The Ethereal Teija – worn by Michelle Obama

The Ethereal Teija – worn by Michelle Obama

IF Boutique is carrying exciting new brands this summer. Among them is London-based Finnish designer Teija Eilola’s label by the same a name – TEIJA.

TEIJA is a study in practical utility that juxtaposes couture and urban day wear, creating a unique subversive aesthetic.

Although Eilola has been away from her birth land for almost two decades, she still carries and spreads the Nordic spirit in her fashion.

The Nordic spirit influences the designs in the use of highly specialized, mostly cotton, fabrics from Europe and Japan together with cutting edge craftsmanship. This Finnish minimalism creates space for the more advanced, carefully measured silhouette and cut that seeks to redefine contemporary fashion.

All the looks are developed with traditional techniques yet with a modern urban edge which shows in the engineered outer and internal structure. This creates everyday pieces of distinct quality and feel.

Teija Eilola is a graduate of Royal College of Art (RCA) where she acquired skills in traditional tailoring and atelier approach to design. Before launching the line in 2012 at the Final of Fashion Fringe, Eilola spent some time being mentored by Christopher Bailey at Burberry head office.

She has previously worked as joint head of design at an international brand, designer at Michiko Koshino Yen jeans label and consultant for other brands.

This spring, Eilola’s eponymous brand celebrated its fifth anniversary. There was additional cause for celebration, though. In May, former First Lady Michelle Obama was spotted in the small town of Montalcino, Italy, wearing a blousy, pink, one-shouldered top by TEIJA, setting off reactions from bloggers, fashion reporters, and Instagrammers around the world.

The moment — Michelle Obama roaming Montalcino sampling chocolate gelato and its subsequent coverage — found Eilola and her label in front of a wider audience than ever before. “It might be a pretty deciding moment for my label,” Eilola said. “It’s been quite exciting, how suddenly her wearing it has such an impact on a label.”

During her tenure in the White House, Obama’s stamp of approval helped launch small brands and up-and-coming designers to international notoriety. Brandon Maxwell and Jason Wu especially benefited from the former first lady’s sartorial platform.

Fashion designer Teija Eilola in her North London studio.

Eilola, 38, was working in her design studio in London on that morning in May when the notifications started coming in. The moment caught the designer and her team by surprise. While often designers loan pieces to stylists, who outfit their clients accordingly, Eilola had no idea Obama owned one of her pieces. Mrs. Obama, or stylist-aide Meredith Koop, selected the piece organically, Eilola suspects. (As Vanessa Friedman wrote in the New York Times earlier this year, many of the designers whose looks Mrs. Obama wore as First Lady did not know when their pieces might appear. She purchased garments for her personal wardrobe, while those for state functions were donated and ultimately archived.)

In the five years since she established her brand, Eilola has settled into an aesthetic that blends her Finnish sensibility — a taste for minimalism and versatility, combining elegance with a utilitarian edge — with a distinctly British feel. Playful takes on shirting have dominated street style for a couple seasons now, such that even the former First Lady has caught on, but shirting has long been a mainstay of the TEIJA brand.

The designer describes one of her signature pieces as a shirt with smocking around the neckline, shoulders, and sleeve cuffs, which she has adapted in different colorways for successive seasons.

Eilola had set her sights on a career in fashion from a young age. She now recalls the thrill of designing and sewing a piece as a pre-teen: “I’d get really excited when I had one complete garment like a dungaree made up, and I was like, ‘Oh, my god, I just figured out how to make it work,’” she says.

Her interest waned in her teens, but she “remembered the whole passion for it” by 19, when it came time to head to college. She attended the prestigious Royal College of Art and, after graduating, earned a position in the design studio of the London-based Japanese label Michiko Koshino Yen.

But after several years working at studios like Michiko Koshino and Ted Baker around London, Eilola was ready to “design under my own signature,” she says. In 2012, she began conceptualizing her first looks and used them to apply to the city’s Fashion Fringe competition, chaired by Burberry’s Christopher Bailey. Bailey called her shortly after, informing Eilola she was one of 10 finalists for the competition he would coach through three months of appointments and talks with industry professionals, culminating in a showcase at London Fashion Week. (While under Bailey’s mentorship, Eilola also designed the smocked shirt in her first collection, which subsequently became a bestseller and an essentially TEIJA look.)

“It was all about generating a moment for a small label,” she says of the competition. “It happened really quickly but that made it exciting because I didn’t really have time to think about it.” It spring-boarded her to the attention of buyers in the UK and Japan. Her collections have since been picked up by Dover Street Market, Matches Fashion and IF Boutique Dubai.

In January, Barneys New York featured TEIJA in a window highlighting British designers. Her label has quietly evolved, she explains, from “a much more Victorian feel” to “more whimsical,” and just as quietly, TEIJA has landed on several designers-to-watch lists and roundups in European fashion publications.

But all that doesn’t compare to the attention she garnered this spring. “Obviously, it’s not a Michelle Obama moment,” Eilola says, laughing.

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