While other children dreamed about becoming teachers, doctors, and celebrities when they grew up, Helena Stuart wanted to become a nun. What's even more surprising is that Helena is the founder of Only Hearts, an iconic lingerie and intimate apparel brand beloved for its sensual and high-quality designs since 1978. 

Though she's widely credited with popularizing lingerie-inspired dressing, Helena had the phrase "inner outerwear" trademarked back in 1981.

Born in New York City and raised in Italy with seven siblings, Helena experienced a worldly upbringing shaped by her Italian heritage and world travels, especially attending Milan Fashion Week. While her mother walked the runways as a model, though, Helena preferred to stay out of the spotlight. "I liked being in the back room with the seamstresses," she recalls.

"That's where the magic really seemed to happen." Helena held that sentiment all the way until she opened her first Only Hearts boutique on the Upper West Side on Columbus Avenue in 1978.

Every single item in the charming space, like hand-painted Minnetonka moccasins, was heart-themed and inspired by Helena's lifelong love of hearts-which she started collecting at the age of 12.

Around that same time, Norma Kamali, Betsey Johnson, and Agnes B. were shaking up the fashion industry. Helena realized she, too, could design something desirable for the everyday woman. With a sewing machine and shears, she started making pieces that were as comfortable as they were feminine: ankle socks with crocheted hearts, cut-up Carter's undershirts, and tees with bits of lace sown in.
Once she got the attention of Henri Bendel and Bloomingdale's at trade shows, it finally dawned on her "I realized I was selling intimate apparel and loungewear."

Since its humble beginnings, Only Hearts has remained true to its ethos of creating sustainable and organic pieces that are unabashedly feminine, produced in New York City with ethical labor practices, and made to last for decades. Today, Only Hearts is sold online, at select retailers, and its eponymous boutiques in Santa Monica and New York City.

And while other brand founders are more occupied with staying in the public eye, Helena can still be found working in Only Heart's studio, as she's always done.

"I love being able to create every day, that's why I keep going," she explains. "I also want to show you can treat people with respect, be a nice person, and still have a legitimate business."