According to Frederieke Van Doorn and Yulia Tlili, there’s no need to separate your work wardrobe from your weekend wardrobe if you can find comfortable, well-constructed pieces that make you look and feel your best. The founder and designer behind Frey tell Zaneta Cheng how they’ve cracked the code
Conceived during the pandemic, Frey is the brainchild of Frederieke van Doorn. The Dutch founder and CEO wanted to bring her over two decades of experience in men’s tailoring to women, offering the same elements of comfort and flexibility found in men’s suiting to that of women’s. Frey’s Ice House Street store is a cosy space – a sitting room for those looking through the jackets, trousers and skirts that van Doorn and her designer Yulia Tlili have imagined together for their first collection. There are double-breasted pieces that sit larger on the frame, skirts both pencil and maxi that could comfortably see anyone through a late night as much as they could hold their own at a party, shirt dresses that glide loosely and end at the knee, and an array of belts for anyone who fancies cinching in any of the aforementioned pieces of clothing.
Colours range from muted blacks and greys to bright pops of pumpkin and green, and more in between. Aside from van Doorn’s own height at 185cm, the brand was spurred by the idea that there was a gap in womenswear for those who go to work and want to look good.
“The saddest of all is that women buy work clothes and they wear them to work and not anywhere else,” van Doorn says. “I mean, why? You can have a nice skirt and pair it with a T-shirt and go out. Clothes should be comfortable and fun. You should be happy and [your clothes] should express how you feel.”Tlili agrees. “There’s this whole layer of Hong Kong women who are making money and making things happen but they’re kind of restricted, if you like. There are the young and the fashionable, there are the rich tai-tais, and there’s this level of white-collar women who are going to work – they have to look nice but there’s nothing for them to wear. You don’t go to work in Chanel every day. You don’t buy a Chanel jacket every month to [wear] to work.”
Van Doorn and Tlili are visibly animated when they start discussing jackets. Pulling each piece out, they burrow into the details of construction and it’s easy to see why the two work well together. “I think tailoring is the backbone for all design,” says Tlili. “If you don’t know tailoring, how can you call yourself a designer, really?” “It’s the same with production,” van Doorn adds. “If you can make suits, you can produce most anything else, because they’re one of the most difficult items to produce. Everything after that is just flair.”
In their designs, van Doorn and Tlili insist on comfort and construction. With a wealth of experience in suit making, van Doorn sources materials from Italy. Boxes of deadstock fabrics are sent over to the pair, who go through and either match the fabric with existing designs or think up new ones. The only caveat is that everything must be all-natural. “If there’s even 1 percent polyester in the material and we love it,” says van Doorn. “It’s not allowed,” Tlili finishes. Part of this insistence is because the pair believe that natural materials do not need synthetics to improve wearability or comfort. The other, larger part, van Doorn explains, is because synthetics – “polyester, nylon or whatever” – “are the flattest materials there are, and we are not flat.”
Which brings us to the foundational subject of construction. A well-constructed three-dimensional garment depends, according to both van Doorn and Tlili, on its canvas, which is the layers of fabric that sit between the suit cloth and the inside lining and are responsible for giving the jacket support and shape the way a skeleton does a human form.“Construction plays a huge part in suiting,” says Tlili. “And we want to bring in an element of traditional tailoring where, lined with horsehair canvas, the jacket becomes something you can keep for 20 years and it takes your shape and really sits with your body.”
Van Doorn picks up a jacket and points to where the shoulders join the front, back and arm pieces, indicating where places ought to lay “quietly” and not be twisted. She’s adamant about form and shape – “because a body goes into it, you see.” Tlili chimes in, “It’s sad that you go somewhere and you pay $30,000 and you get a jacket that is completely flat where the collar doesn’t roll beautifully and the shoulder doesn’t sit properly and they say, ‘Oh yeah, we were all inspired by men’. We think that’s great and fabulous to have wide shoulders like a man – it all looks very fashionable when you wear it with a bra underneath and you maybe wear it one time. But if you want to wear a jacket for a season or five seasons and have a classic jacket in your wardrobe, forget it.”
Much of this comes from a very sincere and visible love of craft and the wish to share it. All of Frey’s pieces are sampled on a size 38 model and on smaller Chinese frames as well as other extremes in order to ensure that each one can be worn by different women.
“We fit everything on women and we don’t fit anything on size zero because if you fit everything on a size zero, it has no curves and is flat, so the item of clothing ends up being really flat. It needs to be fitted across the spectrum – fit is really important,” says Tlili. “Even though our factories are so skilled and we are all skilled here, we still do three fittings, which is crazy considering almost everything is done but we still insist that every sample is fitted three times.”
Despite what seems to be an already meticulous crafting process, van Doorn has introduced a tailoring service that allows customers to bring their own pieces into the shop to have them refitted to their bodies using Frey tailors as well as a bespoke service where clients can have existing suit styles made to measure using a special digital scanning system.
The attention to comfort and fit shows in the product itself. Van Doorn and Tlili hand me a woollen Frey wrap jacket in what they call “sky grey” and it fits like a glove. There’s enough give for it to feel very much like the perfect lounging robe with all the appearance of a very, very nice suit jacket. I tell them both this and they seem pleased. “We compromise our comfort and [create] things like fake pockets just because we want to look pretty,” van Doorn says, referring to other, out-of-touch womenswear brands. “I think, how bizarre, because why on earth should we be compromising these things?”