Designer chat: Julie Tengdahl

Nikki ParkinsonFashion 4 Comments

I love meeting fashion designers who really get and understand the customer who they are designing for.  Brisbane’s Julie Tengdahl is one such a designer.  As her autumn-winter 2011 collection launches in store, I decided it was high time to put Julie under the Styling You Designer Chat spotlight.

The Tengdahl woman is sometimes fun, energetic and active – other times seductive and alluring.

The Tengdahl woman is sometimes fun, energetic and active – other times seductive and alluring.

Could you please give Styling You readers a snapshot of your career to date?

I started designing at the age of 16. At the time, fashion wasn’t really an industry in Brisbane, and being a designer wasn’t considered a viable career. If you aspired to a career in fashion, you had to set your sights on another state, or country; I wanted to change that. After studying fashion design at TAFE, I worked in London for several years and returned to Brisbane to work for a local bridal couture house, where my love affair with classic design, luxurious fabrics and those age-old fundamentals of cut and shape began.

After co-owning the Principles label for seven years, I launched Tengdahl in 1997. At the time my objective was to create a label that was responsive to the Brisbane woman’s needs and unique style. During the ensuing 13 years the label received 12 awards for excellence in design and manufacturing, and grew to include a Sydney boutique and a presence in David Jones stores around Australia. But by 2006 I realised that I’d forgotten what it was about fashion that truly made me happy; designing for local women.

I scaled my boutiques down to Brisbane locations and stopped stocking in David Jones. I’d realised that I didn’t need to play to the archetypal version of “success” (ie. stocking in large department stores or internationally); I needed to dance to my own tune and do what made me feel fulfilled as a designer, which meant staying true to my roots, and letting my organic connection with my clients transcend through into what I designed.  Tengdahl will always be about timeless shapes, created in quality fabric by local craftspeople who know how to sew a seam that will last decades.

What is the Tengdahl philosophy?

I believe all fashion purchases should have purpose and memory. Purpose because they have a function in our wardrobe, our life – and in reflecting our inner beauty. And memory because all great fashion acquisitions evoke a moment in time; they have a story, whether it be the hand-stitched vintage lace sourced from a little French mill or the circumstances that led us to walk into a store and gravitate towards a particular design, fabric or embellishment. When we step out of the house every day, our clothes say something about our purpose and memories. Tengdahl stands for thoughtful, sustainable fashion that favours longevity over disposability. We create garments that actually mean something, as well as feeling beautiful. And while I source fabrics, finishings and embellishments from around the world, the foundation of our approach lies in locally-made designs – created by Australian women, for Australian women.

How would you describe the women who wear and love your designs?

The wonderful thing about my job is I work in all three stores at different times of the week and I  get the wonderful opportunity to listen to my client regularly and this collection is designed around their wants, needs and desires. I describe our designs as an embodiment of a particular woman – with all her facets, intricacies, idiosyncrasies and emotions represented by a different design, but sharing the same core. Some times she’s fun, energetic and active – other times she wants to be seductive and alluring. She is comfortable and laid-back, and yet divinely glamorous. She’s intelligent and progressive, nurturing and yet independent.

What has been the inspiration for your latest collection?

Each design in this collection conjures thoughts of poignant moments in my favourite cities; snapshots of the sights, sounds and smells of the places I love, translated into designs that can be worn here. It’s a “suitcase” collection that takes women beyond Brisbane’s autumn/winter and enables them to create different looks on their own travels; whether it be for a conference in London, a girlfriend’s birthday party in New York, a lovers’ rendezvous in Barcelona, or a family holiday in Asia.

I love that fashion links the international community together; it transcends geographical boundaries, unites cultures and honors traditions. The Zao top and Mikino dress are examples of this; a nod to the massive influence of traditional Japanese fashion on modern western design, paying tribute to their ability to perfectly merge form and function.

As always – after travelling the world in my mind while designing this collection – I arrived back in the place that means the most to me; my home city. Not just because it is full of so many effortlessly stylish women, but because the link between a garment and its intimate association with a city goes beyond cut, fit or shape; it’s what the garment represents in that place or time.

Do you have a favourite piece?

My special piece out of this collection would have to be the Zao top. It is made from New Zealand super fine merino wool so it feels amazing, and it’s practical, easy to wash, edgy and stylish. It’s one of those items I can dress up or down depending on what I am doing; it has many purposes.

What’s next for Tengdahl?

My thoughts are on spring/summer and the Mercedes Benz Brisbane Fashion Festival. The words that keep emerging in my thoughts are “escape to paradise”. So traveling is still on the radar…

Tengdahl Autumn-Winter 2011


Hope you are enjoying your long weekend. Would love you to take a couple of minutes to vote for me in the HP Australia Front Row Blogger competition. Click on the image below and wish me luck!

Comments 4

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  1. I love it when she said that each fashion purchase has a story…it gives me the perspective of WHAT STORY AM I TELLING TODAY?? This is a fun way to look at shopping. The stories she is telling as a designer are beautiful!

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