Artist, designer and printmaker Helen Steele is usually photographed in paint-spattered dungarees, brush in hand in her busy studio where she develops her original colourful artwork for print. This work has always been integral to her fashion line and she is well known for the vibrant, splash-printed dresses, tunics, kaftans and duck down jackets that have a distinctive character all of their own and high-profile fans who include Saoirse Ronan, Jessie J, Cara Delevingne and Vogue Williams.
At the recent VIP Style Awards, she was pictured in an off-the-shoulder black dress she designed emblazoned with the words “fashion is repealing” in multicoloured repeat graphics.
Primarily a printmaker, Steele is alone among Irish fashion designers in having a website that features both clothing and artwork, and exhibited the latter very successfully abroad before setting up her digital print label in 2011. Having trained as a fashion designer in London, she worked for a formative three years as an apprentice to the late South African artist and educator Patrick O’Connor and once spoke about how difficult it was having spent so long in visual art to adapt “to a more conformed visual expression in fashion and print”. It was the only way, however, to make a living.
Her latest collaboration is with Dunnes Stores with a 21-piece collection influenced by colour theory and graffiti with abstract patterns specially made from her hand prints that have been photographed and manipulated in her signature way. The collection "for mid-week or chill weekends", which goes on sale on Tuesday, January 8th, features dark, splash-printed hoodies, leggings, quilted jackets and racer back tops with an energetic street and sporty feel deliberately aimed at all body types.
Steele’s teenage daughter, Halle, developing a successful career as a plus size model (she was the face of Style Club’s 2018 Christmas poster) features in the campaign imagery which shows her with another model lifting weights in a gym.
While the Dunnes Stores collection broadens her reach, there is no reason why Steele’s work and particular visual aesthetic couldn’t be applied further to interiors and other areas of design. However, next month, Steele will collaborate with street artist Maser on a limited edition clothing range for Costume which will include dresses and shirts based around slow fashion – taking care and time to produce the softest of silks making them necessarily more expensive. “She is my favourite textile designer at the moment. Her work is refreshing; they are like paintings on textiles,” says Maser.
In the meantime, Steele's website currently features vibrant silk cashmere scarves for €150 with technicolour patterned dresses with names like Cora Pink Tribe or Sharjah in silk from €650-€750 while a punchy striped raincoat is €1,250. In Costume, there are zany black/red/white "Sketch" print tops for €395 and bargain hunters can find a "Black Lightning" silk print o/s dress with drop waist down from €756 to €495 or a Souk multicoloured kaftan for €330, down from €550, in the shop's current sale.