Celebrated San Francisco fashion designer brings math to her couture


Celebrated San Francisco fashion designer brings math to her couture

Celebrated San Francisco fashion designer brings math to her couture 04:23

SAN FRANCISCO — When Colleen Quen revisits her fashion creations, it is more than just reunion. It’s a reconnection with heart and soul.

“It is a part of me, I’m going to cry,” Quen says. “These pieces are an extension. Every inch of my energy is put into these through my heart.”

Her emotion comes from years of making one-of-a-kind dresses in the French couture style.

“I have about 180 pieces in storage and each one is different. They are timeless,” Quen said. “If you take care of them, they become sustainable heirlooms.”

From 1998 to 2013 Quen was one of San Francisco’s celebrated fashion designers who dressed the city’s elites, socialites and celebrities.

Quen’s most popular piece is the “Madam Butterfly” dress. She guesses she has made four hundred custom variations for her clients over the years.

“That dress probably supported my businesses,” Quen said.

Colleen Quen
Fashion designer Colleen Quen in her signature creation.  Courtesy Colleen Quen

Her signature piece is what she calls the “Empress Coat,” a gold A-line flowing coat that is meant to resemble royalty. A picture of her wearing the coat from a magazine cover photo hangs on her wall.

“It’s my pride and joy and I thought of it as 24 karat gold and she is a walking jewelry piece,” Quen said. “I never wear my pieces but, when I put it on for the shoot, it felt like I was in heaven.”

Quen studied fashion under the late Simone Sethna at the French Couture School in San Francisco, where she learned the art of what she affectionately calls “sacred geometry.”

“Sacred geometry has this formula, this composition, but yet it is so beautiful because the way the numbers are calculated,” explained Quen. “Art and math work together. It is all about designing for the human body where you can make a walking art piece.”

Today, instead of shaping fabric, she is now shaping the next generation of fashion designers, passing along her couture knowledge to a small group of students inside her tiny studio.

“I want to share this because I feel honored that I was even granted to learn this myself,” Quen said. “My teacher told me not to tweak any of this, to honor French Couture and teach if you want but don’t tweak anything I taught you.”

Quen’s classes begin with meticulous calculations and formulas that resemble engineering rather than art. One of her students, Lea Luellen, found out the hard way.

“I was never good at math until I met Colleen,” Luellen said. “She has taught me to use different parts of my brain to create.”

“I feel this is my purpose in life, to learn what I can and master my work but to share because, once you become a master, you need to give back to the planet and to the people who want to be inspired by this,” Quen said.

Ryan Yamamoto


I was born in Oakland, grew up in the East Bay and went to college in San Francisco where I graduated with a degree in Broadcasting at San Francisco State University (Go Gators!).

Thanks for reading CBS NEWS.

Create your free account or log in
for more features.

Please enter email address to continue

Please enter valid email address to continue