dress for success
Model, mother, photographer, retailer, designer—Helena Christensen is the acknowledged Renaissance woman among that class of cover girls known simply as The Supers. But one of Christensen’s most far-reaching contributions to the culture has remained relatively unsung. Back in the early nineties—around the time the “Wicked Game” video in which she starred was making her a walking semaphore for beachy sexiness—the model showed her friend Marie-Anne Oudejans a few bolts of candy-colored cotton she’d purchased on a recent trip to Thailand. “She was always sewing cute little dresses,” Christensen recalls, “and she made up a few for me out of those fabrics.” The rest is Tocca history. Oudejans, then the assistant to photographer Peter Lindbergh, wound up spinning off the so-called “sari dresses” into not just a fashion brand, but a fashion juggernaut. An entire era of cutely bohemian dress-wearing style can be summoned merely by laying eyes on one of those Tocca originals. Well, fans can now lay eyes on them again. Christensen’s West Village shop, Butik, for the moment has the exclusive contract on Oudejans’ reissue of the sari dresses under the label Tocca Vintage; the store will be hosting a party for the brand on March 26. Here, Christensen takes a break from a trip to Rio, where she’s been test-driving the Vintage pieces, to talk Tocca.
There was such a Tocca moment in the nineties—what do you think it was about those dresses that struck a nerve?
It’s hard to define what makes a clothing piece a classic, but that’s what happened with the Tocca dress. I remember I wore the dresses Marie-Anne made for me backstage at the shows, and immediately, all the girls wanted one in every color. It was just such a special little piece; very girlish, but sassy at the same time. The dress woke up the free spirit inside you.
How did the idea come about to relaunch the original styles?
Tocca came up with the idea, I guess, and then they approached me. I liked the idea a lot; those dresses bring back great memories…
It seems like the whole period back then was one big fond memory, and the dresses stand out like bright, colorful lollipops of that time. I think I went through entire summers just wearing the dresses, every day! Once Mariana—Marie-Anne—and I had to go to a big event and I asked her to make me a special Tocca dress. She made me this long green mermaid dress, like an eccentric version of the short ones, but superlong and with sequins randomly strewn all over it. I still have that dress.
Obviously, fashion has moved on since these dresses were first introduced; do you find you wear them differently now, i.e., that you style them in a new way or pair them with different accessories?
I wouldn’t wear them any other way than I always have. That’s what made the dresses so precious—they’re like jewelry, in a way, you just slip them on and step into a pair of sandals and it’s perfect!
As you say, you didn’t have a great deal of involvement in the Tocca Vintage launch, at least on a creative level. But a similar sensibility to the sari dress seems to inform your line with Leif Sigersen, Christensen & Sigersen. What’s going on with that?
We’re working on getting investors. We did two collections and now we need someone that can step in on the financial and technical side, as we ended up not being able to keep up with orders, which in a way is a luxurious situation to be in, but frustrating as well. I’m so busy right now —working on an exhibition in New York, and traveling quite a bit with my photography, among other things. At least getting dressed is easy.