Designer Andrea Racey helps women slip into something chic and comfortable with her gorgeous silk garment and sleepwear line, Helena Quinn. She shares everything from her own personal style to what it’s like to see Oprah wearing one of her designs
By Rachel Schostak
Photography by Felicia Lasala
Andrea Racey has lived in Los Angeles since 2009, but for the founder and designer of silk garment and sleepwear line Helena Quinn, Detroit will always be home. “Being from Michigan is one of the things I’m most proud of,” says the 34-year-old, who grew up in Huntington Woods. “Everything that’s good in me stems from my home and from the community in which I was raised. There’s a work ethic, a determination and a recognition of what’s real that you don’t get in other places.”
In 2013, Racey started Helena Quinn, which hand-produces its slips, robes and pajamas from 100% recyclable silk fibers. Her garments have caught the attention of everyone from Kourtney Kardashian to Oprah, but her “true highlight” is hearing from her non-celebrity fans. “Anytime I get an email from a woman who says a robe made her feel beautiful or pampered, especially one who just gave birth or went through chemotherapy or any challenging time in her life, that makes me love what I do,” she says.
Can you share a bit about your design journey? After college I moved to LA and landed a job assisting Debra McGuire, who was the former costume designer for “Friends.” At the time she was designing TV shows like “Heroes” and the new “90210” and the Judd Apatow movie “Knocked Up,” and I worked on set with her.
I wanted to learn more about the manufacturing side of the industry, and Debra recommended me for a position with a friend of hers who had launched two successful brands and was getting ready to start her third. She took me on and I learned how to build a business in the garment industry from the ground up through that experience.
Why were you drawn to designing loungewear? Helena Quinn is named after my two grandmothers who both had eight children and worked outside the home, and at the same time were incredibly pulled together and feminine. They each had this balance of strength and gentility that I wanted the line to embody.
Silk loungewear represents the way I want women to feel in Helena Quinn: chic and luxurious but also comfortable and unencumbered. Silk is one of the softest yet strongest natural fibers occurring in nature.
Who is the Helena Quinn customer? The Helena Quinn customer is a woman who understands quality and luxury, but is not ready to trade her mortgage for a negligee. She is a conscious consumer, who incorporates sustainability into her life. She understands the power fabrics possess, and their ability to transform the way she feels about herself with just one drape. She see’s fashion as a form of wellness and understands the benefit of investing in quality rather than quantity.
What inspires your designs? I’m deeply inspired by nature, which I think is reflected in our prints. Nature always provides the best color palette. When I’m out on a walk or run I look at the way different colors and tones work together and complement each other in a way I may not think of otherwise. I take photos and then pull those swatches together when I get home.
What are your favorite pieces from your past and current collections? This is tough because I design everything personally, down to our prints, so I feel like I’m playing favorites with my children! But my favorite piece from a past collection is definitely the ‘Garden Floral Print’ Robe. It was the first time I played with using a contrasting lapel and cuff in a design, and I was nervous about it. But when the first sample came back, I knew we had a winner. Since its launch it’s sold out 10 times and has been worn by Oprah (which was enough to make my life complete). And two years later, it continues to be our number one seller! When I’m designing prints I always ask myself, “am I going to love this in 10 years?” If it doesn’t pass that test, it doesn’t go out.
My current favorite is our new ‘Katie’ Slip Dress. It’s cut on the bias and skims the waist and hips perfectly. The fit on that dress is something that I’m proud of because it really does fit such a range of body types. A customer may be hesitant or think it won’t work for her, and I’ll say, “just try it on”. The second she does, the dress works it’s magic. It’s also so easily styled up with heels and a blazer, or styled down with a sweater and converse – which is what I usually wear to work everyday!
What was it like to see Oprah wearing one of your designs? The morning I woke up and got a DM from a friend on Instagram of her wearing our ‘Garden Floral Print’ robe, it required a surgeon to reattach my jaw from the floor.
Can you share a few of your career highlights? Being a part of Rachel Zoe’s Box of Style was a big first highlight because it provided us with the opportunity to get in front of a huge new customer base and audience. We had just launched the DTC portion of the company, and the client acquisition we gained through that partnership was pivotal in being able to survive on our own.
Press is always flattering and I would be lying if I said that our first mentions in outlets like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and the LA Times didn’t make me squeal.
I’m so grateful for those things. But truthfully, anytime I get an email or message from a woman who says a robe made her feel beautiful or pampered, especially one who may have just given birth or gone through chemotherapy or any challenging time in their lives, that makes me love what I do. That is my one true highlight.
How do you manage the work-life balance? One of my suggestions is to not buy into the concept of work as worth or identity. You are not your job. I think this mindset is especially important in a time when so many people are losing their jobs, to remember that your worth is not your work.
Who inspires you in the business world? I remember reading an article about Sarah Blakely of Spanx when I was 16 and having something click inside. Not only has she built a billion-dollar business, but she continues to give back and mentor other female entrepreneurs. She truly embodies the mentality that “a rising tide lifts all boats.”
What do you love most about Detroit? I was born and raised in Huntington Woods. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that being from Michigan is one of the things I am most proud of in my life. Everything that’s good in me stems from my home and from the community in which I was raised (I won’t hold them responsible for the wild years. ;). My parents, my sister and brother-in-law, my niece and nephew, my aunts, uncles and cousins all still live in Michigan and they are truly my core. There is a grit in Detroit, a work ethic, a determination, and recognition of what’s real that you don’t get in other places. Every time I come home I make my Dad drive me around just so I can stare out of the window and take in the changes, and I’m always astounded and so proud of the progress. Detroit truly does hustle harder.
When you’re back in Detroit, what are a few of your favorite places? I love going to Eastern Market, Corktown, and the DIA. The last time I was home, my brother-in-law, sister and I did a bar/restaurant crawl from The Monarch Club, to Wright & Company, to Green Sky Creative Studio space for Sofar Sounds Detroit, and then to The Whiskey Parlor. There may or may not have been a stop at Lafayette after that.
What are three words to describe your style? Minimal, tailored, edited, relaxed. Sorry, that’s four.
What are your must-have pieces for fall 2020? I love pieces that can be worn and layered in many different ways — like a silk slip dress with an oversized cashmere boyfriend cardigan from Jenni Kayne or Anine Bing. And, of course, a mask.
One item you can’t leave home without…. My hydro water flask.
You’re never fully dressed without _____ Confidence. I truly believe you can pull anything off if you feel good about yourself in it.
Your current “must have” item? A MASK!
Your most cherished item in your wardrobe/closet? My aunt gave me a crystal embellished handbag from Italy that belonged to her mother, my paternal Grandmother. It is by far the most cherished piece in my wardrobe.
Do you have a style icon? Who? Giovanna Battaglia Engelbert and Carolyn Bessette Kennedy.
Who or what inspires your style? I’m inspired by anyone who dresses for themselves. I don’t care if it’s something I would never wear myself, if they’re rocking it with confidence, I’m inspired .
Favorite quote or words to live by? Gratitude changes everything.
Head to toe outfit details: HQ Garden floral print full length silk robe, HQ ivory silk tank, RE/DONE jeans, Anita Ko jewelry, Manolo Blahnik suede pointed-toe pumps. (I love to buy my shoes and bags at The Real Real – the fashion industry unfortunately has an incredibly high carbon emission rate and environmental impact, and anytime I can practice sustainability through repurposing and purchasing garments here, I do.)