Story by Rachel Schwartzmann – Shop Atelier de Geste – Photos by Bridget Badore for The Style Line
“As Atelier de Geste becomes more rooted (in the design
world), I hope these relationships become more rooted and we become a real hub for dynamic ideas for design and in general.” Beau Rhee of Atelier de Geste relayed in our interview below. Though if you ask us dynamic doesn’t even begin to cover all that the multifaceted brand stands for. Translating to The Gesture Studio, Beau’s approach to design begins and ends with an element of movement and the inception of Atelier de Geste derived from her experiences as a dancer. While in pursuit of her MFA in Geneva at the Haute école d’art et de design, she contends that the program allowed her to explore alternative avenues in which dance could transcend its usual environment. As she stated in our interview below, “The performance is the soul of the studio, and gives the conceptual framework and spirit to everything that is designed.”
Currently, the brand hosts a diverse product assortment which covers all the bases from fashion to wellness. Items range from custom apparel to carefully crafted scents and fragrances all of which are sustainably made and ethically considered – values that Beau works tirelessly to maintain in her design process and furthermore safeguard, as she educates her customers on the value that comes with purchasing thoughtfully-made design.
From product to performance, the journey of Atelier de Geste has been enriching, and when we met with Beau at her studio in Manhattan’s Upper West Side neighborhood, we soon learned that she’s only just getting started. While it may seem like a tall order to fill Beau told us in our chat below, “I hope my unique perspective on design as a dancer and choreographer can impact the greater dialogue of the design world to incorporate more tactile, physical, spatial and theatrical concepts.” So, in a still moment with a designer and entrepreneur whose passion for movement and discovery knows no limits we were thrilled to have a chance to chat more. During our visit with Beau who kindly shared more insights on the working definition of sustainable luxury, the synergy between dance and design and what she’s learned from starting a small creative business. Read on to discover more of the magic featuring beautiful snapshots of our morning captured by Bridget Badore for The Style Line.
*THIS STORY WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN JANUARY 2016 AND REFLECTS UPDATED CHANGES TO THE INTRODUCTION AND LAYOUT
I am a cultural mix of American-Korean-French.
I spent my childhood in Boston and Seoul, my adult life in New York City, and a few formative years in Geneva and Paris. I am a lover of movement, jazz, art, wine/fragrance and food.
On the weekends I will be biking or swimming, usually at a couple gallery or museum shows, cooking fresh fish or some delectable produce from a local market, and of course at dance rehearsal. I value family, intimate friendships, homemade dinners, my community of creative souls, alone time, nature, innovation, and imagination.
Walk us through the evolution of ADG. What inspired you to bridge the gap between dance/movement and products?
It was a breakthrough to see the hybrid expressions of Les Ballets Russes, Sonia Delaunay’s dance costumes, or Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet. These magical visions opened what choreography could be, beyond an ephemeral experience: a dress, colors, set design. As a young dance student, I was always interested in the trace of dance, or how it could stay on in a tangible way. I think my cross-cultural upbringing also helps to “translate” across different disciplines.
It was my MFA in Geneva at the Haute école d’art et de design that gave me the tools to actually do this. In the draping and pattern-making studios I created the first prototypes of the silks; at the metal studio the mask; through a seminar on archives and products I worked on scents…it was a very special time. I got to explore what dance could be in objects without limitation.
I didn’t think of my work as a product then, but my colleagues liked the concepts a lot and I got a lot of support from my advisors. When I returned to NYC in fall of 2012, people asked if they could buy the scents and silks! This was very flattering to get such attention, and slowly one-off projects became limited edition product, which then became a line, which became what Atelier de Geste is today!
With dance/movement as a core inspiration would you say a big premise of ADG is to infuse a sense of wellness into your customer/community’s personal style?
I design the garments for the body in a highly visual and movement conscious way, for sure. I want the garments to look artful in design, but as a dancer I also want the leg and arms to be accentuated and given the full range of motion. All these details (slits, asymmetric lengths, dimensions) add up and hopefully, my clients feel inspired to be in their bodies and move –
(so many of us live in our heads and computer/phone screens these days).
All my materials are held to a very high standard: no parabens or sulfates or phthalates or known allergens in the scents, all the silks are non-toxic dyed and fair labor as well.
Some of the new perfumes to be released this year are “farm to scent” – natural and organic, fair-trade, fair labor, just simply exquisite essences! Fragrance is worn on the skin, so there is no room for skimping- only the best!
What is one question you wish people asked you more often?
What does movement mean to you?
My answer is that it’s a philosophy or approach to flow, rhythm, and physicality, with elements of immediacy and improvisation.
Talk to us about the performance element of ADG. How are you hoping to have that translate into your design/product work?
The performance is the soul of the studio and gives the conceptual framework and spirit to everything that is designed. For example, the first three scents were designed to further express the movements of three different suites of choreography. The new Blues scent was created to be experienced with our evening length performance, All Blues.
For each silk design, I think in terms of how the garment might look in terms of facing (front, side, back), and how it might look in stillness and in motion, levels of sitting and standing… basic choreographic ideas to any dancers out there. I see garment design as a very intuitive extension of choreography: the body in motion sculpturally and spatially. I think our audience feels these inspirations very intuitively!
How do you hope to see ADG evolve as it becomes more deeply rooted in the design industry?
One cultural goal to attain is to have an instantly recognizable ADG iconic look. That would be a designer milestone!
One of my greatest joys is building the ADG community: the business team, our group of dancers and musicians, collaborators of many disciplines (graphic designers, writers, stylists, photographers), assistants…it takes a village. As ADG becomes more rooted, I hope these relationships becomes more rooted, and we become a real hub for dynamic ideas for design and in general.
I hope my unique perspective on design as a dancer and choreographer can impact the greater dialogue of the design world to incorporate more tactile, physical, spatial and theatrical concepts.
I am committed to creating better, more beautiful ways to be sustainable and conscious through making. I believe that one of the huge benefits of being an independent designer is the ability to control my supply chain A-Z. I hope ADG can be regarded as an innovator in this regard.
How do you think creativity contributes to some of the world’s bigger conversations and what role is ADG playing in this shift in thinking?
I think the most interesting creative minds in history were always influenced by and influencing, their world at that time.
Hopefully, through my creative practice, Atelier de Geste responds in a sensitive and relevant way to the issues of our time. I think some of the issues that are very present in my generation are:
How re-make models of production and consumption that are broken?
In a hyper-digital world how to find the tactile and sensual (some of my suggestions: through scent, movement, and texture )?
In an oft-times cynical or distracted culture how to find moments of real encounter and awe.
With regard to the fashion/apparel component of ADG, who do you think best embodies the essence of the brand? What women in your life inspire this aspect of your design?
My clients are all very original, so it is hard to define a type. I would say that they are creative, classy, motivated individuals with big intellectual appetites for unique concepts, who appreciate originality and are all a tad glamorous. They want to invest in timeless pieces that inspire them, that are artful in concept and craft. A lot of people in the arts, or just culture vultures.
For those looking to start their own multifaceted business, what tools/resources would you suggest utilizing? (Feel free to provide links/specifics if you can!)
- Every product or service should serve the greater concept or idea and should have a cohesive visual identity.
- Start small at first, and focus on what people respond to.
- Have a starter budget (savings, angel investment, etc) so that you can start out solid (financials are important).
- Use automated services for admin tasks so you can focus your energy on the important work (Mint for finances, regular calendar alarms on iCal for weekly to-dos like inventory, Square is great for invoice reminders for clients and automatically generates sales reports).
- I greatly encourage collaborations with like-minded friends in different disciplines. It opens up ideas and audiences. Some of my greatest creative moments were in a group, like projects with Nouveau Classical Project or with photographer Barbara Anastacio. Currently, I am working with Twice, a creative agency by my friends in Paris, and our collaboration has been really inspiring.
How has this entire process inspired your perspective on sustainability? How have you been able to maintain “sustainable luxury” and furthermore how would you define it?
Sustainability is one of these words now that is so plural.
My personal take on it: Sustainability is a broad approach, stemming from a respect for life, living processes, and community.
I think as a generation we really have no choice but to keep vigorously pursuing this direction.
The process of creating and producing objects has definitely made me more aware. An early example: I remember making the decision to pay my first producer for the tights, and I wanted that money to do something good. So after doing a lot of sampling, I decided on a handicap owned, small business factory that employed a lot of women. I learned early on that this was something I wanted to embed deeply into my business practice.
“Sustainable Luxury” is a phrase with two words that mutually support each other (although it may sound like a paradox). Of course, there is mass luxury and thoughtless egregious spending, but in an ideal world, luxury and sustainability go hand in hand. Sustainable means using beautiful long-lasting materials. It means creating pieces with lasting value. It means supporting local economies and decent work conditions for workers. It means buying less but better, it means engaging the client’s money towards an impact for good. It also means creative problem-solving and finding inventive ways to get things done in a better way than what we inherited. Luxury not as an extravagance, but a deep and sustained satisfaction…
I am able to maintain a “sustainable luxury” or a “design-for-good” process by constantly quality checking my work every step of the way, which is more complex now. For example, I examine the impact of the textile production (on the environment and our bodies), or the quality of essences and how they are harvested, the impact of transportation or shipping, the labor conditions for all the production houses that I work with (i.e. do they have a lunch break). In the designs, I aim to have a kind of formal simplicity to them because I want the garment to be worn at least 20 times, throughout seasons and last through trends. I believe in those perfect shapes!
With Blues (a new ADG scent that will be released very soon) I decided to work with our essence supplier because of their commitment to sustainability: sustainable farming, fair labor, fair trade, natural and organic goods. Aesthetically, the essences just smell and feel exquisite! The depth and intensity are really…wonderful and earthy.
Quantity is important too. I think the idea of limited runs makes things more special. Less waste, more impact. Leave people wanting more, ha! Maybe luxury now can be defined by a kind of quiet exclusivity: limited edition runs, custom, the non-ubiquitous…
I think being committed to sustainability also has to do with education and dialogue. Some of the best conversations I have had with my clients are the “aha” moments when they realize it’s totally cool that I actually know and talk to the person who sewed their garment, or that they realize the perfumes are hand-made in small batches, and that I personally quality control every little part of the final product. It is so great to see the light bulb go off: “Oh! Cool! I am getting something that is really special and thoughtfully created, and I am also contributing to this better way of making things!”
Do you have any unexpected sources of creative inspiration and if so, what are they?
The swimming pool (any bodies of water), jazz, my plant, and stone collection, and architecture.
The Style Line was built on the premise of discovery, exploration, and transit. With this in mind, what is your “the style line” in your wardrobe?
Jazzy: color, texture, and contrast improvised and layered a foundational set. More dressed up than dressed down.
I have a “uniform set” that I go to for basics so I don’t have to make too many decisions: fitted beautiful turtlenecks, ADG tights, nice lightweight long-sleeve button-ups (I love men’s T-shirts), well-made chunky sandals or boots, light blazers. I am usually wearing/wear-testing ADG sample dresses that I am working on.
Depending on my mood of the day or agenda, I then layer color or play with textures (shiny, suede, fuzzy…). I like getting dressed in a versatile way, something polished that works day-to-night (just slip on those heels and voila!) since NYC days often go from 9AM-9PM.
Contrast is a golden rule: I love mixing a sleek silk dress with moto boots, dressing in all neutrals and then adding a Klein blue layer or bright coral to add as the punctuation mark. Different is interesting!