Label To Watch: Priory of Ten

by The Daily Front Row

(NEW YORK) Looking for a brand that combines sporty silhouettes and sexy cut-outs? Look no further than Priory of Ten. The comfy yet chic, mostly neutral toned, sportswear collection made its debut in Fall 2012 and it’s already taking the ready-to-wear scene by storm. The label’s creative director, Mei Liu, chatted with us about the burgeoning brand and her ontime mentor, Phillip Lim.

Who else is behind Priory of Ten?
David Lin 
and Eunice Quan are my two business partners. They’d been childhood friends; all three of us grew up in Canada. They wanted to set up a clothing collective and started a conversation with me a couple of years ago to design for them. At the time, I was still working at 3.1 Phillip Lim. But we stayed in touch—in November of 2011 we decided it would be a really great time to start this company together.

How do the three of you split the workload?
I do the design and development, and we work on merchandising and inspiration together. I present the inspiration to them for each collection. Then, we all think about ideas and pull images, and do research together about up-and-coming trends or items we’re really drawn to. From there, I get going on design and development. Eunice mainly handles our sales, while David manages the operations of the company, including logistics and financials.

Why is the line’s name loosely inspired by a Bangkok hotel?
David and Eunice were on vacation in Thailand when they decided they really wanted to build a brand together. They were staying at this hotel in Bangkok at Tenface, and they then drew a direct translation from the hotel’s name. Also they thought it would fit really perfectly with this idea of a design collective. They really wanted to create the idea that a group of creative people could come together and share a common vision and creative process to generate one unified product and idea.

You lived in China until you were six years old. Any interest in selling Priory of Ten there?
Yes, absolutely! My parents are very patriotic, so growing up I always had a very strong sense of connection to my motherland. I still really identify with the culture and a lot of the principles, especially around family structure, manners, and life philosophy. 

How was your gig as an assistant at 3.1 Phillip Lim?
I was there for close to two years, and when I started at the company the design team was pretty small. My supervisor, who I assisted, working directly with Phillip on the ready-to-wear collection. We also had junior wear designers and a fabric manager and a print manager. So at that time the team was still pretty small and by the time I left it probably doubled in size. It was nice to enter a company that was still in the growing process because it was really hands-on. I had a lot of responsibilities that I don’t think I would’ve been able to otherwise experience if I had joined a larger company. I got to attend fittings with Phillip and I got to work closely with him, watching his development process from beginning to end. There were a lot of late nights and it was a lot of hard work, but at the end of the day it was worth it. 

What’s the best piece of advice Phillip gave you?
He did introduce the idea of Wabi-sabi to the design team. It’s the Japanese philosophy based on pairing things down and letting beauty come through simplicity and organic mishaps in nature. 

What would surprise us to learn about Phillip?
There was a time when Phillip would come into the office with New Balance sneakers, loose muscle t-shirts, and casual pants. I always thought that was a really awesome look for him. 

There are some sportif elements in the collection. Are you a particularly athletic person?
I enjoy doing yoga. I find that living in Manhattan, there isn’t a whole lot of opportunity to be outdoors and play a lot of sports and be super-duper active. It’s important to me that clothes have a very wearable quality to them and are comfortable and aren’t so uptight that only a select few women can really identify with them.

Where’s the line sold right now?
We’re going to be sold in Oak and Figure and Form in New York. We are currently stocked in Totokaelo in Seattle and our major online partner right now is Avenue 32. 

Who’s your dream collaborator?
I would love to eventually work with a sneaker brand like Converse or Nike. That ties back to the sporty element of Priory. 

Who are some of your biggest design influences?
I always like what Riccardo Tisci is doing at Givenchy. I think he’s actually created a little bit of a revolution in fashion. If I could pick any designer as my overall role model for how to marry fashion and business successfully it would be Miuccia Prada. I think that she’s an absolute genius.

What’s your growth strategy for the future? 
Eunice and David have a couple of retail projects on their own as well, and I work as the design director of Paper, Denim & Cloth, which is a denim centered brand that has recently re-launched. So all three of us are quite busy and entrepreneurially spirited. We want to keep pushing Priory forward while keeping in mind that we also want to continue to build these other projects in our portfolio. Even though we’re all so busy working on these different projects, they actually feed a lot of knowledge that is necessary for us to grow Priory successfully.

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