Despite the challenges caused by the pandemic, the New York-based designer Yeohlee Teng is energized by the future of fashion and the city she calls her home.
While custom design has always been part of the designer’s repertoire, it is becoming a more important part of her business. Designing a wedding outfit for a mother of the bride has helped rekindle this interest. The wedding was slated for last fall, but the celebration has been postponed until next month due to the coronavirus crisis.
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After designing a dress in pink double-sided satin and navy blue silk for the wedding client, Teng suggested to her during a fitting that she make a jacket with the scraps. âShe said, ‘Go on!’ I mean how fun it is – I have to make something out of the leftovers. The fabrics were very expensive but it felt like an extra experience.
She added, âDue to the time of COVID-19, this kind of relationship and intimacy that you share with your customers is strengthened because of all this isolation that we have been through. It becomes more emotional.
The bespoke piece of the designer‘s business is “seeping in” and she expects to get a better idea of ââwhat percentage of overall revenue it will represent at the end of the year. âThere is a lot of interest,â she says.
The designer is all about us. She said, âRight now there are a lot of pronouns going around, but everyone needs shelter. Everyone needs clothes. I’m making a collection that’s for us: it’s for everyone. It’s not gender specific. It’s not for him, her or them. It’s for all of us.
At this point, a man recently stopped by his West 29th Street store and opted for a custom coral print outfit. The client, who prefers to be identified as ‘them’, gets something from the women’s collection that is designed for her to wear. Teng described the experience as “very emotional for the buyer and for herself.” It was “out of the blue” and it was “an adventure and a discovery,” she said.
The designer noted that the client hadn’t asked him, “Is this for women or men?” They just went and got what was there, put it on and it looked great. “
This sparked something at Teng who argues that good design is universal. âYou know there is no gender in a paperclip. It works.
Gender fluidity is something very exciting in fashion right now, along with the increased freedom for people to be more creative, Teng said, adding that some of the clothes she’s seen are more daring. Thanks to a scholarship with the New School’s Parsons School of Design, she sees and works with an abundance of talent. âThe future lies in manufacturing. Everyone is talking about sustainability and zero waste. If you can reduce manufacturing, that’s an answer.
Following the shutdown, Teng began recycling all of its fabrics. Many of the items in her store are either onesies or charms, she said. Some pieces include fabrics such as jacquards which are no longer manufactured because the silk mills from which they came no longer exist. âIt’s a different way of consuming. Consuming your inventory equals zero waste, âshe said. “It allows you to do something very interesting.”
With New York Fashion Week approaching, Teng has yet to decide how and where she will show her collection. Whatever she does, it will determine that and she is in the throes of it, having been inspired by recent encounters, such as the aforementioned “drop-in”.
The pandemic has made people freer with their ability to express themselves, according to Teng. âThey take more risks and they are more daring. If they have something to say, they are ready to say it. And I like that, “she said.” It’s really interesting that under confinement we’ve become more free. But freedom of speech seems to be really ripe right now.
After decades of running her business in New York City and being a strong advocate for the Garment District, Teng said she was “very determined to establish something in the Garment District that prepares for the making of the future. efforts should be made so that we understand and acquire the type of equipment that we need and that will be suitable for making clothing for the future. â
As a jury member for an upcoming scholarship, she said most entries had clothing made from fabrics such as plastics salvaged from dumpster dives or from developing fabrics at from kelp, mycelium and E-coli. âThe way forward is innovation and the way you assemble and assemble the clothes of the future has to evolve. Cutting and sewing is wonderful and necessary and essential at this time. But there is a way forward and the Garment District should be ready to embrace it.
Barring state or federal restrictions regarding the coronavirus crisis, the spotlight will be on New York fashion next month with the return of fashion week in-person shows and the unveiling of “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion â, the first part of Metropolitan Museum of ArtThe Costume Institute’s two-part exhibition devoted to American fashion. Teng said of all the expected attention to New York fashion, âI think it’s the right thing to do and I hope it will be a big hit. New York should seize the opportunity to shine.
While some have compared the current state of the city to what it was in the 1970s (based on rising crime, increasing vacancies, and whether real estate commercial will rebound), Teng said, “You can’t compare it to the 70s. It’s the year 2021. It was like the age of ‘Taxi Driver,’ referring to Martin’s 1976 crime drama. Scorsese with Robert De Niro. âI think the city is resilient. I believe New Yorkers are strong. I also see the city rejuvenating. There has been an influx of young people because the rents have gone down. It energizes the city.
Admitting that things are difficult in some areas, the designer said, “I rely on the resilience of New Yorkers.”
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