When menswear boutique The Helm owner and namesake Chad Helm sat down earlier this year to begin work on a collaboration with British heritage clothing brand Private White, he envisioned a capsule collection infused with a decidedly Edmonton flavour.
After all, who better to help design what would become the first-ever cold-weather collection (and first collaboration with a Canadian brand) for the Manchester-based manufacturer than someone who grew up enduring the biting cold of Alberta winters?
With his knowledge of the conditions faced in the winter on the prairies, Helm was able to add flourishes to the collection to help it stand up to the harsh conditions of Edmonton in January, and no where is that as evident as with its waterproof Parka, which features a high-rise shearling collar to help battle extreme winds while providing extra warmth.
Unlike many collaborations between fashion brands these days, which seem to exist to capitalize on the vaporous quality known as “hype,” this partnership took both brands out of their comfort zone as they worked to ensure the collection was as functional as it was stylish. The Edmonton influence in the capsule is unmistakable, bringing a sense of hardscrabble Edmonton practicality to British luxury. Consider it luxury outwear stamped with an authentic Albertan seal of approval.
“We knew what they were capable of and good at, and we knew what our clients needed,” Helm says. “We thought it would be really cool to work with these world-class outerwear experts and bring home a product that was totally built from the ground up for our climate. This collection was made for us.”
It’s also an example of an Edmonton retail experience unique to The Helm. In Helm’s mind, Edmonton men were not necessarily underserved in terms of their available local fashion options, but it was the total experience that was lacking. “We felt men in Edmonton deserved a little bit better,” he explains. “We wanted to bring a more international perspective to the city without the pretentious environment. We wanted to be a friendly, approachable place where guys like to hang out and relax, but also offer a very personalized one-on-one service.”
“From my experience working at an international company, Edmonton was treated as kind of Market B,” he continues. “But I learned quickly when you treat Edmontonians as a first-class city, they respond well.”
Helm, who cut his teeth in the fashion industry in his early 20s when he spent three years modelling in Europe, even living in Milan for two-and-a-half-years before eventually returning to Edmonton in 2009. “When things weren’t busy I worked for some of the larger designers on the production side of things, which isn’t so glamorous, but I learned a lot,” he says. “When I saw these people treating fashion as serious as they did, as a business, it opened my eyes.”
After working for a few years at Harry Rosen at West Edmonton Mall, Helm saw a for lease sign in the front window of the space in the historic Armstrong Building in which he would end up opening The Helm with business partner Brad Kahler, where it continues to operate. “I contacted the landlord, Brad and I met for coffee, we had a short discussion, and we both jumped on board. Now we’re here, where we hope to be for a long time.”