From falling in love with her mum’s fashion magazines as a young girl, to starting her own brand Au Revoir Les Filles, designer Teresa Tiong takes us on her journey of story and romance.
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Tell us a bit about yourself…
Growing up in Singapore, I remember how much I loved to play dress-up and look through the high-fashion editorials of my mum’s magazines. I found them captivating. It was like taking a peek into what life would be like as a grown up.
I moved to Sydney to study Media & Communications at the University of NSW. I enjoy media, but found my heart always drifting back to fashion. That’s what led to my first job as a design room assistant for a bridal atelier in Double Bay, where I learnt the fundamentals of sewing and garment construction. After that, I worked for renowned fashion labels Charlie Brown and Sass & Bide.
What were some of the lessons you learnt from that experience?
I learnt the importance of company culture from the girls (Heidi and Sarah-Jane) at Sass & Bide. Having a team with a shared passion and bond is instrumental to moving you and your business forward. It’s really important to create a great work environment where people love to come to work every day.
I have always loved vintage and working with Charlie helped develop my appreciation for it. She was an avid collector of antique garments sourced from all over the world and used to display them on these massive long racks. She also had stacks of books about design; from architecture to street culture and art. I was incredibly lucky to be able to access her archive, and I learnt a lot about the history of fashion.
Tell us about your journey from employee to launching your own brand?
It was always my dream to design for my own brand. I was still working for other labels when I took up weekend classes at the Alliance Français. Once I had a grasp of the language, I decided to move to Paris to study fashion design at Esmond for two years. When I came back to Sydney, I started designing for Manning Cartell and The Cassette Society before finally deciding and having the courage to launch my own business.
It has been so fulfilling being able to conceive and create something from scratch. I’m really glad I took the plunge and I really wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I love the idea of making these small details that tend to get overlooked, more special.”
Congratulations on taking the leap – where did the name Au Revoir Les Filles come from? What it’s about?
It literally means ‘goodbye girls!’ in French – but there isn’t really a translation to English that captures it in the same way. Maria, my tutor from Esmond, would always bid farewell to our classroom full of girls with “Au revoir les filles!” It was one of those moments that just really resonates with you. I knew then that it would become the name of my label.
It conjures for me a slightly different story every now and then – of lovers parting at a train station somewhere in Europe or maybe a mother writing a note to her daughter. And that’s what I wanted for our wearer too – to be able to put their own stories to it, in the same way that we might experience hearing a song in our own personal way.
Au Revoir Les Filles is dedicated to….
To jewellery keepsakes inspired by story and romance. Our focus is on fine craftsmanship and nuanced touches and our designs feature a melange of silver and gold, with references to pop culture, art and music. Lana Del Rey is the ultimate ARLF girl – the beauty of her poetry with music and words always inspire me. Plus, she has such a wicked sense of style; classic but mischieveous and dark yet angelic.
What are some of the design principles you’ve learnt and have applied to your label?
I took up Nouvelle Couture at Esmond, and I remember designing this corset with horns coming out of its bodice. I wasn’t sure if it was technically possible to make. But then my tutor said, “tous sont possible avec couture,” which means ‘all is possible with couture’. That instilled in me the importance of thinking outside the box, and to try to always look at problems in a different light in order to come up with new ways of solving them.
I also like to surprise customers by adding small, subtle details on our pieces, like the signature back clasp on our necklace. It’s designed to resemble a square jewel, and looks really elegant especially when worn with your hair up.
Subtlety in detail is something I took from an ex-colleague of mine, Sandro, who is a pattern-maker from Italy. Quality is paramount in Italian tailoring, such that the interior and lining of an Italian suit jacket is often made with the same quality as its exterior. This level of attention to detail makes a huge difference, and I love the idea of making these small details that tend to get overlooked, more special.
What made you decide to focus on jewellery?
I really wanted to create something with more longevity. I wanted something that you could pass on from generation to generation. A lot of my jewellery designs – and some that I own – are inspired by vintage pieces that have been passed on from my mum, which were passed on to her from her mum. And that’s something I hope everyone will get to do with our jewellery….
What’s your favourite part about what you do?
I love coming up with the concepts for each collection. I love creating the story around my protagonist – I like thinking about who she is and how she’s going to wear all the pieces. The Dawn collection, which is our most recent collection, was inspired by early marine exploration; in my mind, I could see my muse awakening in an old abandoned submarine and taking the first steps to discovering what her new world is about. This was the entire premise for the creative direction of our campaign. And we were lucky enough to be able to get Margaret Zhang to star as the heroine.
You have such an amazing vision… Tell us how you got Margaret to become the face of your most recent collection?
I had already been in touch with Margaret, who loves our jewellery and featured our Barbes Choker in one of her flat-lays. I think Margaret really embodies the sense of discovery and exploration of the Dawn collection. She has such a strong voice in fashion and has paved the way for a brave new world in the blogging space, while maintaining that air of mystery and mystique about her. I thought that she bore a striking resemblance to Daul Kim. Daul was a Korean model who had a beautiful, poetic and haunting aura about her. She sadly passed away years ago, but I considered her a muse and inspiration for this collection.
Behind The Scenes with Margaret Zhang taken by Au Revoir Les Filles
When did you launch Au Revoir Les Filles?
We launched in February 2015.
Can you tell us more about the beginning stages of your brand?
At Au Revoir Les Filles, I not only design all the jewellery myself, but I also developed the brand identity from scratch – from coming up with the direction of our visual aesthetic to designing our logo, packaging and our entire website. It took some time to ensure that everything looked cohesive, but I’m glad it’s all worked out!
The design process came quite fluidly because I knew what I wanted to do. However, it was quite challenging to find a reliable jewellery manufacturer who could interpret my designs consistently and deliver the quality I was after. I mainly designed apparel up until then, but leadtimes for jewellery do differ slightly, so sampling for some designs took a bit longer than expected. I had to give manufacturers a very detailed spec sheet with all the measurements they needed and draw each design from different perspectives to show how they would look in different angles, in order to get a prototype made. There was a lot of trial and error; some designs just don’t work the first time and can take repeated attempts at a prototype before you finally get it right.
How would you describe the ultimate Au Revoir Les Filles bride?
An ARLF bride would be wearing an ivory lace gown, slim in silhouette with a lace train that’s raw around the edges, like a ravaged maiden. It’s all about romance and pale washes of colour with soft candles and moonlight.
I love the intoxicating scent of white flowers. She would probably be adorned with posies of gardenias, tuberose and jasmine and delicate jewellery all around, possibly wearing heirloom pieces passed down from her mother, like our Margaret earrings, and Endless necklace.
What advice would you give couples looking for a jeweller?
Be clear about what you want, but also be open to re-interpretation and surprise. A picture paints a thousand words, so it’s really helpful if you bring some images for reference to help minimize misunderstanding and help ensure the best experience for everyone.
What’s your vision for Au Revoir Les Filles? What’s in store for your brand?
My goal is to constantly innovate in design, with a focus on quality. I would like for Au Revoir Les Filles to become a household name, and expand to Europe and Asia. I love fashion, and am always thinking about what new outfits I can pair with my jewellery, so it will be a dream to branch out into apparel, footwear and bags.
Any advice to other entrepreneurs who are just starting to build their businesses and pursue their own passions?
Take the time to switch off! When you start, you’ll be so enthusiastic about your business that it can consume your every waking moment. Don’t let yourself burn out. In order to stay for the long haul, set aside some time for yourself. Do the things you love – work on your hobbies, exercise, rest, have fun! You’ll be surprised at all the ideas that come to you when you’re relaxed and not always stressing about the business.
All images courtesy of Au Revoir Les Filles.
Visit www.aurevoirlesfilles.com for more story and romance.