Tuesday, June 13, 2006

(35th) ‘Street Smarts’

Silk Taffeta skirt that converts to a gown from Fall 2006

A dramatic, perfectly cut floor length black skirt in the thinnest tissue weight silk taffeta that ‘converts’ to an entrance making, face framing sculptural ball gown; a graphic ankle length black and white double face wool and angora cape that can be worn front to back, back to front, arms through slits, or not, depending on mood or whimsy; a length of double face wool angora fabric in ivory and black ‘twisted’ into a waist length short cape (with its own built in arm rest at just the ‘right’ place), which can be ‘manipulated’ to become a shawl, a shoulder cover, or used as the ‘The Ultimate’ airplane accessory where it becomes a pillow, headrest or a mini blanket to ward off the cabin chills; a black silk faille dress that can serve as a bare midcalf gown or a jumper layered over t shirt, shirt, or pants (or all the above); a pristine white jacket curved and molded to the body coated with Teflon to insure that it’s stain proof; a belt sewn onto the back of a jacket at precisely the right spot to guarantee that it won’t get lost; pockets slanted and placed in just the right spot for optimum practicality, ease of motion, comfort, and to create an elegant streamlined form.

The above silk taffeta skirt now converted to a gown

These are just some of the smart, laboriously well thought out ideas Yeohlee Teng has had (and continues to have) up her sleeves and in her head since 1981, when she graduated from Parsons and launched her eponymous business. Always thinking, always conceiving, always creating, the architecturally influenced designer comes by her association honestly (her father and two brothers trained as architects). Her “deceptively simple” (in her own words) intellectual designs which naturally evolve from one season to the next, prove she has more than just looking great on her mind (although that’s always the beautiful bi product). She has a permanent spot at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute and the late Richard Martin, former Chief Curator, referred to her as “one of the most ingenious makers of clothing today.”

It was precisely for her “seasonless efficiently, striking geometry, and concise functionalism”, that the Malaysian born designer received the prestigious National Design Award for Excellence in Fashion Design, in October 2004, which was given out at a black tie event at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum in Manhattan.

No, ‘intelligent fashion’ is NOT an oxymoron. Yes, there are designers like Yeohlee who approach fashion from the perspective of ‘problem solving’ (vis a vis modern life), and who strive to make women look and feel great without resorting to gimmicks, unflattering, insulting, insulting, demeaning tricks. Her highly conceptual museum quality collections have been showcased by some of the world’s most prestigious institutions and museums including FIT ("YEOHLEE : Supermodern Style", was an exhibition curated by Dr. Valerie Steele, which opened at The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in October of 2001), and MIT (“Intimate Architecture” in 1983).

Taking over from there is the upcoming show, “Skin & Bones, Parallel Practices in Fashion and Architecture”, at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), 9/24/06-1/08/07 (www.moca.org).

It promises to be the definitive exhibit showcasing the correlation between fashion and architecture, mixing the fashion avante garde with the architectural avante garde. Along with others who exemplify this oeuvre (Viktor & Rolf, Hussein Chalayan, and Alexander McQueen), Yeohlee will be represented by her white cotton hoist dress from spring 2006.

I’ve always admired Yeohlee and her work and when I showed up at her 35th street showroom to view resort, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to try on some of her more recent creations (which I was able to do without ever having to change out of my shirt and jeans, mind you). By the way, this is not as much a statement about my narrow frame as it is a testimonial to her exquisite tailoring and the inherent versatility within her designs. I was immediately drawn to the graphic black and white midcalf Catenary cape from fall 2006 which can be worn in a myriad of ways, in addition to a voluminous floor sweeping black silk skirt that appeared to be ‘only’ that until I was instructed to lift up the two side pieces and put it over my shoulder thereby instantly transforming it into a sculptural, entrance making black gown. Then there was the silk faille harness dress which was meant to be worn bare but when I tried it on over my black cotton shirt and rolled up jeans, it still looked great and took on a whole other ‘life’.

When I asked Yeohlee to describe her take on resort 2006 and the inspiration behind it, she explained, “The beginning of it had to do with moving the inspiration of fall - which was Italy of the 30’s - and trying to maintain a 30’s inspiration”.

“We were looking at expat communities and I was in L.A. (because of the upcoming Skin & Bones show at the MOCA) and I visited the Schindler Studio House and BINGO! This light bulb went off in my head, because they are an expat community. So instead of going to Vietnam and doing the French or Indonesia and doing the Dutch, I ended up doing the Viennese in L.A. which I think is hysterical”.

The "Schindler" dress from Resort 2006

“The hoisted concrete blocks (of the Schindler house) reminded me of last spring when I did suspension bridges. The ‘hoist’ dress (which she brought out to show me) is going to the MOCA. The soul of the resort collection is all of this plus L.A., the weather, resort”. And to further illustrate the subtle references to the Schindlers (and to those who were part of their intimate circle), Yeohlee has even dubbed pieces within the collection the ‘Pauline’ dress (Pauline was Rudolf M. Schindler’s wife), the ‘Schindler’ collar, the ‘Galka’ top (Galka Scheyer was one of the people who hung out with the Schindlers).

Tuxedo jacket and harness dress from Fall 2006 layed over my jeans

It’s worth noting that the Neutras were another brilliant architectural family who lived with the Schindlers for awhile, and Dion Neutra is now carrying on the storied name and keeping their philosophy alive through the Neutra Institute for Survival Through Design in Los Angeles. Survival through design? Sound familiar? Once again, it all goes back to the idea of smart, well thought out design - design for life - whether it relates to one’s home environment or to the protective ‘environment’ one covers the body with. This is always a thread through Yeohlee’s work. Who could forget her 1997 Urban Nomad collection whose premise of protective layering and functional pieces that are meant to enhance modern life, is at the heart of Marc Jacobs’ highly regarded, layered to the max, fall 2006 collection for which he received a nomination for Women’s Wear Designer of the Year by the CFDA?

Teflon coated curve jacket and dress from resort 2006

The colors for resort are pared down to black, white, cream, and navy (a navy so dark it’s almost hard to tell that it’s not black), and fabrics include a white Egyptian cotton with a bit of stretch and coated with Teflon (which Yeohlee says is “More important than ever because white is such a staple now”), cotton canvas backed with twill, white/navy/black cotton silk frangipani, nylon taffeta, navy cotton canvas, paper cotton, deco-print silk, duchess satin, and silk faille.

I was anxious to hear what Yeohlee is thinking about for spring 2007, which will be unveiled at a formal runway show during New York Fashion Week in September, and how much resort is a harbinger of things to come. As the designer put it, “It evolves. There’s a thread of the bridges I did for spring 2006 through fall into spring 2007. And the circular cuts will continue. Some of the fabrics like Egyptian cotton, will permeate throughout. As will Teflon coating. I’m also doing seersucker (in both a cotton and silk). But the colors will switch from black, navy, white, and cream to beige, browns, and greens. Very earthy.”

-Marilyn Kirschner

1 comment:

  1. Ooh la love. About time this sort of fashion design got some attention - have you read Oscar Wilde's fashion journalism? He talks about just this, for a dandy he was very practical.