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  • profile | he yan, a fashion designer with a unique approach

    he yan - polaHe Yan just finished tidying up her new workshop in Shanghai (Huaihai Rd., lane 1390). Walk down the alley to a small courtyard and you’ll find He Yan’s workshop where her 2009 spring / summer White Series is displayed on the shelves.

    Sitting at a long table covered with a white tablecloth, we began our conversation.

    selecting models & planning shows ///
    Moving out of Shanghai’s The Loft to her new workshop, He Yan has been re-planning her work schedule. Clothing samples hang from the workshop’s shelves, with the odds and ends we would expect to find in a fashion designer’s workshopscattered needles, threads, design drafts, and cloth samples—have yet to arrive after the move.

    Since her 2005 Malan Hua series, He Yan has been leading an unusual path which is rare among local Shanghainese designers — she picks regular people (i.e. not models) rather than models for almost every show she puts on. From the lines and cuts of her clothing design, you can see just how she worked with these people. Her “models” include some of her particularly fashionable friends and even random passer-bys. In the middle of a recent show, the lead male model picked up his cellphone to give directions while on center stage!

    These days, everybody is used to high-end fashion brands who design for and show off their clothes on beautiful, yet unrealistically proportioned, professional models. But not He Yan. For her, what really matters is the clothes, not the faces or bodies of the models.

    previous work ///
    For her 2009 Spring / Summer collection, He Yan’s brother, Long2, was in charge of making videos to be shown during the fashion show. Adding videos into fashion shows is in itself a breakthrough. At first, He Yan was thinking to discuss with models about the background color for the show, but because everyone had a different opinion, He Yan ultimately decided to take out all the colors and make it completely white.

    As she looked at her last collection of designs on the shelves, she said she would ultimately get tired of them. But then she picked up a coat and couldn’t help saying that she liked it very much.

    He Yan has an obsession with everything she designs and all the pieces that are not sold are kept by her and become sources of inspiration for new designs. Beginning her career in a clothing company and now as an independent fashion designer, He Yan is a veteran of the fashion industry. She hopes that someday to get tired of her old materials, but to me, they are essential for her as inspiration and allow her to channel her restlessness and thoughtfulness into new ideas.

    returning to the workshop ///
    He Yan’s fashion shows somehow remind me of Raf Simons. Initially he also refused to use professional models and preferred to choose his favorite street boys from Antwerp. Backstage at other designers’ fashion shows, you only see models busy posing in front of hundreds of cameras, while in Raf Simons’s backstage, there are only groups of boys chatting with each other. Raf Simons would rather hide in anonymity; letting the clothes and boys speak for themselves.

    Because of her exceptional shows, He Yan has gained some measure of recognition and managed to move her store on Jinxian Rd. to The Loft. But when it comes to actual orders, there aren’t many opportunities for local independent designers. He Yan has faced many problems during the process of opening stores selling customized clothing and now lets customers choose items directly. For her, it’s undoubtedly an uncomfortable change of roles — from a pure designer to a brand store owner. And He Yan is still learning how to control the quantity of ready-to-wear clothing as well as manage her stores.

    Having gone through this personal upheaval, He Yan is now back to her workshop. Flipping through a fashion magazine besides her, a sentence from the famous Chinese writer Wang Xiaobo caught her eye, “It is not enough for one to just have this life, but also to have a poetic life.” Finding herself increasingly having to leave her utopian, poetic world, He Yan faces the reality of designing for the ready-to-wear market. She is still learning to balance her worlds. /// VV


    He Yan’s 2004 BPMF collection ///


    He Yan’s 2005 Malan Hua collection ///


    He Yan’s 2006 Nvxing collection ///


    He Yan’s 2007 Early Spring Republic collection ///


    He Yan’s 2008 – ’09 collections ///






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