Being at Colleen Quen’s runway show Saturday night — the marquee event of Fashion Week El Paseo — make one feel like they were some place other than in the desert. The designer’s masterful, exotic eveningwear transported the audience to a catwalk in New York, or even Paris, where the materials are lush, the tailoring impeccable, and the designs eye-popping in an artful, organic way.
It’s no wonder: Quen learned from the best, studying French couture under Simone Sethna, a contemporary of Christian Dior and Pierre Balmain. And since opening her own couture clothing company in San Francisco 10 years ago, Quen has cultivated a following among that city’s vibrant social set with her sculptural, nature-inspired creations.
“I’m very into pop art,” Quen said of the floral themes that thread themselves throughout her collections. The designer mentions Georgia O’Keeffe as an influence, which could be seen in the orange-, pink-, and green-hued blossoms sent down last night’s catwalk.
But Quen’s of-the-Earth designs, while striking, are anything but dainty. “They’re strong,” she said, unapologetically, while taking back-stage photos with Coachella Valley Girl Scouts who volunteered throughout Fashion Week El Paseo.
A white gown with thin, hand-folded and sewn flowers was the evening’s standout piece, earning the sprite, 47-year-old designer a round of mid-show applause.
Quen’s art-inspired florals were also quite apparent in a strapless white column gown that featured simple, cylindrical buds scattered throughout in the style of a Marimekko print.
The garden party continued with a more delicate floral design of a simple, thin strap ballerina silhouette, the full skirt of which hit just above the ankles for a decidedly 1950s feel. The same shape made its way down the catwalk on more than one occasion — once in a statement-making, traffic-cone orange silk and again in a sophisticated butterfly print.
The ballerina is a muse that Quen is used to. In December, her costumes appeared in Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet production of Scheherazade, a work that was commissioned by the Monaco Dance Forum.
After last evening’s show, which was so packed that observers stood in the back by garbage cans to catch whatever glimpse they could, it’s a safe bet that Quen will gain a few more commissions from the desert, too.