Pre-LFW interview: Yan To

I caught up with the new designer on the block ahead of the frenzy of LFW to discuss all things fashion.

Written by Rachael Oku

Orange burn holes halter-neckImages throughout courtesy of Yan To, depicting the SS10 collection ‘One’.

I recently came across your designs at the Iroquois press day and was amazed that your SS10 collection, ‘One’ was your first ever collection. What made you leave the world of corporate advertising in favour of fashion design?
I am very humbled by the positive reaction I received to One. A lot of people have a dream and when I had the chance to follow mine, it really was not a difficult decision to make. Reconnecting with your soul is a beautiful thing.

Black rose applique dress

Your debut collection, ‘One’ features many sexy dresses made from luxurious fabrics distressed with everything from spray paint to Marlboro Light cigarettes. You’re clearly a very resourceful designer, how did these ideas come to you? Was it a gradual process of experimentation?
My design process largely takes place in my head. I create problems which I then set out to solve. In the case of the techniques used in One, I was left to my own devices for the weekend and it just seemed like a good idea to hang dresses on the washing line and see what would happen if I attacked them with paint. The burning was an experiment really, but I had no spare fabric and it was quite late at night so I decided to try it on a dress. I tried burning dresses in my kitchen but the potential for a fire drove me outside. It was actually really surreal burning holes in my dresses against a backdrop of stars on a still and clear night.

Checked jacket and skirt

From the artistic elements sampled in your debut collection one might say that you approach fashion design like an artist would approach a blank canvas. Is this a fair estimation?
Maybe. I strive to challenge the way I think about fashion and as such I am happy to take a lot of risks. As I received no formal training and at first I did have a few hang ups about this, but then I rationalised that I could use this to my advantage. I do not have a skill set, which I am comfortable to fall back on so every piece is a challenge and a struggle. I am not apprehensive in trying anything as there is no easier route to take. That said though, the design process is often very slow. I would definitely agree with your reference to a blank canvas.

Red rose applique dress

Do you have any fashion heroes, if so who?
I think Pierre Cardin was a visionary before the merchandisers took over. As for people who have touched me directly, I would have to say that a guy called Chris who is a pattern cutter at a sampler’s I use is a real hero. He has lived the rag trade most of his life, doing most jobs within it. He is the perfect foil for me and I have learned so much by observing him make sense and reality of my ramblings. He is a real tradesman with the soul of an artisan.

Orange sprayed halter-neck

Is there any one woman that you would love to see wearing your designs, who you feel sums up your ethos as a designer?
I would have to say no. I think there is a danger as a designer in having an ideal woman. I believe my job is to learn how people work with my pieces and not dictate how I envisage the ideal to be. I do admire the styles of many people, some famous and some I see in everyday life.

Black brushstroke halter-neck

What is your inspiration for FW10, and what can we expect from your upcoming LFW presentation?
AW10 is a very different collection to One. The collection was created during a time of intense upheaval in my life and is tainted by regret, anger, guilt and yet the same time joy. There is no spray painting and so far no burning. There are also no halter neck dresses. Instead the focus is on form, manipulation and texture. The collection is larger and more diverse than before with the introduction of coats, leg wear and knitwear. It is far more innovative than One and may surprise many people who saw One. My refuge from the events (still) happening in my life was to design. The results are what I need to share.

Stripped trousers

How do you unwind after the stresses of LFW?
It is a privilege to be part of LFW and as such there is no stress. It’s just a series of problems to overcome. The stresses I encounter in other areas of my life, far outweigh anything I have so far experienced in fashion.

What has been your career’s biggest highlight to date?
I got a real high from seeing the first pieces of quality press.

Is there anything in particular that you are looking forward to accomplishing this decade?
If I can maintain a level of integrity, grow with the people who have helped me, continue to design, have a great network of stockists and support my family, I will be a very happy man.

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