Making a Racquet

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Yang Li – SS16 ‘Jeu de Paume’ collection

Yang Li is practically an illustration of the post-modern condition in a world after globalisation. Born in Beijing. Raised in Perth, Western Australia and now based in London, Yang Li shows his collections in Paris rather than where his studio is based. Then again, he’s hardly ever done anything by the book.

Yang Li walked out of London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins, forfeiting the industrialised PR machine that gives their fashion design graduates the biggest head start. He didn’t care. College made him angry. Somehow, he still managed to end up as an intern at Raf Simons and now, here we are: he’s been showing his collections in Paris for some seven years and he’s still in his twenties. Not bad for a dropout.

If you look at the clothes, or hear him speak about his approach to design, it’s not hard to understand why his work is rated by those whose opinions count. It’s rare for a young designer to have so much clarity about his design values. One of the key things notable in his approach – again, also not that common in young designers– is that his has little interest in trying to “reinvent” fashion and is completely disinterested in the kinds of attention-seeking gestures that have been the staple diet of young designers trying to make their mark for generations. Rather, he is more interested in the details than in chucking out classic garments and starting from scratch.

So, the lean architectural lines of his personal design heroes – Helmut Lang and Raf Simons– are often present, as is the use of classic silhouettes such as the trench coat, double-breasted military jackets and variations on the polo shirt. To this Yang Li brings his own restrained version of punk-style distressed fabrics and shares his heroes’ minimalist aesthetic in trying to keep the garments’ construction to the essentials; the bits that count.

Sure, there are always some striking, experimental shapes that go down the catwalk. But, in the main, his clothes are highly adaptable, suited to the lifestyles of many different women of all ages. Again, this is because Yang Li collections are nothing if not eclectic. Take his current SS16 ‘Jeu de Paume’ collection for example. There’s a sassy reworking of an empire line look that is straight out of ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’. There are some single-shoulder tunic tops that will delight fans of deconstruction – and comfort. Both are strong choices for dramatic impact.

But there also wonderful light, flowing coats or the layered, asymmetrically-cut knit polo shirts. Separated from the Hong Kong graphic novel aesthetic of the catwalk show, all of these are actually very flattering, understated and, above all, comfortable items that will readily adapt to a broad spectrum of personal style choices. More unusually for a current one-to-watch, designer, these are not clothes that only look good on young women.

Yang Li – SS16 ‘Jeu de Paume’ collection
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