My classmates would come to class wearing their fancy headdresses and their leopard skin outfits!" Helena says her parents were very progressive and "true internationalists". "They always encouraged my brother Ernesto and me to look outward into the world," she says.
In the fall of 1966, fifteen year old Helena met Xavier "Wahoo" Guerrero, scion of a prominent Philippine family, in a café near her school. In 1969, she arrived as a young bride in the Philippines and was introduced to the circles of Manila society.
When Jean Paul Gaultier came to Manila in the early 70's to run the Pierre Cardin boutique, Helena was hired to be his assistant because of her fluency in French. Over three years, Helena grew close to Gaultier and before he left Manila, he taught her draping, drawing, and dressmaking. In 1974 Helena debuted her own label Azabache (Spanish for "jet black").
Then in 1976, she opened a branch in Shoe Mart, a Manila department store owned by Filipino Chinese tycoon Henry Sy. Many doubted that her vanguard designs would sell, but in spite of this, Helena stuck to her vision and turned her label into a full-fledged brand. Helena's designs were instinctive and never patterned after convention. "I want every woman who wears my clothes to feel like a rock star," she says. No surprise Azabache became de rigueur for the fashionable set of Manila from the 1970s to the 1980s. Azabache was also sold in Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, and United States.
Helena's passion, daring, and originality made her an icon during the heyday of Coco Banana, a famous Manila night club.