For many fashion designers, inspiration leads to fabric. For Alex Teih (pronounced Tay), fabric is the inspiration.
“Alex never designs a dress. He finds a fabric and then figures out what kind of cocktail dress or gown it should be,” business partner Darrell Griffiths says at a trunk show at Mary Jane Denzer in White Plains.
Specifically, Teih transforms silk blends from France and Italy. (“They can’t get any silk fabric in Europe,” Griffiths says. “It’s all being held back in China.”) Under Teih’s alchemist eye, silver and gold threads give black a cool appearance, appliqués and Swarovski crystals add texture to tulle and chiffon and zippered denim takes on an evening cast.
The Alex Teih woman is “the mother of” — the bride, the groom, the bar mitzvah boy, the bat mitzvah girl. But she’s also a woman like classical pianist Olga Kern, the first in more than 30 years to win the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2001.
“Alex is very aware of a woman’s shape,” Griffiths says. “He’s very visual and tactile, very creative. I don’t know how he does it.”
They are a complementary duo, with Griffiths handling the business and PR side of the company, which has a showroom and studio in Manhattan, and Teih designing and supervising a small group of craftsmen. Griffiths was a self-described “Pennsylvania farm boy” who had studied American literature at Brown University and was representing other designers when he met Teih 12 years ago. Teih had been born in Odessa, Ukraine, where his father was a doctor and his grandmother a lawyer. His parents sent him to tailoring school in keeping with another family profession.
At 20, Teih came to the United States where he studied visual merchandising at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan. He was working at Saks Fifth Avenue when his wife informed him one day that she needed a dress to attend a party given by the designer Oleg Cassini, who created the Jackie Look for first lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. Griffiths says that Teih told his (now ex) wife, “You need a dress. I’ll make you a dress.” That was 20 years ago.
Since then, his company has succeeded not only with his feel for fabric but with a graceful approach to clientele.
“I don’t like to tell someone that something looks bad on them,” Griffith says. “I like to tell them how we can make it look better.”