Independent designers Yeohlee Teng and Lucy Jones shared their views on fashion during a Tuesday afternoon talk at the Museum of Modern Art.
Functional, seasonless design is the bedrock of what they do but each approaches it from a different perspective. During the “Style, Selfhood & The Body” discussion, Michelle Millar Fisher, a design curatorial assistant in MoMA’s department of architecture and design, asked both designers how they approach the ideal body, which by fashion standards is an ultra thin one. Teng said, “There is no ideal body. I think we all have ideal bodies as far as I’m concerned. I really think about the body’s movement. For me, it is [a matter of] what are you going to do in whatever I am making and how many of those functions can you perform in one item?”
Jones shared her own trajectory, “When I was in Parsons, I was getting disheartened by fashion in general. I felt it was just such a conveyer belt, people were mean…I didn’t know if it fit my personality. I was close to leaving school at one point.”
Then faced with a change-the-world-with-design assignment from a professor, she reconsidered her place in fashion after a phone call with a younger relative with cerebral palsy. After learning that he has never been able to put on a pair of trousers independently, she designed a pair or origami pleated ones that would work for him. That conversation led to her award-winning collection Seated Design. “I think that is the reason for everything that I do today,” Jones said. “It’s important to point out that no disability is the same just as no one human is the same. I think there is a stigma around disability and fashion inclusion. What I was noticing is that there is a lot of beauty in form when you look at the seated form.”
While the trio was exchanging ideas, the 80 or so guests in the Peoples Studio, also could take in Emily Spivack’s “An archive of everything worn to MoMA from Nov. 1, 2017, to Jan. 28, 2018.” Starting last fall, museumgoers were asked to text a description of what they were wearing, which was projected onto a nearby wall. One of the more amusing ones was nonmaterialistic, “I wear the collected weight of my sins and my past transgressions.”
Reminding the crowd how she coined the now-ubiquitous term “urban nomad” in 1997, Teng said, “I imagine this person getting on a plane in New York, arriving after 18 hours in Kuala Lumpur and going straight to a meeting and looking completely appropriate, or at least comfortable in herself.”
Jones added, “I just think the size-six mannequin doesn’t represent the human body at all. I don’t know why this happened or how it happened, but I think it needs a reevaluation. I think the fashion industry has forgotten that we are designing for humans as opposed to creating garments that will force humans to fit into.”
Having taught recently at Parsons, Jones said she was very encouraged by students who are considering how people will navigate their lives in the clothes they choose. Teng also talked about the struggles of staying independent after so many years. “It was very challenging, but I truly believe that design is a service and I serve all of the women out here.”
Jones, too, sounded up for what the future may hold. Asked by MoMA to envision the next incarnation of tights, she designed “a skirt with legs-like” prototype with two side zippers and compression in key areas of the legs to improve circulation for those who are seated for extended periods of time, and foot grips, which also provide added warmth. Teng said she wanted to try them out, and several others in the audience murmured their approval.