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The Story behind A.Oei Studio

My name is Angeline. I am the designer and founder of A.Oei Studio. I launched A.Oei Studio in Seattle and Singapore in 2017 and, in 2021, I relocated to Washington D.C.. While the brand has undergone some changes over the years, comfort, quality and originality remain core design ethos. 

(Interview feature for Seattle Style Stories, presented by Future Lynn)

 

Q. Why A.Oei Studio?

A. I started A.Oei to develop the craft of bespoke clothing for women. Because of its traditionally longer production time, bespoke, which means "made to order for the individual", is typically executed by tailors who specialize in formal occasion wear like suits or gowns.

By incorporating ease, versatility and timeless - a prêt à porter contemporary edge - into the product-experience, my goal is to make bespoke more relevant and approachable for the modern woman. 

Having worked as a designer for companies of different sizes (from luxury ateliers that focused on craftsmanship to larger-sized brands that operated on a fast-paced, high quantity level), I felt that I was ready to explore new sustainable ideas fashion. On a personal level, it felt necessary to refocus my energy on the garment creation process.

 

D.C. Bespoke Tailor

 

Q. What challenges did you face when starting the company?

A. Working out a viable production system is a huge challenge for an independent designer unable to commit to large quantities. In the early days, I spent close to a year researching and testing different suppliers and manufactures who could offer high quality and flexible minimums. 

Learning how to sell and promote the brand was another challenge (even more so than production). As a designer who mainly worked behind the scenes, having to come up with quick sales pitches for something so personal was new to me. Through fashion pop-ups and the shift towards bespoke, I learnt how to interact with customers and gained direct feedback in an honest and meaningful way.

Over time, I've gradually developed a unique end-to-end production model. As a self-contained atelier, I design, create my own textile prints, source for fabrics, draft customizable paper patterns, and sew the apparel to completion. This slow fashion approach allows me to offer personalized services, enhance a garment's uniqueness and usability and foster a creative collaboration between myself and the customer.

 

Q. Why Seattle?

A. Originally from Singapore, I had visited Seattle a couple times and after talking to local designers and artists, I felt like there was enough support to start an independent clothing brand here with its quiet, off-the-fringe but bubbling creative hub that still maintains a strong sense of individuality.

At the same time, I felt like Seattle and the Pacific Northwest lacked fashion-forward womenswear brands that could target women like myself who want to wear designs that are unique, high-quality, and accessible. After finding a studio at the Inscape Arts and Cultural Building, things started to fall in place. 

 

Q. What does fashion mean to you? 

A. Firstly, fashion is a way to communicate stories. Through textiles, colors and silhouettes, I am able to weave a narrative that reflects the zeitgeist of the times. Secondly, I am fascinated by the tactile and three-dimensional nature of fashion. Unlike other forms of design, clothing is intimately worn around the body like a "second skin". As such, there is a need to understand form, movement and how the body interacts with fabric. In addition, how a piece of clothing shapes or reflects a person's identity and the environment. 

Because of the soft and malleable quality of fabrics, the process of making a garment is often filled with surprises. A fabric may shift unpredictably under the weight of the needle, it may drape differently from what you drew on paper, or it may even shrink or expand under heat. These elements keep the design process unique and ever-changing.

 

Q. When did you decide to become a fashion designer? 

Since young, I've enjoyed drawing people and imagining what they would wear. Growing up in Singapore at a time when the creative arts were generally ignored, it never occurred to me that "fashion design" could be a real profession.

After high school, I studied English Literature at the National University of Singapore. During an exchange program in Utrecht (which was also my first time traveling and living abroad), I visited the Antwerp Fashion Academy, the famous base of Belgian designers like Martin Margiela and Dries Van Noten. When I first experienced this environment of sewing machines, dress forms, and students' works - the thought of becoming a designer suddenly became a lot more real and apparent.

I decided to enter the Amsterdam Fashion Institute and that was probably the best fashion education I could have asked for. The school pushed me creatively and technically in all aspects of fashion from design, pattern drafting, sewing, textile design and communicating ideas via different mediums like illustrations and runway shows. After graduation, I worked for different ready-to-wear companies where I developed skills in woven and knitwear design, material development such as jacquard weaving, embroidery, embellishments etc., to tailoring.  

 

D.C. women's fashion designer

Q. How do you start designing? 

A. It starts with a concept, usually inspired by art, nature or technology. Whenever I come across an interesting article or image, I save it so that I have a huge archive of inspiration. From the concept, I come up with ideas for colors and materials. Then the print. Sometimes they are hand-drawn/painted patterns that are then digitally rendered. Other times I manipulate photographs and work entirely on the computer. 

The sketches. Usually drawn in between moments of draping on the mannequin. I edit the sketches until I have a "collection" of a few looks, envisioning how they would flow on the runway or on the garment rack. To me, a strong collection is one that is coherent and distinct in the choice of shapes, colors and textures. I then start drafting paper patterns and sewing the samples. I'm constantly working to refine and understand fit and finishing so it is important for me to keep the prototyping and fabrication process in the studio.

Since I've taken on more custom designs, my process is more fluid and centered around the client's needs and personal style. Each piece is unique and brings about its own set of technical and creative challenges. 

 

D.C. custom clothing for women
D.C. women's tailor

 

Q. What do you do when you hit a creative block? 

A. I start organizing my studio and picking up scrap materials - piecing random fabrics together, pinning them to the mannequin or making some sort of collage from my archive of articles and photographs, and in the process, I start gaining ideas. 

I would also visit museums, book stores, and boutiques where I would spend time researching the technical construction of clothing.

Another good way to clear my head is to pick up new mediums and spend a day or two just drawing. Not clothing, but everyday life. Sometimes the drawing turns into an idea for a print or sets the mood for a collection.

D.C. fashion designer

 

Q. How has your previous work experiences influenced your design style?

A. Since I studied in the Netherlands, I am obviously influenced by Dutch fashion which wavers between extreme soberness and conceptual art-fashion. Because of their rich textile history, there is a lot of emphasis on material innovation. As students, we were always encouraged to create our own fabrics through knitting, weaving, printing, melting fabrics together...

I worked as a pattern-making assistant for a Belgian fashion atelier that was all about tailoring and craftsmanship. Hidden details like deceptively simple finishings, beautiful fabrics like silk and leather, and an obsession with precision (everything we made was down to the millimeter). 

In Singapore, I designed for a brand that was much more fun, light-hearted and ornamental. Quirky prints, rich colors, and feminine shapes. It was with this company that I started really falling in love with the process of designing prints and understanding how different prints suited different fabrication and silhouettes. 

I've interned for a New York fashion brand that was inspired by 90s minimalism and very much rooted in New York street style. Slim silk blazers, cropped tops, pencil skirts and track pants. 

Coming from Asia where Japanese fashion has always been popular, I am also into draped, shapeless, androgynous styles and Kimono / origami style of pattern-making. 

I've incorporated these different cultural influences into a.oei . I enjoy experimenting with subtle design details. Shifting seams, asymmetry, balancing draped and tailored forms, combining textures, etc... A blank, neutral palette with little pops of colors.

 

D.C. women's bespoke tailor

 

Q. What's next for A.Oei Studio?

A. I am currently searching for a studio-shop that can fully reflect the vision of A.Oei. A space where I can showcase my work, share my process and inspiration, and personally engage with customers. 

 

(photos by Kailee Elizabeth Photography)

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  • Beautiful designs!

    ABby ENelow on

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