Helen Pak tells us how the creative class should dress
As the creative director of Saatchi and Saatchi’s Toronto offices, Helen Pak knows how to make a lasting impression. We met up with the award-winning architect and recent guest judge on Canada’s Next Top Model to talk about proper work attire, dressing as a mom and why she rarely wears black.
How would describe your style?
I have a really eclectic, non-style style. Coming from an immigrant family, the thought of spending tons of money on stuff isn’t in my DNA. I’ll do Paul Smith shoes with Zara jeans and an H&M shirt and a Marni necklace. I look everywhere. Just this past week I was in Cannes and I found this amazing silk print miniskirt in a little, cheesy souvenir shop. I could have sworn it was something from Dolce and Gabbana’s previous season. It was only 30 Euro.
Any designers you keep an eye out for?
The designers I tend to gravitate to have that classic staple with an infusion of colour or whimsy. They embrace trends but make them into something more wearable. I love Phillip Lim because his clothes are very architectural and he’ll add a splash of purple. I also love Robert Rodriguez’s pieces: they’re very feminine, ethereal and comfortable so you’ll still look good after a five-hour meeting.
How can women be chic at work without looking like a stripper secretary?
I know some amazing women in their mid–40s who can pull off outfits that a 20-year-old wouldn’t—because the older women have confidence. If you’re trying too hard people can smell it a mile away; when you have all the pieces from a magazine, it doesn’t look natural.
So how do people in your industry dress?
Advertising people are stigmatized for wearing black, but those days are over. I try to stay away from black or I’ll splash it up with cobalt blue. We’re in the creative field so we have to look the part.
Do you find yourself dressing differently for different clients?
When I was younger I did. At my last agency I had a presentation with a pretty straight client and I wore a short-sleeve blouse and a long skirt. My co-worker said I looked like I was going to court. Now, I might tone it down a notch if I have a very conservative client, but I’ll keep it within my style. If we go to meetings dressed in chinos and button-down shirts and have cell phone clips on our belts, they’d think, “You’re just like us, why should we come to you?”
Does being a mom change the way a woman dresses, or is that an old stereotype?
Yes and no. I have a beautiful, three-year-old daughter Stella and when I think about X amount of money, I think, I can either spend it on her future or this bag. It’s a delicate balance, but I don’t deprive myself of great things. Some of the most stylish people in my office earn the least amount of money.
Are there any trends you’re incorporating into your wardrobe?
I tend to not buy something if it’s in all the stores and magazines because everyone has it. Right now fluorescents and the off-the-shoulder look are popular but it looks ridiculous on me. I don’t think I could convince my clients to believe anything I say if I’m dressed like Lady Gaga. I’d probably be fired.