Khadi by Helena Bajaj Larsen

About Helena Bajaj Larsen

Born and raised in Paris by an Indian painter (Sujata Bajaj) and a Norwegian academic, Helena attended schooling in French until the age of 18. After receiving a Baccalaureate in Economics and Social Sciences from Ecole Alsacienne with highest distinctions, she left Paris to move to New York and attend Parsons School of Design. Her focus from the start has been on textile design and the exploration of a surface through print, knit and various other techniques. Although enrolled in the Fashion Design BFA, she attended Central St Martins in London for a semester abroad in a program centered solely on Print Design. Outside of school, she tried to develop textile related skills as much as she could through internships (Rohit Gandhi and Rahul Khanna, Mary Katrantzou for Embroidery, Thakoon) and workshops in India.

When her final year at Parsons came around, students were asked to create a senior thesis which told a story but also showcased the range of skills they had acquired over four years in school. Helena chose the topic of khadi. Khadi constitutes an Indian homespun cotton cloth often referred to as “the fabric of social change” due to its crucial role in the Indian Independence movement led by Mahatma Gandhi. Her thesis by this very name is a contemporary take on an old story which is both close to her heart as it reflects her family history but also embodies her passionate relationship to textiles.

The journey began with researching this period in Indian history extensively through documentaries, books, namely one titled “Khadi: Gandhi’s Mega Symbol of Subversion” as well as a family autobiography and old letters from Gandhi to her grandparents. When it came to translating the subject matter into aesthetic materializations in the form of design products, her background in textile work meant she naturally focused on texture-based experiments. The color and texture story resulted from photographs she had taken around Wardha, the town where her Grandparents and Gandhi spent the last decades of their lives and which she visited every summer.

The fabrics for the collection were sourced from Khadi shops around India and handpainted using acid and pigment dyes on a variety of silks and other materials. In parallel, Helena began exploring metal work as part of an elective at school and decided to present a jewelry collection focused on surface alterations as a part of her thesis.

During the last few weeks of her final year at Parsons she was a finalist for the Eyes on Talent Award, the YOOXIGEN by Net-a-Porter Award and winner of the CFDA Fashion Future Graduate Showcase which resulted in an exhibition of the work by 69 chosen (by the Fashion Design Council of America) graduates across the US.

Following graduation this past May, she was given the opportunity to apply for a Design fellowship in Haiti led by Donna Karan and in partnership with Rihanna’s Clara Lionel Foundation. Fortunately, she was one of the three students chosen to go down to Haiti for the summer and develop a range of products with the local artisans at a design training center in Port-au-Prince. It was an eye-opening experience as she was given a chance to work with materials she had never used before such as horn, leather, ceramics, wood, etc. She was also able to explore products that were outside the range of fashion apparel, mostly corresponding to home interiors and accessories leading her to consider fields such as industrial design and interior design as possible areas to further pursue as well, along with fashion, textiles, and jewelry.

This September, she received the opportunity to film a television episode onboard the Queen Mary 2 Ship for the show VACATION CREATION, airing on ABC. The ship was doing a special “Transatlantic Fashion Week” trip during the first week of September, and the show was looking to pair the voyage with a young Parsons graduate for their episode. Additionally, she was one of the six Parsons graduates invited to participate in a fashion show onboard which over 400 people attended.

Recently, Helena was shortlisted as one of the top 20 finalists for the WGSN X ARTS THREAD Future Creator Award as well as one of the five selected brands (out of 600 applicants) of the Lakmé Gen Next Mumbai Fashion Week competition. Each year they select five young designers to showcase their work among established Indian designers at the country’s largest fashion event.

Photographer: Helena Bajaj Larsen
Styling assistant: Mary Ragazzino
Model: Neloufar Taheri