September 11, 2019
by Liana Satenstein
When I arrived at Yeohlee Teng’s studios on West 29th Street today, she joked that she was the “Queen of Scraps.” It goes without saying that Teng creates her collections using zero waste. She’s been doing this for years, long before sustainability became a buzzword in the conversation about how wasteful fashion can get. Teng is so skilled at using all fabrics that her work has been taught in courses at fashion schools and exhibited in museums. If you look at any Yeohlee collection, you’re probably looking at materials the designer has used from her beginnings in the early ’80s. That’s older than most of these young downtown folks creating clothes now.
That said, Teng really knows how to make the most out of what she has, and it should be both studied and appreciated. There are lots of hands-on elements in her work, and many of the looks can be adjusted and worn different ways. Sometimes, when designers create hands-on looks, it feels complicated, and I wonder if the wearer even understands how to alter the pieces themselves. Teng makes it easy. Among her signature boyish silhouettes—loose striped pants and breathy tops in black and white—a favorite here was a “flip” tank. It was made from slate blue linen with a marsupial pouch in waxy gray linen. The pouch flipped not only over the front of the body but also behind the body. Teng mentioned she was thinking about putting a zipper on it to make it like a fanny pack (or backpack!). It transformed the groovy-sounding idea of “conceptual” into something that was actually both wearable and useable. You could put your wallet and keys in there. Maybe even a really small baby. The tank makes Teng’s philosophy about using everything come to life. Plus, it’s really cool to look at.