Being a fashion designer sounds like a fabulous job, right? Add in travels to fashion weeks in Paris and New York, and you have a very glamorous gig indeed – but a little scary, too. As I was saying to Singapore-based fashion designer TESSA LONT, I wouldn’t even know where to start!
New Zealander Tessa is the Creative Director and founder of Lontessa, her own fashion company based in Singapore.
So, how do you go about being an international fashion designer?
Everyone’s story will be different, and Tessa’s journey started with studying industrial design in Wellington. She then took that knowledge and went to Portugal to work. But, on her return to New Zealand, she found that the available jobs in industrial design were lacking the creative flair she was craving.
Tessa had always loved drawing; she drew all the time from when she was a small child – it was what had led her to industrial design in the first place. She’d also drawn clothes and asked her grandmother, a seamstress for an iconic Kiwi brand called Swandri, to make them up. Then, in 2009, her grandmother booked her to showcase an art collection in the local gallery. This progressed to Tessa showing a collection of woven fabrics, and then to a fashion show at Te Papa, New Zealand’s national museum.
But she still couldn’t sew. So, she went back to college – to the Academy of Fashion in Auckland – where she learnt sewing and how to make patterns. Tessa initially focused on lingerie, and actually ended up making costumes for dancers and performers. Working with stretch fabrics is a very different technique – quite specialised – and she found she had a real connection to this. Then she went on to making other fashion items, working both at a wedding couture shop and a men’s clothing franchise to learn about the business side of fashion.
Once she felt she had enough knowledge to get started, she opened her own shop in her home town in Taranaki. Was it hard? Yes, and once she had one thing working, something else would pop up that she’d need to learn how to manage. Finally, though, after many years and many mistakes, she got her systems in place. The next step, which was prompted by the fact that she’d started to travel to Singapore fairly regularly, was to close the bricks-and-mortar shop and go online instead.
Lontessa in Singapore
Tessa’s now husband has been in Singapore for 16 years and was in Hong Kong before that. Tessa moved here in 2016 to be with him and in 2019 purchased a couture workshop in Delfi on Orchard Road; it was a business with a 35-year local history. And so Lontessa was born in Singapore.
Most of what Lontessa makes is customised, but it can be anything from couture and ball gowns to dresses and business suits. One current project involves making garments and merchandise for a musician in New Zealand. Tessa is involved in the actual design of the fabrics, too!
She’s been using her lingerie skills recently to create amazing full corsets that are cool and keep everything in shape. They’re made from a really interesting fabric and proving to be a big hit with her friends. She’s been trying to make them for the shop, too, but they’re going out the door too fast. (I can see why – I’ve also added one to my own shopping list!)
If Tessa does any mass production items, she limits them to around 80 pieces. One example is her simple white shirts, which are made in China using eco-friendly fabrics such as Cupro. This is a fabric made from cotton by-products; it uses less water in the manufacturing process but feels like silk and hangs beautifully.
Her possum fur jackets have been a huge hit in Singapore – yes, despite the heat! They’re made in New Zealand from wild possums who terrorise natural wildlife and are categorised as pests. This YouTube video on Tessa gives you a little more insight.
Tessa answers our questions on being a fashion designer…
What’s it like going to the international shows?
Internationally, I show with Oxford Fashion Studio (OFS); they’re a professional platform that sort everything from the model casting to doing the press and more. They give you a PR report, tell you who was there, and help you get featured. It’s a much cheaper and less stressful way to do things than doing a whole show by myself.
OSF really take care of things for me, but beware there are other platforms that take advantage and overcharge, and you can end up with no exposure and a big bill.
How do you transport garments?
In a special large suitcase – and I take a steamer plus a little sewing kit for any alterations to fit the models at the last minute.
Where do you buy fabrics?
I do buy some here – there are some gorgeous materials in Little India. Chinatown has a lot of treasures, too. But be wary as some fabrics might not be what the vendor says they are; we stick to the stores we’ve come to trust.
I’m also sourcing some fabrics from Korea, and I’ve collected lots on my travels to New York, Paris and Lisbon. There are some amazing new fabrics around.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I always have plenty of ideas, but I’m quite inspired by my clients and friends – by their lifestyles and what they like to wear. I’ve met many incredible women in Singapore, annually choosing nine people to be our brand ambassadors. I think the brand’s desire to be “the antidote of fast fashion” is also what drives me.
You also do personal style sessions; tell us about those.
In a style session, we meet with you to discuss your personal needs, your style and your preferences – especially when it comes to fit. We then create a moodboard and a questionnaire so we can get to understand you and your aspirations a bit better. From there, we design a look-book of sketches unique to you – sometimes this can even involve creating a personal fabric print. The focus is on designing and making clothes that fit perfectly and accentuate and flatter the body while helping to discover your personal expression. (I should add that I make my samples in my size rather than a model’s size, as it’s more proportionally realistic.)
We’d love to create the perfect collection for your personality and your body type. Our Māori motto “Hei Hōnore” means “in honour” and refers to: The Self. The Woman. The World. Just email us to arrange a session.
What’s new at Lontessa?
Our masks have understandably been quite popular. Five friends can come over, choose remnants of fabrics – usually left over from an incredible gown. And then we get the champagne out, and get creating!
Lontessa is at #02-18/19 Delfi Orchard.
6887 4610 | 8533 8895 (WhatsApp)
firstname.lastname@example.org | lontessa.com
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