Looks from Priory of Ten Fall 2012. Photography by Ryan Kibler.
The devil is in the details, they say. If that’s the case, new womenswear label Priory of Ten is one delightful little devil indeed. With its razor-sharp tailoring and clean-lined, minimalistic silhouettes—nicely balanced with some oh-so-subtle, sexy detailing (high split leather pencil skirt, anyone?)—the brand offers a beguiling aesthetic, where polished simplicity meets covert sexuality.
The brainchild of Eunice Quan and David Lin (of retailer The Board and Trade Co.) and ex-Phillip Lim veteran Mei Liu, Priory of Ten was founded this year with the aim of fashioning both a label for the educated, modern woman and a wider creative collective. Dossier spoke with Priory of Ten’s Design Director Mei Liu about her design background and inspirations, how Priory of Ten came to be and what we can expect from the label’s upcoming collections.
Sophie Coleman: Where did you grow up?
Mei Liu: I was born in China then moved to West Canada [Edmonton, Alberta] when I was six. There wasn’t much happening there so I moved to Toronto and lived there for a few years before New York. I’ve been living here for four years now.
Sophie: How did you get into design?
Mei: I’ve always loved to draw and work with my hands. My earliest artistic influence was probably from my mother; she loves music, drawing and singing. I was taking art classes all through school, but it wasn’t until later on in high school that I thought about fashion as a way to focus on my art. I was always thinking, “How can I do something really creative in a commercial sense?” as trying to make it as a fine artist is hard. Despite this, I ended up going to business school and working in the industry for two years. I quickly discovered that it was not my calling! So I studied at Parsons for a year and a half before landing my first job [as a Design Assistant] at Phillip Lim.
Sophie: What was the experience of working at Phillip Lim like?
Mei: It was an amazing experience. It was a small team starting out, so it was super hands on. I was exposed to a lot of different aspects of the business. I also got to work in fittings with Phillip, which is where I really learned how to hone in on detailing and construction. That minimalism and clean style really had an influence on my aesthetic, [as did] his approach to making beautiful, comfortable clothing for modern women.
Sophie: Tell me about how Priory of Ten started.
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Mei: After working at Phillip Lim for two years, I was ready to move on and grow my career. I started Priory of Ten in November 2011 with two other partners, David and Eunice, both of whom I met through a close mutual friend. When David and Eunice were conceiving the idea of creating a design collective, they sought me out as a design contributor. We decided to join together, as we felt an instantaneous connection in our design philosophies. We were also all in a great position in our careers, where we were open to new and exciting opportunities, so it seemed to be the perfect timing to create something together.
Sophie: What are your roles?
Mei: I’m the design director. David handles the business side of things and Eunice is the head of sales and press. They’re based in Vancouver and assist with the creative direction for the label.
Sophie: What does Priory of Ten mean or stand for?
Mei: The name Priory of Ten was conceived of when we were traveling in Asia. We were really inspired by our surroundings there—the environment and the cultures. We stayed in a boutique hotel in Bangkok called Tenface and the idea of ten faces, or interpreted another way: the notion of ten individuals coming together as a collective of creatives, really intrigued us. This started our interest in creating a design collective and is how Priory of Ten came to fruition, with “Priory” representing the house or community we wanted to build and “Ten” as a tribute to the source of our inspiration.
Sophie: Who would you say you design for, or who is the typical Priory of Ten gal?
Mei: The Priory of Ten girl is someone who is intelligent and cognisant of current cultural and world issues, not just fashion. She’s comfortable in her own skin, empowered and shows her sexuality. She dresses to represent her way of life and to be true to who she is, rather than to construct a certain “image.”
Sophie: How would you describe the brand’s design aesthetic?
Mei: Minimalistic with clean lines…structured. I love structure and design from the outside in, focusing on the silhouette first and creating a shape in the body before adding details, those subtle elements that help make a garment special and personal for you. There’s also a perverse sexuality underlining our aesthetic. I like the idea of creating tension or a subdued sexuality that oozes out in an interesting way through the little details in our pieces.
Sophie: What was the inspiration for your Fall 2012 collection?
Mei: We wanted the Fall 2012 collection to really define what Priory of Ten is as a label and what it means to us. Priory has a religious connotation, so we wanted to modernize and play on the idea of what Priory originally means for society today: a collective of individuals who work in secrecy or an environment that’s not overtly available to the public. We’ve taken these kind of groups who have an identifiable silhouette—like the military, clergy and office workers—using these elements to influence our collection for the modern-day, corporate woman. For example, we have a leather pencil skirt with a high slit to sex it up for our take on officewear…macho pants, a military jacket with a twist, and a mandarin style clerical collar that resembles a police uniform. It’s these little details that are important to our collection and design philosophy overall.
Sophie: Any favorite pieces?
Mei: My favorites from Fall 2012 are the leather pieces: the Mau pencil skirt and leather t-shirt, which has been detailed like a sweatshirt or muscle tee with the triangle piece at the front. Again my aim here was to take materials and turn them into something unexpected. I also love the pajama blouse with necktie [Kren Dress], which looks like an oversized dress shirt. It’s super feminine and sexy in a covert way, perfect for the girl who wakes up next to her lover and wants to throw something stylish on!
Sophie: And what can we expect with the Spring 2013 collection?
Mei: I’m excited about the Spring 2013 collection. It’s more glamorous, feminine and louder than Fall 2012. For this collection, I was inspired by a photoshoot set in LA, with its blue skies, palm trees and that suburban feeling. I liked the fact that it was highly stylized and all in white against this suburban backdrop. In this collection, I play with the idea of masculine and feminine, for example: pairing a tailored jacket with a high-waisted skirt. There’s also a wrap skirt with a thigh-high split, but I’ve built shorts into it. So it’s overtly sexual but in a way that’s also comfortable and a little bit demure for the wearer.
Sophie: You mentioned you like to design from the outside in. Is this how you start your creative process for a collection, or do you begin with a muse in mind?
Mei: I have a muse in mind every time I design a collection. I start with this muse, then get a color scheme in mind and an overriding theme for my silhouettes. These three elements are key to my process in designing a collection.
Sophie: Who or what do you look to for creative inspiration? Do you have any design or style icons?
Mei: I have lots of different sources for inspiration: museums, contemporary and modern art, in particular. I am inspired by looking at textures and colors in a different context. Fashion editorials help me hone in on a theme also. I have a lot of different designers I admire and look up to: Riccardo Tisci, Jil Sander, [Phoebe Philo at] Céline. Then there are local NY-based designers I’m influenced by, such as Alexander Wang, Calvin Klein and many other peers. I also look to blogs for pop culture and other trend inspiration. Style icons I like are Kate Lanphear, Kate Moss and off-duty models, such as Arizona Muse.
Sophie: What’s your favorite part of being a designer and/or the creative process?
Mei: Being able to play, create and transport yourself to a different world.
Sophie: You also work as a designer for Paper Denim & Cloth, right? How do you juggle the two?
Mei: Yes, I’m also a womenswear designer for Paper Denim & Cloth. They’re very supportive of what I’m doing and enable me to have the time to do both. So it’s a fine balancing act and I’m busy juggling the two, but I love it!
Sophie: What do you want to be known for as a designer?
Mei: Someone who makes beautiful clothes for the modern woman with attention to detail, divine details. I want Priory of Ten to be known for speaking loudly through its clothes and through silence, rather than be in the limelight.