by ARIC CHEN
While the fashion world has spent recent months pondering the appropriateness of the opulent, military, Islamic-inspired and other stylistic trends that have dominated runways the past few seasons -- New York Times Magazine even suggested, rather melodramatically, that the high heel has become obsolete in a time of emergency evacuations -- Yeohlee Teng has more or less carried on with business as usual. After all, Teng, who started her New York-based Yeohlee label in 1981, has largely refrained from fashion hyperbole to explore an elegantly functional brand of design she describes as "intimate architecture."
This past winter's retrospective of her work at New York's Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Yeohlee: Supermodern Style, paid homage to the Malaysian-born designer's skillful employment of construction and high-tech fabrics in her nevertheless fashion-savvy and urbane garments. One of the first to design for what she refers to as the "urban nomad" the modern professional whose lifestyle requires clothing that adapts to practical and other needs that are constantly in flux Teng was also among the first fashion designers to use such high-tech textiles as Tactel and Teflon in her garments. Among her hallmarks are an inventive integration of pockets and closures, clever construction methods that reduce wasted materials and allow for streamlined fabrication, and use of textiles that resist staining and respond to climactic conditions.
Working in the tradition of such earlier, mid-20th century American greats as Bonnie Cashin and Claire McCardell, who laid the foundation for a stylish American pragmatism, Teng has found her own distinctive voice that has directly and indirectly influenced a younger generation of designers. This spring marks the publication of Yeohlee: Work (published by Images Publishing Group, www.images.com/au) which will lend more insight into a designer who, in her own words, sees fashion "more in terms of design, in terms of problem-solving."
Aric Chen is a New York editor for I.D.