.
What inspired your latest collection? I happened on some photos of the ’70s version of the Great Gatsby, starring Mia Farrow and Robert Redford. Somehow the images really encapsulated the spirit I was feeling lately – an easy chic, done in beautiful lux materials but in simple flattering cuts, as well as the always fascinating take on the ’20s through the ’70s. And then the inspiration evolved into imagining the wardrobe of a woman who was invited for the weekend to an estate of a made up Masterpiece Theater production from the 70s. I created looks for day – what she’d wear to drive in, play tennis, have tea – and then what she’d wear when she’d change for dinner and come down the stairs at night.
You’ve nailed the vintage look. What fashion era does The Hellers most identify with? Ha! Yes, I have a deep love of great flea markets and vintage stores – you can learn so much about construction and get so much inspiration. It is our history. As for an era that we most identify with, I have to say I keep coming back to the ’80s. That’s when I grew up – what can I say? There was just so much in that decade – I’m still coming back to it. My new obsessions are Melanie Griffith in Something Wild and Susan Sarandon in Bull Durham.
If you can dress anyone from the past or present, who would it be? Who wouldn’t want Chloë Sevigny to wear something of theirs? But, I’d have to say I would have loved to have dressed Blondie-era Debbie Harry. She just owned it and her looks from the time continue to surprise and inspire me. I just learned this year that Stephen Sprouse designed a lot of her initial outfits – how amazing is that!?
Debbie Harry in Stephen Sprouse, 1979.
We’re obsessed with your jumpsuits. Which styles are bestsellers? The Night Moves Jumper and Day Moves Romper are definitely our current bestsellers, and we have the Google searches to prove it. How is your line received in Tel Aviv and elsewhere? The line is truly based in and around Tel Aviv. We’re in boutiques around the country and have clients that have grown with us. People there are very open to and supportive of local independent designers. I feel very lucky to have started there.
You mentioned that you’re actually from Santa Monica and planning to move back to LA soon. What prompted the decision? Honestly, when I started the line in Israel, I remember thinking, I’d do it for a few years here, and then once I’d learned the ropes and developed the brand enough, I’d come home. And in so many ways, the time has come. It’s been hard to accept this because I love working in Tel Aviv, and we’ve worked long and hard to get to the point we’re at, but we’ve also accomplished our goals there and need to move on in order to keep growing.
As your line is locally produced in Tel Aviv, will production remain there if you do make the move? Production will remain there in the interim while we make the move, but eventually, I hope, it will be manufactured in LA. I really believe in producing locally. I explain to people that it’s like buying organic produce from your local Farmer’s Market. People outside of industry have no idea how many people it takes to make one garment, and if that work is done in another country you lose a lot of jobs, as well as the knowledge and expertise of skilled craftsmen. It’s so tempting to produce cheaply abroad, but the act itself has dangerous consequences.
Well, we definitely welcome The Hellers with opened arms. What US-based boutiques are on your stockist wishlist? Honestly, because I don’t live here now, I am sure I don’t know all the hidden gems that are around. But from what I’ve seen, I’d love, love, love to be at Opening Ceremony, TenOverSix, Bird, and Oak NYC. We have a little fantasy of opening up a Hellers atelier in LA in the next year – so watch out!
One half of The Hellers design duo, Dania Heller.