Rosenthal Tee has always looked to plants for inspiration. Her 2017 Spring/Summer collection shown during New York Fashion Week featured romantic gowns with floral appliqués. Her recent evening dress creations have layers of laser-cut leaves that hug the bodice. There’s even the Monstera dress, a strapless evening gown with a draped skirt and that recognizable punctured leaf across the body.
So it’s no surprise that when the fashion designer known for her bespoke bridal gowns picked up a brush after years on hiatus, she found her muse in nature and the lush backyard of her home.
“I think I prefer to do nature just because it really is the center of what relaxes
me . . . The fact that you’re able to see something very serene but still very vibrant and full of life is what really calls to me,” she said.
It’s the positive energy and calm that Tee found from her own pocket of greenery that she wanted to imbibe in “Hypernature,” an impressive collection of abstract impressionist works that she painted from 2020 and completed this year.
“Hypernature” includes four triptychs and a diptych, all inspired by the surroundings that she gazed upon during the lockdown. The collection’s canvases are imposing, but Tee’s subjects somehow depict a larger world.
“Fortuna’s Evergreen,” a double panel of canvases with impasto strokes and green and light blue paint drippings, evokes the feeling of looking at the great outdoors through a large window.
In “Cosmic Lush,” which is Tee’s favorite among the lot, the artist is bolder with her color choices, owing to a moment that she tried to capture.
“This is my most impulsive of the series. When I say impulsive, it was spurred by the time when there were lightning and thunderstorms happening around. That image kind of stuck with me so much that I wanted to incorporate that into the painting,” she said.
The triptych was made even more special as Tee applied a little bit of fashion into her canvases. Still vines made of mikado silk (her usual choice of fabric) hang over the tempestuous painting.
“The leaves came because I wanted to play around more with how perhaps I could mix in something that I was doing professionally as a fashion designer into the painting. It was actually a very happy fluke,” Tee said.
Painting has become a respite for Tee. The pandemic may have brought events to a screeching halt, but her atelier is at its busiest now. She was also quick to adapt and make personal protective equipment while continuing to make bridal and evening gowns.
“Painting is really the thing that grounds me, where I can let everything else go and express my mood on a canvas,” she said.
Working on a completely different medium has also become an experiment for the bridal designer. She explained that making gowns is also about considering the human body that will don the garment, as opposed to the total freedom that comes with painting.
“A piece of clothing is more collaborative in that sense because there’s a body to wear the piece, versus with art in painting itself. It feels more intimate because it is you and your view of a certain moment slapped onto a canvas, so it feels very one-on-one,” she said.
Outlet for expression
The Istituto Marangoni alumna may be a sought-after designer of evening gowns and bridal wear, but she’s actually been painting since she was a kid. She took up summer lessons and studied under Beth Morris and Fernando Sena.
“It was the first thing that I did creatively,” she told Lifestyle in an online interview.
Tee had been painting from childhood until high school, often working with landscapes, gardens, flowers, plants and still life. She put down her brush when she entered college, but shortly discovered her interest in fashion design.
Tee added that she never saw this type of visual art as a way to make money, but only as an outlet for expression. However, when she started dabbling in art again and posted on Instagram snippets of herself working on a canvas, many people expressed interest in her works.
“I’ve been building pieces to show under a gallery and we were actually supposed to do that around this time of the year. However, because I would leave the art pieces in the office, some clients already started buying them so I kept running out of the number needed to show,” she added. “It’s a little bit of a happy accident.”
Tee will be working on more pieces for a show, at Art Circle Gallery “in the near future,” but this time she’ll keep it under wraps. She will, however, be definitely playing with fabric again.
“My style in itself at the moment is still very young . . . I’ve only done a few so I am not as seasoned yet. My style is still kind of playing around in itself, it’s ever changing,” she said. INQ