“… Are you more guided by form or function when making purchases? How has that evolved with time?”
These are questions I posed to the FUTURE LYNN Slack ‘#style’ community group last month. I had recently discovered ‘barefoot shoes.’ As a former ballerina, my feet are now more cone-shaped than well… foot-shaped. I’ve been concerned that the pointed-toe shoes I like are probably making my feet worse. Barefoot shoes are actually shaped like our feet should be, with more width at the toe box rather than binding the foot into a narrow mold. Wow, that makes sense, right?! But… often the functional or sensible choice is not very aesthetically pleasing. How often have we (have I) chosen shoes, and clothing, that are only fun to look at, over ones that are comfortable? It’s up to individual interpretation and preference, but what about the middle ground, both style and sensibility?
Fashion designer Angeline Oei merges these two tenets. Her collection, A.Oei Studio, features seasonless designs that can be customized in size, fabric, and style. She utilizes sustainable production methods through bespoke design to create made-to-measure pieces — completely in-house.
But she didn’t always operate this way. When shops closed during the pandemic, she was pushed out of small-batch production through manufacturers. The halt in business made her reflect on her journey thus far. She had grown tired of needing to make newness each season, just for the sake of newness. There’s a certain pressure for designers and the industry at large to continuously pump out product. The demand comes from a variety of sources: the traditional production model itself, as well as the quickening pace the social-media-driven trend cycle. The result is over-production. The end location is a landfill. But Angeline has discovered the solution in bespoke, or custom-made creations.
It began with custom sizing, to ensure each piece fit the individual. From there, she started doing custom designs and design consultations in which the customer can be apart of the creative process. This way, trends aren’t leading, the designs and the customer’s preferences are. The chances of the finished product standing the test of time in a wardrobe are hopefully higher, due to the sentimental value and personalization. Redesign services are also available if a piece needs altering, or upcycling, to give something like a wedding dress another lease on life.
Form is key to A.Oei Studio’s brand DNA, too. Angeline prefers to work with streamlined, column shapes that loosely follow and flow off the body for a comfortable fit. She often begins with her base of signature silhouettes, like her modern interpretation of the Cheongsam dress made popular in 1920s China. Signature details include architectural design elements, such as the Mandarin collar, shoulder paneling, draped neckline, and pleated shoulder.
She also prefers to work with natural and biodegradable fibers like cotton, silk, and lyocell sourced from Japan. There is nothing like being out of the house and feeling uncomfy in an outfit… just waiting until you can change. Gone are those days! Angeline chooses easy silhouettes and fabrics to support her customers, busy women like herself who need versatile styles to carry them through their day.
Speaking of being on the move, Angeline has lived in a number of cities so far. A Singaporean native, she trained at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute in the Netherlands. Then she designed for luxury womenswear brands in Antwerp, New York City, and Singapore, before founding A.Oei Studio in Seattle, and finally moving to D.C. As someone who has also moved around from coast to coast, I enjoyed hearing how she drew inspiration from the places she’s lived. While Singapore is very trend-driven, there’s a strong influence of Japanese style as well. Angeline appreciates the androgynous shapes and the focus that’s on the material itself. In Amsterdam, colors are muted and shapes are subtle and streamlined. She enjoys the contrast between the subdued palette and experimentation with textiles.
And Seattle, oh Seattle… the city teaches many lessons. Similar to the Dutch capital, the PNW’s many months of gloomy weather require practicality and utility. You need functional pieces that can get wet and allow you to move, especially when taking the public transit bus, as Angeline recalled. Mobility and function are now an integral part of her designs. Currently in D.C., she has noticed a more corporate approach to dressing — business casual separates that aren’t too adventurous in shape (which makes sense with the nature of business in the capital city). Angeline’s sharp design elements, like the Mandarian collar, have the opportunity to bring a unique take on office wear.
When Angeline came back to Seattle for a visit, I got the opportunity to check out A.Oei Studio’s pop-up shop at PETI Boutique. The Wallingford store features a curated selection of unique designers like Angeline. Cedarhouse Flowers shares the open-concept space, making for a bright and inviting environment to shop around in.
As much as e-comm is here to stay, there is nothing like the in-store experience. The touch and feel of fabric, the drape of a dress — that cannot be replaced through a screen. It was great to witness A.Oei Studio IRL. I could see her design philosophies of quality and cut realized. I also witnessed the inspiration she drew from living in all those different cities, especially in the Windbreaker Jacket. “Oh that’s my Seattle jacket!” Angeline said, when I pulled it out from the rack. My eyes were drawn to the spicy rust hue.
Besides the fun color, the shoulder pleat detail really makes this a special find. You don’t often see that on a jacket, let alone a water-resistant one. The fabric and the hood make this a great option for the wet season, just as Angeline intended. “And it has this big inside pocket, big enough to hold my notebook!” We love pockets!! She had the same jacket on too, styled with her signature Tailored Culottes and some easy trainers.
This jacket in particular brings form and function together in a way that sets Angeline apart. She is guided by artistry, but hones it in a way that has purpose. She understands the need for comfort with the desire for creativity. Isn’t that what we are all after? ~
Alexandra Porter is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in fashion design. Her senior thesis collection of hand-sewn garments was chosen to be showcased at the SCAD Fashion Show in 2018. As a trend forecaster, stylist, writer and artist, she enjoys many vantage points from which to understand and contribute to the industry. With an intrinsic desire to pursue the purpose and meaning behind design and beyond, she is guided by this phrase: Think with dimension, Create with invention, Live with intention.
All photos also by Alexandra Porter.