East-meets-Couture: YiQing Yin

Yin’s latest collection Ouvrir Venus (above)

For so many years the world of Haute Couture has been dominated by storied French brands such as Valentino and Chanel, but this is all changing thanks to a host of young and edgy designers that are reinterpreting this ancient craft in a new and modern way. Chinese couturier YiQing Yin is one of these people. Born in Beijing, she is also one of the few Asian faces on the couture scene and her multi-cultural background gives her work a unique look that I haven’t seen for a long time.

I interviewed YiQing a few months ago in Beijing to talk about her inspirations and her connection to China. Read on to find out more.

WHEN ONE thinks of Haute Couture, visions of puffy Marie Antoinette style dresses and elaborate gowns that you can barely move in immediately come to mind. Then you see the work of young couturier Yiqing Yin and all those preconceived notions fly out the window.

Mille-feuille style micro-pleats swirl around the midriff to resemble the face of a Greek God, while another Grecian style dress features thick sculptural folds that trace the ribs as a dangerously high slit exposes the top of the thighs. Short sculpted mini dresses come covered in leather strips or with patchworks of fur embellished with dark beads. 

These are a far cry from the fairytale princess dresses taken from Couture’s illustrious past – instead they are fashion-forward, edgy and wearable.

“There are specific values in Haute Couture – it needs special craftsmanship and also has a real legacy that I think is important to continue. At the same time we also need to challenge it and to make it new and accessible to our generation, or more specifically my generation. Without criticising the Diors and Chanels, it’s always the same stylistic writing. French couture needs fresh blood. It cannot keep existing if it is based on old traditions,” says Yin.

If appearances are anything to go by then Yin could easily be the poster girl for the women she wants to dress.   She is wearing a dark black turtle neck and sculpted black skirt, and her dark hair falls across her shoulders framing her high cheekbones and almond-shaped eyes. She is wearing no jewellery or accessories, preferring to let her clothes make the statement.

“My clothes are for someone who wants to affirm her identity, who is not afraid of being individual and who likes to play with her appearances. She wants to communicate something special. She is feminine but also very strong,” she says.

Although she was born in Beijing, Yin immigrated with her parents to Paris at the age of four. She always wanted to be a sculptor, so decided to study at the Ecole Nationale des Arts Décoratifs where she worked with various creative mediums ranging from graphic design to interior design. It was fashion that eventually won her over.

“Once I touched the fabric and textiles I knew I would work in fashion. I loved the sensuousness of the fabric. I felt it was a different way to express myself,” she says.

After graduating she completed a brief internship at French brand Cacharel, where she learnt the ins and outs of the business. This was enough to encourage her to launch her first collection in 2010.

The year that followed was one of many successes. She presented her line at the prestigious Hyères International Festival and won the Grand Prize of Creation from the City of Paris. In March last year she was selected by French Vogue as one of eight young designers to watch, and then went on to win the Andam Prize for First Collections.

By the time she hosted her first show at Couture Week last July she was flying high on the fashion radar with celebrities like Lady Gaga requesting her designs. Her collection, which features handmade pieces that take up to three months to create, was lauded by editors for bringing emotion and poetry back into Couture’s somewhat stuffy image. Her 22 piece autumn/winter couture collection, Ouvrir Venus, for example, is inspired by the human anatomy and is both violent and ethereal at the same time with dresses featuring diagonal slashes and draping effects.

Yin attributes the emotion in her work to her instinctive approach to design. Rather than work with sketches, she manipulates a flat piece of silk on a mannequin to create a three-dimensional shape that is a combination of loose, free-flowing forms and armour-like structures that protect the body. Silhouettes move away from the body, while curving around the female form haphazardly.

 “It’s between something very elaborate and modern with draping, but also very anarchic, chaotic almost. It’s accidental. I am always preserving accidents, because it’s the real space for creative freedom and magic. It’s really the process that counts most rather than the result,” she says.

As one of the industry’s youngest designers at 26 years old, the question Yin gets asked most frequently is why she chose to work in the rarefied world of couture instead of the more commercial friendly realm of ready-to-wear.

“To me couture really represents a creative laboratory that you don’t find in ready-to-wear. You don’t find that space for creativity and exclusivity – with couture, you work with different fabrics and there is a concept. Starting with couture helps you build a very strong brand identity and image,” she says.

While Yin’s work clearly stands apart on its own merits, she has also generated buzz for being one of the few Asian faces working in an elite and closed part of the industry. While she says her Chinese heritage has yet to inspire her work, she is hoping to forge a stronger relationship with her homeland, especially since her parents are now based in the mountainous region of Yunnan.

Last year she held exhibitions at JOYCE Beijing and Hong Kong, and has also been invited to participate at fashion weeks in Singapore and Korea this year.

“I am interested in Asia and it has shown interest in my work too. But for now I want to do it slowly. I would like to start in China as that’s where I am from and go from there.

“That being said, there is still a gap for me because I consider myself French – I am very curious about [the Chinese] as they are with me, but there is still that distance. Because of that I would love to work with Chinese people in different ways,” she says.

As such one of her upcoming projects will see her collaborating on the with a traditional Chinese dancer in Kunming, while also working with Swarovski on creating an exclusive couture gown.  Then there is the development of her ready-to-wear line which she showcased at the recent couture shows in January.

“It will be connected to Haute Couture but have its own look. It’s a challenge because I want to propose something that has the same quality and creative strengths but that is not diluted into a product that is too commercial.

“At the same time, I don’t want it to be ready-to-wear completely. I really believe in the values of couture. I love the emotion and the respect for the client. It’s something very precious and rare. I think it’s a beautiful world, full of poetry,” she says.

As published in the South China Morning Post newspaper, February 2012

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