Helga De Silva Blow Perera, the name itself commands attention. Standing 5’11" in her stocking feet, Helga with her cut glass accent in plummy tones and clad in long flowing garb with her signature sunglasses is certainly an eyecatching figure with a personality to match.
There is no denying Helga's beauty. On the eve of her 71st year, Helga’s beautiful porcelain complexion, chiselled cheek bones coupled with her enviable bone structure bears testament to the care she takes to maintain herself, a quality instilled in her by her late mother, Esme De Silva.
A daughter of one of Ceylon’s prestigious political families, Helga grew up in a world of colonial charm, Hollywood tittle tattle and political revolutions. Sent off to boarding school in England, Helga’s sultry exotic looks, contours of a catwalk model, panache and style caught the eye of the fashion houses of Dior and Worth who she modelled for.
Caught up in the fashionable 50’s and 60’s of post war London, long considered the fashion hub of the world, Helga embarked on a romance with English soldier-historian Jonathan Blow whom she married as a 17 year old at the High Altar of St Paul’s Cathedral, London. Helga’s stunning bespoke wedding dress was created by Swiss born and London based fashion designer Jo Mattli, known for his couture designs. A member of the Incorporated Society of London Fashion Designers (InSoc), Mattli was considered a key player in shaping London’s post-war couture designs and considered by Vogue as a 'go-to' designer women could trust.
The unison with Jonathan Blow saw Helga produce her own dynasty, sons Detmar and Amaury and daughter, fashion designer Selina Blow. Captivated by Helga’s beauty, free spirit and kind nature, Jonathan gifted Helga with a large country pile, Hillies, in rural Gloucestershire a fashionable address to own a sprawling mansion.
Returning to Sri Lanka after the demise of her husband, Helga took up residence in her childhood home, a 1930’s art deco chalet over looking the ancient city of Kandy. With the help of a couple of art students, Helga converted the building into a hotel which serves up a smorgasbord of visual delights. Displaying Helga’s love for the exotic and distaste for the bland, the walls are a riot of colour.
Family heirlooms hang on bright red walls while disco balls and glittering baubles hang from the ceiling painted with signs of the zodiac. Huge candelabras with stalactites of wax vie for attention with a collection of antique horns mounted on walls. Vivian Leigh, Sir Alex Guiness, Gregory Peck, Sir Laurence Olivier, Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi are just some of the illustrious guests who have stayed at this
Helga grew up surrounded by strong fashionable women in the form of her mother Esme and her paternal aunts, author Marcia De Silva de Vigier and Sri Lanka’s first women architect Minette De Silva - all characters of infinite beauty, timeless elegance and trendsetters in their time. In addition the various Hollywood movie stars that visited her home, Helga had many role models to influence her fashion sense.
Never one to conform, during her days in London, Helga would wear saris from her aunt Minette’s atelier setting it off with an elaborate headdress that would make heads turn.
In her late daughter-in-law Isabella Blow, the celebrated fashion stylist and fashion editor largely credited with discovering milliner Philip Treacy and Alexander McQueen the enfant terrible of fashion, Helga found a creative kindred spirit. The duo designed a collection of very avant garde jewellery incorporating Sri Lankan gem stones.
With creativity coursing through her veins, Helga’s fashion DNA has been passed to the next generation with her daughter Selina Blow becoming a fashion designer of repute especially to the fashion conscious elite of British society.
Helga’s joie de vivre, palatial art filled home and artistic aura is a magnet which has attracted the likes of designer Zandra Rhodes the high priestess of British Fashion, sculptor Andrew Logan, fashionista Paula Yates and other movers and shakers from the fashion world.
Now firmly ensconced in the Kandyan Hills, visitors to Helga’s Folly might spot Helga in her long flowing Kimono or in a vibrant heirloom sari draped in a style unique only to Helga topped off with her trademark sunglasses that is just oh so Helga!
Lauded for her beauty and elegant but quirky style Helga is a woman who lives at the confluence of history, glamour, fashion and art.
This hotelier, artist, muse and fashionable châtelaine is a true icon of fashion with a sublime classiness. Her fashion forward sense and daring spirit in mixing eastern and western fashion earned her numerous column inches in the British Press who were enamoured with her eclectic sense of fashion which bordered the eccentric. Graceful and beautiful with the demeanour of an old school Hollywood star Helga is a true living legend!
This article first appeared in the Hi!! Best Dressed List magazine 2015