The skyline of New York is a monument of a splendor that no pyramid or palaces will ever equal or approach. --Ayn Rand
Helen Yarmak strides across the Royal Penthouse Terrace of the iconic Crown Building, her floor-length, jet mink trailing luxuriously behind her; panther-like against the backdrop of a granite sky. In a few hours, the jewel of Manhattan's skyline will be illuminated and a regal glow will be cast over 57th Street, but for now all that glitters is the oversized "H" on the back of Helen's coat. The effect is fittingly superhuman as she gestures across the expansive space - once home to Playboy Enterprises - and drawls, "Welcome. I am Helen Yarmak."
"Your coat is wicked," I confess. The Russian designer grins broadly and accepts it as an accolade; her Siberian-blue eyes shine as she sifts through a rack of the most luxurious furs I have ever seen. Mixed amongst the expected hues of brown and black are shocks of neon purple, orange and green camouflage. "I am a grandmother, you know," she informs suddenly, then pauses to lovingly stroke a sable arm. "But I can still be wicked. Why not?"
I drop my pen and paper. Conventionality seems misplaced in Helen's crown, and how fitting she dubbed her latest collection, Rock and Royal. "There has always been a love affair," she muses, still weaving through the furs, "Between royalty and rock. Think of the men Queen Elizabeth has knighted... Mick Jagger. Bono. Elton John. The luxury of the best furs in the word, with the liberating spirit of rock 'n' roll."
Mink in camouflage, a sable whipped up like a poncho, an ermine shrug. A fur teddy on a couch nearby just because. Why not indeed. It's no wonder Yarmak's furs strike me as so very Samantha Jones, and I'm not surprised to learn that Kim Cattrall rocked them on the big screen; legendary Sex and the City stylist Patricia Field has a razor lens not just for design, but for the spirit of a collection. Fields bestowed the ultimate endorsement recently and donned Yarmak at her 69th birthday bash, which was held at Capitale this month.
Yarmak shares that she and Field are having dinner that evening and prepares to leave, but pauses to see me try on the cropped mink I've eyed all night. A dramatic ribbon (in royal purple) adds glamour and edge. The heart skips a beat. I'm about to take off my leather jacket, but Yarmak shakes her head. "The sleeves are cropped. Wear it over the leather jacket... play with luxury!" She's right; the pairing is unexpected, but wicked rock. Helen has one more surprise.
Gigantic, moonstone earrings set in ruby and gold, with a matching ring as big as its namesake. "I feel you must wear them," Helen says with a certainty that hearkens back to the ancients, to folklore, to her ancestors who introduced sable to Russia centuries ago. "They're my birthstones," I confess, unable to blink. Yarmak's jewelry collection is as spellbinding as the furs and equally unapologetic in its opulence. She's seen both spectrums - the designer is unabashedly frank about her humble beginnings. She scaled these heights from scratch, and single-handedly. Luxuries are the well-earned fruits of her dedication and keen eye for precision. She's the woman fellow Russian Ayn Rand idealized in her novels. The moonstone glistens pearlescent against the fiery rubies.
"It's my sign, too," Helen Yarmak tosses casually as she slips into the elevator, as if these moments of awareness occur frequently with her, as if the furs and jewelry truly do project a sensibility she is keenly aware of as she dreams up future collections. "Wear them to my show... enjoy."
A final glimpse of the sparkling H, and the doors shut. A week later, I'm equally spellbound at her show. Susan Shin plays hostess amidst an international, eclectic crowd. 'It' rocker-girl-around-town Reni Lane performs, and models stroll casually, sporting faded jeans and Yarmak minks and sable in neon and royal purple.
Helen sits on the ledge of a window and I almost miss her; the sun sets golden and the room glitters in tonal hues of gold and burnt orange. She smiles serenely as electric guitar howls and camera flashes begin to dominate. The revolving door is constant and includes Lucy and Euan Rellie, Mia Morgan, Ainsley Earhardt, Tana Chung, Tracy Stern, Renata Black, Kimberly Guilfoyle, and more.
It's her world, in her taste, in her vision, and it's the essence of beauty and luxury. A Russian jewel at the pinnacle of The Crown.