Frank Tell takes a scrap of accordion pleated silk to demonstrate exactly how he created the intricate bustier detailing present in several pieces from his Spring 2009 collection. Scrunching the pleats as close together as possible, bending the fabric, and then re-enacting the way he pinned and stitched the silk by hand, Tell relives his own creative process. The 22-year-old designer’s emphasis on intricate hand detailing is meticulous yet inspired.
All three of Tell’s collections to date have focused strongly on the structure of the garments. Whether they are princess seams strategically placed to ensure a perfectly fitted bodice or the accordion pleated bustline described above, his workmanship is always present.
“For spring, it was the same feel as the fall collection as far as things being very tailored and constructed, but instead doing it very slouchy,” said Tell, “It is more about the pleating and the handwork this season…I wanted to have something of fall that went into the spring, but I also wanted to incorporate art. There was this swirly painting by Louise Bourgeois that I wanted to evoke with the pleating around the bust.”
The designer’s knowledge of creating highly structured clothing is impressive for a designer with no formal training. Because all women do not possess the dimensions of runway models, Tell stresses the importance of creating dresses in silhouettes that flatter a range of sizes. Creating the perfect shift dress can be a daunting task for designers but this is exactly where Tell flourishes. The Galactic Gumdrop, a sleeveless shift dress with a flared out skirt, and the Pleated Gumdrop, a variation of the first that is a little more body hugging with a little less a-line, have become the designer’s signature little black dresses. Comprised of a luxurious cotton silk blend from the finest of old French mills, both styles are constructed in ways that compliment the shape of the wearer.
Veruschka was Tell’s main inspiration for this past collection. Pointing to a picture of the German supermodel, he explains that it was her bohemian lifestyle and videos of her transforming herself into windows, moss, and trees that he found fascinating.
“I think that my muse from now on is going to be Penelope Tree. I think she’s beautiful and she’s a brunette and I love brunettes,” Tell added, gushing about the 60’s model and style icon. The indelible mark that Tree left on the fashion industry is still felt today by young designers like Tell, born decades after her rise to it-girl status.
He has plans to expand his line to include jewelry, belts, and plenty of separates for next fall. “I want to create bold and bulky jewelry that distracts from the simplicity and austerity of the clean, straight lines of the collection,” said Tell.
Tell is also very enthusiastic about continuing the partnership with Swarovski Crystal that makes its debut this season. Ranging from delicately set crystals on an ivory silk draped shift, to the gargantuan crystals expertly placed on a wide-set belt, the result is classic and fun.
Barcelona born Tell credits his affinity for fashion design to spending so much time in his grandmother’s local trim shop as a child. Coming to the United States at age 12 by way of attending a military boarding school in California, Tell moved to New York City at 18. He interned with AsFour (now known as ThreeAsFour), Bruce Weber, and Sue Stemp. Unsure about his career path at the onset of his slew of fashion internships, it was at Sue Stemp that Tell realized that fashion design was what he wanted to do. Shortly after Stemp hired him as a full time employee, Tell left to create his eponymous line with business partner Hector Meza.
“I never actually thought about it. I told Hector one day that we were doing a collection and he thought I was nuts. I started doing some sketches and I started doing some draping, and then after that we did about five pieces,” said Tell, “We cut everything on the kitchen and the floor because we didn’t have a proper cutting table. It was really very organic.”
Tell completed his first two collections from a collapsible wooden Ikea kitchen table in his Lower East Side apartment. It was only this past July that he moved his workspace to roomier digs at a studio adjacent to FIT, the Ikea table in tow.