San Francisco fashion designer Colleen Quen showcases heritage in her couture

French couturier Colleen Quen is one of the few couture fashion designers in San Francisco. The 61-year-old has been creating one-of-a-kind, custom works for the last 25 years. 

She recently had the chance to showcase her body of work to the public, as part of a campaign called Union Square in Bloom.

She showcased eight iconic gowns from her career during a free Mother's Day fashion show. 

"All my pieces are inspired by San Francisco and I really wanted to plant myself here, because there's really not much fashion. So if I can be one that actually represents San Francisco, I would be so honored," she said.  

The quintessential "bloom gown" was made especially for the event. It took Quen 400 hours over two-and-a-half months to create the special gown, inspired by the dahlia, the official flower of San Francisco. 

It debuted for the first time as part this year's Union Square in Bloom festivities. Quen made the gown by hand, sewing more than 500 silk petals in her San Francisco home.

She still uses her mom's sewing machine. She taught Quen how to sew when she was 5 years old.

"My roots come from here too, from Chinatown, my grandparents were Chinese medicine doctors," said Quen.

The third generation Bay Area native studied computer science at what was known then as Cal State Hayward, before she attended FIDM in San Francisco, and worked for brands like Gap. She later studied French couture in the city, and she ran an atelier business in San Francisco's SoMa neighborhood for 15 years, before she took time off to battle breast cancer.  

Her gowns have also been worn by celebrities, including Paris Hilton and Tyra Banks.   

Today, she takes on special commissions or projects that also benefit the community.

"It kind of brought me full circle, because I've been kind of out-of -touch with the fashion world. I've been creating, but not for the public anymore," she said of the fashion show. "I want to give that blessing... to help the businesses, and let's bring the city into life and spirit again."

The Union Square Alliance hosted the designer for the second annual event in May.

"A really special component of our collaboration with Colleen was that the fabric was donated by Britex, which is a legacy business in our district," said Union Square Alliance marketing and communications associate Jessica Chilingerian. "Colleen herself said fabric was such an important element that got her into design. Her mom would make her dresses out of fabric she got from Britex."

Born in Oakland, Quen actively finds ways to learn about her Chinese culture. She studied Daoism, which emphasizes living in harmony, and extends her artistry into painting.

"My work is poetic," said Quen. "It all seems to work together and I understand more about my culture, why I'm here. Even though I wasn't born in China, I still feel that my roots are with me in my DNA. As an artist, it just comes out that way."

Quen said she was recently approached to create costumes for musicals, potentially in New York and Paris, which has also been a lifelong dream of hers. 


San Francisco Chinatown Boy Scout troop prepares for 110th anniversary

San Francisco's Troop 3, the first Chinese American Boy Scout troop in the United States, is about to celebrate its 110th anniversary.