Yeohlee Is Ready to Take Flight, Plans to Sit Out NYFW

“Open your eyes and step forward — do the best that you can.”

That pretty much sums up how Yeohlee Teng, who is known simply as Yeohlee, is approaching the next chapter of her career in these topsy turvy times. “Change is in order. It’s a matter of being aware that things are changing and being up for the challenge. That speaks to more than fashion. That speaks to what’s going on all over the world,” she said.

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After years of nonstop nose-to-the-grindstone work, the New York-based designer is readying to take a breather. After more than a decade in NoMad, she plans to close her store-atelier at 12 West 29th Street in the coming weeks. The designer has occasionally staged shows in the 2,750-square-foot space, including one that spilled out onto the sidewalk for passers-by to enjoy. The longtime Council of Fashion Designers of America board member will also sit out next month’s New York Fashion Week.

“Retail is not what it used to be — everybody knows that. A refresher course on the direction of fashion consumption is probably healthy. A reboot and a rethink are essential, and they are something to look forward to,” said Yeohlee, adding that she was speaking as a designer, a consumer and a human being.

YEOHLEE RTW Spring 2022
Yeohlee spring 2022

Interestingly, the designer has always been known for her thoughtful approach to design, minimalism, pristine construction, architectural influences, materials and her long-lasting styles. “Yes, people are still showing up in 20-year-old ‘Yeohlees’ and they are so proud of it. You can chastise them,” she said with a laugh. “[They say,] ‘Look at me. Do you know how long I have had this?’ I always say, ‘Don’t tell me.’”

When the designer moved into her subterranean street-front location more than 10 years ago, the neighborhood was on the rise with the nearby Hotel AKA NoMad, Ace Hotel and Stumptown Coffee Roasters reeling in hipper, design-centric consumers. In recent years, the area has had a bit of a boom with The Ritz-Carlton and a Virgin Hotel opening. The Bazaar from acclaimed chef José Andrés has attracted foodies, as have Café Carmellini and Anita La Mamma del Gelato. Yeohlee said she is considering options for where she might move within the city.

Designer Yeohlee Tang's spring 1993 ready to wear advance. Shot on location in Battery Park, New York.
Designer Yeohlee Teng’s spring 1993 advance. Shot on location in Battery Park in New York.

The Malaysian-born creative expects to travel for a stretch “to see what’s going on everywhere else, which would be informative.” Her inkling is to head east to look at her roots in Malaysia and possibly visit Bangkok, reconnecting with people who she hasn’t seen for “a gazillion years,” she said, adding that it would be fun, interesting and could potentially make her aware of information that she had not known about.

While she believes everyone should take an extended break to travel every few years, she hadn’t been able to find the time until now. “My attitude has always been work-work-work, so a break is in order,” she said.

Her early years in the industry in the ’70s involved assisting Anne Fogarty and Seymour Fox, before designing for Beaumart, Amilio and Colony Classics. Decades before, Fogarty, like Yeohlee, valued practicality and once used a gas station attendant’s jumpsuit attire as inspiration for one of her own creations.

The New York-based designer created the ivory and black ensemble that is the closing look in the “Women Dressing Women” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, which is on view through March 3. Some wayward visitors may inadvertently start at the end, and they may consider her design to be the opening look. Such circuitousness — even if accidental — is apt given Yeohlee’s full-circle approach to design.

Met Preview
From far right, designs by Marine Serre, Collina Strada’s Hillary Taymour, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Grace Wales Bonner for Dior, Gabriela Hearst for Chloe and Yeohlee Teng.

She said she is in the midst of exploring other design-related projects in relation to wearables “that are not necessarily produced in the traditional manner.” The designer declined to specify, other than to say she is fascinated by how the materials used in clothes and shoes are grown and the creation side of that.

Her styles are sold in stores and through bespoke creations for clients, whom “have never let go of me and who will always be there,” she said. The expectation is to be in touch with a lot of these personal clients while she travels. Anticipating a fitting scheduled for Thursday with a client who is very specific with what she wants, the designer said, “It’s really important to have clients like you, because it really challenges you. It’s a very nice part of the business.”

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