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She Calculated Her Design Success

January 30, 2002|SAMANTHA CRITCHELL | ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK — Helen Yarmak couldn't have imagined the turn her life would take to bring her to New York City's fashionable Fifth Avenue.

A little more than a decade ago, Yarmak was a mathematician with a doctorate living in Kiev, Ukraine, when it was still part of the Soviet Union.

She had an interest in fashion, and she experimented with designs, turning bed sheets into dresses, but under the socialist system she had little opportunity to explore her creative side.

When her husband transferred to Moscow, Yarmak accompanied him, but she couldn't find a job. To lift her spirits, she bought a pair of cheap underwear and a piece of fine wool. Yarmak used them as a basis for a new dress. That's when her career as a fashion designer began. "I always felt I had something in addition to math in myself," says Yarmak.

About eight years ago, she sought out fabric from a factory so her designs could be produced in greater quantities. Yarmak says she posed as a representative of a Russian-Canadian joint venture to get her foot in the door. The factory loved her work, she told them the truth and together they created the Helen Yarmak Fashion House label using the company's money and her ideas. Soon other companies were coming to her to place orders.

Most of her individual customers are Russian and other European businesswomen who care about their image, says Yarmak.

Yarmak also founded a charitable foundation, Women for the Support of the State, which runs programs aimed at making the social and professional environment more favorable toward women.

In 1998, she opened her U.S. showroom and has catered largely to a celebrity crowd. Her office is filled with photos of Yarmak with Goldie Hawn, Jim Carrey and others. "My happiness was that I wasn't from the fashion world, and I didn't know the rules from that world, so I found my own way," explains Yarmak. The Business Women's Network honored her as its global entrepreneur of 2000.

Her jewelry line consists of mostly large, ornate pieces with semiprecious stones. Her creations also now include fur coats. Fur was a natural extension of her clothing line because its roots run deep in Russia. "At one time, sable was like currency. It was the gold of Russia," she says.

Yarmak describes her fur and jewelry as classic Russian designs made using both traditional handcrafted techniques and modern technology. "I want to remind the world that fashion is in our blood. Socialism was a very short time of Russian history," she says.

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