Colleen Quen Fuses Decades of Fashion with Art

Colleen Quen

Colleen Quen Lantern Sleeve Dress displayed at Wisconsin Museum – Photograph by Claudia Calatrava

SAN FRANCISCO, United StatesColleen Quen, an award-winning Couturière designer with talents and designs comparable to Jean Paul Gaultier and Balenciaga, has made her mark on the fashion world while residing in San Francisco. Quen, a Baby Boomer, was influenced by her mother, a sculptor, and so, grew up loving art and aspiring to become a fashion designer from an early age. She went on to study Fashion Design at Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in 1986. Later she broadened her career in the industry by becoming certified in the art of French Couture at Simmone Sethna School of Fashion, in Paris. Quen’s career as a Couturière blossomed in 2000. She ascended to fame rapidly, acquiring international recognition for her phenomenal work in creating exquisite, handcrafted couture gowns inspired by earth, nature and the universe.

Colleen Quen

Colleen Quen with her French bulldog LiBai – Photograph by Le Lu

Colleen Quen’s long list of exhibited designs included — a fashion installation in 2008 at the Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), for her creation of the “Butterfly Dream” couture gown during the Shanghai Biennale (highest-profile contemporary art event in Shanghai). In 2009, Quen also narrated a 60-MINUTES PBS documentary, “Interpreting Ancient Chinese Fashion”, on her visit to Guizhou, China with the Miao and Buyi Chinese minority groups. And, for the 100th anniversary celebration of the renowned Ballets Russes company, Quen collaborated with the famed Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet and Monaco Dance Forum to design elaborate, custom-made ballet costumes for their modern-day production of Scheherazade.

Colleen Quen

Colleen Queen Madame Butterfly Gown – Photograph by John Casado

As a native of San Francisco, Quen was sought-after by the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art to participate in its 75th Anniversary Muse Campaign, in which Quen was paired with Henri Matisse’s iconic artwork Femme au Chapeau, from the SFMOMA Collection. Still, one of Colleen’s greatest fashion moments was her 2010 artwear installation she designed for the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles titled, “TechStyle and SoftWear: Surface and Shape” to evoke the Silicon Valley experience. Quen’s work also appeared in countless magazines like Flare, WWD, InStyle, Modern Bride, Town & Country, International Herald Tribune, and America’s Next Top Model reality television. Her international and celebrity clientele included Tyra Banks, Paris Hilton, Geena Davis, Melissa Rivers and Bai Ling – among others. All these starlets have once strutted down the red carpet in a Colleen Quen, made-to-perfection couture gown.

Colleen Quen

Paris Hilton wearing Colleen Quen Bird of Paradise Evening Coat – Photograph by Tony Duran

In 2013, Quen took some time off from designing to recuperate from battling breast cancer. She did some soul searching and realised that her devotion was to art. This influenced the decision to take her creativity to new heights by fusing fashion with art, transforming her vision into expressions on a painting, rather than designs on a dress. She studied traditional watercolour painting under Madeleine Fu, a well-known artist from Shanghai who taught her to let water and paint bleed into the paintings to create organic shapes. During Quen’s invigorating break, she started painting and used brush strokes to communicate and voice her thoughts and imaginations onto rice paper (a delicate painting sheet compared to silk fabric). Quen says:

Painting made me come alive and filled my soul with creativity when I was not able to design. It was my meditation and therapy session. A way for me to reach out to the world again.

Colleen Quen

Colleen Quen Empress New Shoes Painting

Thus, Quen’s knowledge of couture for the past 30 years has now come full circle and reinterpreted into watercolour paintings. Just as fabric textures, colours and tones inspired her couture designs; she now takes that knowledge of colour vibrancy, texture and tone depth, and incorporated it into her art paintings. She explains:

After 51 years, I can now incorporate everything I have learned into my paintings. All my fashion creativity, painting techniques, life lessons, wisdom, joy and the spirit of life.

Colleen Quen

Colleen Quen Enchantment Painting

We really admire Colleen Quen’s strength. During her deepest and darkest moments, instead of giving up, she challenged herself by using creativity and turning it into a work of art. Quen is in touch with her spiritual side. She channels earthy elements like water, fire, nature and aspects of her culture and fashion designs to create a painting so uniquely artistic, that it will leave you in awe of its ethereal beauty. Within six months of her newfound journey, she was able to create over 350 paintings! She goes on to say:

These paintings represent my love for life and my recovery from cancer. A miracle, I had another chance to live life to its fullest by expressing myself through art.

You would think someone with Colleen’s talents to be a total diva, yet she’s the total opposite. Not only is she refreshingly down-to-earth, but also genuinely humble. In fact, it took us a second there to believe it. But having the opportunity to sit down for the interview in her home, we found Quen to be as real as they get. During our interview, we couldn’t help but marvel at the sight of all her magnificent paintings hung on the wall. The colourful and stylish artworks were captivating. Birds, flowers, trees and nature were painted into feminine, delicate and demure silhouettes with accents of couture fashion. Her work is downright impressive, and an inspiration to the art and fashion community internationally. Quen’s mission now is to internally and externally continue pushing boundaries not only to create fashion and art, but to also teach, inspire and motivate people within the industry. So, to say Colleen Quen is just another fashion designer, is an understatement. The undeniably talented, sincere and kind-hearted Couturière, has taken her talents to another level by transitioning into an artist.

Stay tuned because you will be hearing and seeing a lot more of Colleen Quen in the near future. Whether she is painting, sculpting or designing an artistic fashion items or art piece to be displayed in a museum, Quen is back and here to stay! Her next step is to take art galleries from New York to Paris by storm with her paintings and fashion designs!

Courtesy of: Colleen Quen | Website: |
Tiffany Le About the author

Wardrobe consultant and fashion writer who owns a Bay Area luxe tailoring boutique. Believes in karma, human rights and being earth-friendly. She has a B.A. in Psychology and a degree in Fashion Design from San Francisco Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising; and inspires others to be confident and beautiful from inside out.