The start of the twenty-first century has been remarkable for this modern day pioneer in fashion design. She left Malaysia at 18 to attend Parsons School of Design in New York City and shortly after graduating established YEOHLEE Inc. In 2004, the Smithsonian bestowed her (also in contention were Narciso Rodriguez and Marc Jacobs) their prestigious Cooper Hewitt National Design Award.
The start of the twenty-first century has been remarkable for this modern day pioneer in fashion design. She left Malaysia at 18 to attend Parsons School of Design in New York City and shortly after graduating established YEOHLEE Inc. In 2004, the Smithsonian bestowed her (also in contention were Narciso Rodriguez and Marc Jacobs) their prestigious Cooper Hewitt National Design Award for Fashion. She continues to receive nods of approval from the reputable in fashion, architecture, interior design and the finest museums around the world for her exceptional contribution to fashion design. This year her Company marks a monumental milestone of twenty-five years in fashion’s empire of elites. She is Yeohlee Teng.
Fall’s inspiration takes us to fascist 1930s Italy, specifically to Giuseppe Terragni’s Casa del Fascio. Teng captures Terragni’s use of balance, proportion and graphic geometry in such pieces as the black and white wool angora mobius wrap.
Teng’s work is often described as “intimate architecture.” Her passion for architecture resonates throughout her collections, whether dominant, subtle or serving as foundation or framework. This Spring, Yeohlee’s infatuation with Robert Mallet-Stevens’ modernistic works is apparent in the “awe – ”inspiring engineering of suspension bridges, particularly the flawless rope bridges” which come through in such pieces as the Nano-Tex silk tattersall cable dress and white stripe pebble cotton gusset dress. Fall’s inspiration takes us to fascist 1930s Italy, specifically to Giuseppe Terragni’s Casa del Fascio. Teng captures Terragni’s use of balance, proportion and graphic geometry in such pieces as the black and white wool angora mobius wrap. “The fabrics that I selected spoke of that era, particularly the camel hair and black cashmere,” shares Yeohlee. This article cannot fully capture the architectural influences of her work that her first book, Yeohlee: Work Material Architecture (published in 2003) shares. It is an in-depth perspective of her work over the past twenty years. Although architecture plays a prominent role, it is her application of functional elements and design philosophy that brings Yeohlee’s creations full circle.
“She is a textiles driven designer, exact on construction and technique. Quietly conceptual, her designs are always wearable and always well thought out. [She] strives and succeeds in functionality and wants you to be comfortable,” states Andrew Bolton, Curator for the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Yeohlee provides confidence and mobility to the wearer whether donning the finest fabrics or the brightest whites.
The pockets are simple and discreet, serving a multitude of functions available for holding subway cards, coins or a phone number of a new acquaintance. They secretly reside in many of her creations. But it is her principles of fashion design that is the foundation for everything.
The staying power of Yeohlee strays not too far from her design philosophy. She creates for real women of all body types and sizes, who serve as muses for the “urban nomad,” a termed she coined in 1996. Urban nomad defines a lifestyle that requires clothing which works on a variety of practical and psychological levels. Teng’s thoughtful incorporation of the movement of people in relation to their surroundings and daily routine into functional and comfortable clothing is extraordinary. “She finds ways to use the raw material as a building block to create something new. I think of her as a sculptor, creating new forms on the body. She celebrates what she creates and the person wearing it,” shares Cindy Allen, Editor-in- Chief of Interior Design magazine.
I had the opportunity to experience YEOHLEE first hand at Peter Zia’s Chinoiserie, an upscale houseware and dÃƒ©cor boutique featuring a limited YEOHLEE collection in Alexandria, Virginia.
Each piece truly spirits timelessness. Such pieces as the white pebble cotton tuxedo pant and black double face wool suspension dress transcend time and trends. Teng’s use of fabrics is particularly noteworthy. She tries to utilize as much of the natural attributes of the textiles with minimal altering, giving her designs a classic edginess. The striped linen awning jacket catches my eye as the selvages serve as a bottom trim instead of removed or hidden. It is a subtle feature but creates a prominent impression. To test comfort and functionality, I try on a long time staple in the collection, the smart gab black micro fiber pant featuring elastic on both sides of the waist. Elastic reminds me of my Foot Locker polyester elastic waist pants from high school and clothing for the elderly (and recently, for the pregnant). The once dreadful elastic ebbs and flows with my post pregnancy waistline could not make me happier. The pants look professional and are perfect for daily wear.
The highlight is the debut of YEOHLEE’s shoe line. I try on the black leather sandal (also offered in a wedge) despite my unfulfilled quest of finding the perfect summer shoe for my flat feet. To great surprise this flat sandal molded to my foot and gave me balance and slight support. We can only imagine what Yeohlee will bring to us over the next twenty-five years.
Yeohlee Teng is extraordinary in every way. Teng’s honest work embraces the human body with such depth in craftsmanship, creativity and character. This is what distinguishes and differentiates her from the rest. “She is her own trend. She is an authentic, one of the few in the industry,” simply states Stan Herman, president of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. She is timeless.
ASIANCE: YEOHLEE Inc. was established in 1981, a time when women business owners were just starting to emerge and when you were in the early stages of your career. Why did it seem to be the right time?
Yeohlee: I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do and a sense of immediacy.
ASIANCE: Do you speak any other languages?
Yeohlee: Various dialects of Chinese, marginal Malay.
ASIANCE: How do you stay motivated, focused and fresh?
Yeohlee: I have a sense of curiosity and enjoy the process of learning and discovery.
ASIANCE: How do you balance your personal and professional life?
Yeohlee: By being aware of how I allocate my time.
ASIANCE: This year you debuted YEOHLEE shoes. How has the response been? Has it been challenging transitioning from clothes to shoes?
Yeohlee: I have been fortunate to be able to collaborate with a Nancy Geist who makes the most elegant shoes.
ASIANCE: Is the 2007 Spring/Summer collection finished? Can you give the readers a sneak peek of what we can look forward to?
Yeohlee: It is just beginning…
ASIANCE: What is inspiring you now?
Yeohlee: Skin and Bones, the exhibition that I will be part of, opening at the MOCA in LA this September and my upcoming Spring 2007 collection.
ASIANCE:Why did you feel Chinoiserie, an upscale houseware & dÃ©cor boutique would be appropriate to feature your collection especially with limited fashion retail background? It seems risky for both parties. Why did you think it would work and will this be a new future retail outlet for YEOHLEE?
Yeohlee: Peter Zia (Chinoiserie), retailer and architect understands and appreciates the sensibility and the design of the clothes. Crossing disciplines in retailing is the next new wave. Besides, nothing ventured is nothing gained.