A Cut Above
by Kathryn Brooks
Yeohlee Teng has been at the helm of her eponymous womenswear line for over 35 years. Keenly intelligent, soft spoken and remarkably down-to-earth, she approaches fashion from a design standpoint. Teng’s purpose is to clothe, enhance, engage, empower and entertain. Her requirements are that fashion have a function, adhere to a standard in aesthetics, be fun and, most of all, succeed as clothing. Teng accomplishes both checklists with ease.
The designer’s career path was determined early on. Growing up in Malaysia, she was surrounded by women who were fashion conscience. “My mom was glamorous,” she says, “so I was exposed to fashion at an early age.” As a young schoolgirl, her artistic talent was recognized. “I got involved in staging school plays, which led to designing the costumes,” Teng recalls. “At that time, Malaysia was a British colony, so we did English plays like The Importance of Being Earnest. When I was nine I learned how to do patterns because I was interested in how things were constructed.” When the time came to further her education, she set her sights on the Parsons School of Design, was accepted, and made the long-distance move to Manhattan.
Creating functional clothing that is wearable and stylish, refreshingly modern yet timeless, is her gift. Her body of work demonstrates her belief that fashion is art. “Fashion,” she states, “is art with a function attached to it.” Ignoring trends, she finds her own path, drawing upon her curiosity to find inspiration. Garments she designed in the 90’s are as fashionable today as they were then. Clothes from past collections can provide the basis upon which to complement her newest designs.
When asked to describe a typical “Yeohlee client” she replies, “ I dress real women…women who are smart, strong and independent…[ women ] who appreciate what clothes can do for them. When clothing is comfortably elegant you don’t have to wonder how you look, so you are free to think about other things. You can work in the clothes, run for a cab, you can dance and feast.”
YEOHLEE TENG WITH MODELS WEARING GARMENTS FROM HER FALL 2017 COLLECTION.
THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, GIFT OF YEOHLEE TENG, 1995.
FROM LEFT TO RIGHT; BYRON, BLACK AND IVORY DOUBLE FACED SILK SATIN EVENING GOWN WITH SCULPTED BODICE AND BACK SLIT, SPRING 1992.
SHELLEY, BLACK AND IVORY DOUBLE FACED SILK SATIN EVENING GOWN WITH HIGH WAISTLINE, CURVED BODICE AND A-LINE SKIRT. SPRING, 1992.
KEATS, BLACK AND IVORY DOUBLE FACED SILK SATIN EVENING GOWN WITH SCULPTED KEYSTONE BODICE AND DEEP INVERTED CENTERFRONT PLEAT, SPRING 1992.
At first glance her clothes appear classic, but on closer inspection one can see the thought-provoking approach that has gone into every garment. Teng clearly understands the proportions of a garment, that its shape and its structure influence the way the wearer moves and feels. Realizing that the shape of a garment is dictated by the fabric, she has experimented with dozens of materials.
Her core philosophy includes zero-waste practices. She is known for her ability to explore a piece of cloth with mathematical precision, transforming the fabric into a three-dimensional garment with minimal waste. “It’s in my DNA,” she admits. “No muss, no fuss. Conservation of fabric, labor and time are part of my design decision. It is important that my work not perpetuate waste; that economy is factored into design.”
Teng clearly understands the proportions of a garment, that its shape and its structure influence the way the wearer moves and feels. Realizing that the shape of a garment is dictated by the fabric, she has experimented with dozens of materials.
Wanting to avoid the glitz and excesses typically associated with the industry, Teng has chosen to stay a bit under the radar. She is recognized as an important and powerful member of the American fashion community, yet she does not seek attention. Rather than stage a theatrical extravaganza, collections are often presented in a private home to a select group of guests. Every garment is made at her New York City atelier, staffed by a skilled group of seamstresses and workers, under the guidance and watchful eye of the designer herself.
Original designs are available at her namesake shop, YEOHLEE, located in Manhattan’s Flatiron district, as well as at several exclusive specialty stores scattered across the U.S. Pop-up locations – the latest trend in bringing a shop to a specific destination for a limited time – have been added to the mix.
Having visited the current Yeohlee | Serra exhibition at Phoenix Art Museum, a new group of fans made a beeline to Stephanie’s in Old Town Scottsdale to meet Teng, view her current trunk show and special order their selections. The local response to her designs was overwhelming and we ( the writer being among the purchasers) are eagerly awaiting the arrival of our garments. Be on the lookout for us .