Winter 2015: the woman in bloom

"Resilient and yet delicate, the cherry blossom tree grows more beautiful with every passing year; flourishing with its most abundant, radiant displays as it matures..."

While sketching out the initial incarnations of my winter 2015 collection, I encountered a reoccuring image of elegant cherry blossom branches, heavy in a bloom of exquisite petals. Upon researching the ancient Japanese 'sakura' tree, its significance immediately resonated with me. I wanted this collection to speak of restraint, femininity and a subtle sensuality - a tribute to the woman as she moves into maturity (at whatever age that may be - from her 20's through to 60's or beyond) and flourishes into the confident, self-aware woman she is destined to be. The cherry blossom certainly represented that, and so I chose it as the symbol for this year's winter collection. The idea of growing more beautiful with every passing year is often foreign to our modern western psyche - but something we should all share an interest in, as growth and age is a commonality promised to us all.

As I began to articulate the form and lines of the garments in the range, I commenced work on the print concept with Brisbane artist Claudia Husband, designing a bespoke cherry blossom motif that would feature throughout the collection. The resulting print is a wearable peice of art; unique, versatile; echoing the collection's purpose perfectly. It will be available in limited edition release for Tengdahl Winter 2015. 

In the collection, high necklines are contrasted by subtle details, such as a slit that gives a glimpse of skin at the back of a garment, only seen when the top or dress moves with the body. Ostrich feather, sequins and chiffon create texture and movement while silk, super soft deer skin leather, cashmere and jersey add functional, long-lasting luxury. 

Cherry blossom trees remind us that after weathering life’s colder seasons, we return time and time again, blooming more richly than ever; opening ourselves to the sun. The collection is available in Tengdahl boutiques and online at www.tengdahl.com 

Behind the scenes: MBFF preparation

shopping in brisbane Tengdahl

When the models hit the runway at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Festival next month for the launch of my S/S collection, freesoul, it will be the culmination of a 10-month process that has taken me literally around the world.

I first showed my label on the runway at the RAQ awards in 1996 and while I have streamlined the collection development process over the past two decades, the months leading up to MBFF always bring the sense of vulnerability and self-doubt that inevitably comes with being exposed on a creative level.

At this time every year, I reflect on my purpose as a designer: am I challenging myself? Am I doing my clients justice with this collection? Am I being innovative while staying true to my roots, my brand? It’s facing a fear of rejection or criticism; it leaves you open and exposed, but it makes you stronger.

Creativity doesn’t thrive in the comfort zone! I do my best work when I'm on the precipice - I have clarity and ideas seem to flow. 

Which is why, in the midst of the 2014 collection’s development, I went skydiving. The skydive was a birthday gift I received last year; something on my bucket list that I had put off, waiting for the right moment. As the plane climbed high above the beautiful northern NSW landscape, I didn’t experience any of the nerves or tension that I expected to feel, just pure adrenaline. Completely surrendering to the free fall, I felt suprisingly safe.

Julie Tengdahl skydiving

julie tengdahl fashion designers brisbane

It was a truly exhilarating experience, and it was interesting to notice how clear and creative I felt returning to the workroom the following Monday to put the finishing touches on the collection samples.

The collection development process began in my West End workroom in October 2013. Following a successful collaboration with acclaimed Brisbane artist Jacqui Conias in 2013, I wanted to interlace a limited edition range of bespoke prints into the 2014 collection, featuring digital reproductions of emerging artist Claudia Husband’s hypnotic prints. I was thrilled to have Claudia on board and we began looking at ways to integrate symbolism and her existing prints into fabric patterns earlier this year.

brisbane fashion designer textile claudia husband artist  fashion art collaboration claudia husband julie tengdahl

I set off on a global resourcing and ‘trend-gathering’ trip to Europe, while working with the world’s oldest lace mill – Sophie Hallette – to create a bespoke lace design exclusively for Tengdahl’s S/S collection. Three months later, I fulfilled a life long dream to have an Indian sabbatical, venturing off for four weeks of meditation, exploration and meetings with local artisans, learning about their ancient craft traditions and collecting beautiful hand loomed embroidery in vibrant colours.

australian fashion designer spring summer collection

Back in my workroom, and filled with experiences, observations and inspirations gathered on my travels, the collection’s direction began to crystallise. Its aesthetic is rich, sensual, exotic and a tapestry of cultures and design elements. It’s bold but earthy and more exuberant than my past two collections. And I love it!

MBFF spring summer photo shoot planning tengdahl australia

Meanwhile, Claudia returned with some beautiful textile print concepts, which we finalised and sent off to our Australian fabric manufacturer to have strike-offs created. Our talented pattern maker and seamstress Heather began to meticulously lift traditional embellishments and embroidery from the artisan fabrics I had collected on my travels, transferring them onto the luxury European fabrics that had arrived along with our new bespoke Sophie Hallette lace (which I have been wearing in our concept designs for a few months now and absolutely adore)! These elements combined to form the freesoul collection.

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As we near the date for our S/S photo shoot and MBFF model fittings, the collection is nearly completed and, once again, I am enchanted by the process that brought these designs from vague imaginings to beautiful, wearable pieces something which almost seems to happen of its own volition, as though I am both a bystander and active participant in its evolution.

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Above: Julie briefs the face of her S/S14 collection, Samantha Cannon, on the collection ahead of the freesoul campaign shoot  

The response to my MBFF collections in recent years has been incredible, and I must admit to feeling the pressure of a high bar this year! But I am so proud of the creative integrity and melting-pot of local talents that have gone into creating it. And in that respect, it is already a success. Breathe…

Love, work and play

julie tengdahl australian fashion designer

Julie Tengdahl fashion designer luxury style

Whether you are embarking on your own journey of motherhood or you’re just planning to lavish your own mother with lots of love this weekend, mothers are a part of our history, biology and often have lots to teach us.

This month Emporium Connecte caught up with fashion designer, businesswoman and mother, Julie Tengdahl, to discuss career, motherhood and just how to juggle it all…

What do you love most about what you do?

After 30 years I still get a thrill from being on the shop floor; seeing how clients interact and respond to designs, and tailoring the collections to suit them. Whether I’m in the workroom sketching a design, or at one of the stores styling a client, the power of making a woman feel truly beautiful has never lost its joy for me. This career has offered me the chance to travel, meet amazing people and constantly channel my creativity into something tangible.

Why did you start in your industry?

My mother was a seamstress and some of my first memories are of playing beneath her sewing machine, collecting remnants of fabric. After school I studied fashion design at MSIT. I worked in fashion design in London and when I returned to Australia I took a job as an aerobics instructor while trying to establish myself in the Brisbane fashion industry. I noticed active wear at the time was boring so I created a range of sports wear for my aerobics class, and when sales took off, the range funded my first collection as a fashion designer.

You are a Mother, Business owner and a Woman, how do you fuse these roles together and maintain balance?

At work, I have adopted a business model that suits my ideal life balance. When I’m at home with family, I try to be present and accessible, while also encouraging their independence and autonomy. I’ve also surrounded myself with incredibly capable women who take my breath away with their balancing abilities. And I avoid burn-out by having time to myself occasionally; anything from a quick yoga session on the Kangaroo Point cliffs as the sun rises on a Sunday morning – through to an overseas sabbatical like the one I just completed in India. As a family we support each other through the ups and downs, and encourage each other to pursue whatever brings fulfilment and happiness as individuals. My relationships with each child has evolved as they’ve grown older, and now that my two eldest children are pursuing their own careers I love hearing their thoughts about the business, and drawing inspiration from their creative contributions to the label as well.

How has being a mother helped you in the way you run your business?

After having children I developed a more intuitive approach to designing and managing my business. I backed myself and trusted my ‘gut instinct’ more than I had before. My decisions are clearer, I am more efficient in my use of time and I have a better grasp of the big picture. I don’t dwell on the insignificant stuff that would have had me obsessing or stressing at work in the past. Rather than holding us back or making us complacent, I think this perspective actually makes it easier to take risks, because as long as your family are happy and healthy, there’s nothing much in life to fear. Fashion design can be very egocentric, very tense, so letting go of that fear has meant I’ve done things that I wouldn’t have otherwise done if I hadn’t relinquished the pressure I placed on ‘proving’ myself.

What is the most surprising thing you have discovered about yourself since becoming a mother?

A level of confidence that I never had before. Bravado and self-doubt was replaced by a deeper belief in myself. Motherhood highlights how little we know – and yet simultaneously how much we are capable of, and how much we have to offer our community.

What are your tips for women who are juggling career and motherhood?

It gets easier. Follow your intuition; both at work and at home. And let go of the expectation that life, motherhood, work, relationships are meant to be simultaneously perfect. Enjoy the crazy, ever-changing, imperfectness of it all.

What has been your proudest career achievement?

Keeping garment production in Brisbane. The label is still produced in our West End workroom, by local dressmakers and machinists. The financial cost of producing locally is outweighed by the fact that it keeps jobs in the local fashion industry and enables me to be responsive to the feedback and needs of my clients. It also means I can retain high quality standards, have a quick turn around and stay in control of my supply chain - ensuring all garments and their materials are sourced and produced ethically. I am so proud that the label is still 100% Australian made.

Emporium logo fortitude valley brisbane luxury shopping Define your style…

My style has multiple personality disorder! I dress to reflect different aspects of my identity as a woman; some days it is feminine and elegant, other days it is practical and perfunctory – or sensual, bold and colourful. It always has to be effortless, comfortable, simple and thoughtfully designed!

Click here to read the full article. Republished with permission.