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China Designers: Womenswear Worthy of a Wong Kar-wai Movie

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China Designers is a biweekly series that showcases the wide spectrum of creativity in Chinese fashion design. From small designers to big brands, these names are changing the connotations of “Made in China,” one collection at a time. Write to us if you have a suggestion or submission.

Samuel Gui Yang’s fashion has never been about just fashion.

Yang, who is rapidly gaining recognition as one of China’s best young womenswear designers, and praised as a “genius” by many of his peers, approaches his work as an artistic practice above all else. His collections often reinvent old and new Chinese aesthetics, and always incorporate levels of intertextuality that relay a full story when combined.

Like many of his contemporaries, Yang graduated from London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins — where he got both his BA and MA in Womenswear Design — and interned at Alexander Wang during his work placement. But unlike his contemporaries, he didn’t go the conventional route of building a studio and getting his designs on runways.

After graduating, he visited Los Angeles to continue the multi-disciplinary process that was so valuable to him at Central Saint Martins. His debut, a site-specific performance project called Untitled (Ephemeral Study 1), featured designs frozen in ice and dancers tangled in rubber, earning buzz for the young designer in publications like Dazed and Vogue Italia.

SGY collage SS20

Models pose wearing Samuel Guì Yang SS20

It wasn’t until 2015 — nine years after settling in London — that he officially established his eponymous studio in the UK capital. But the interdisciplinary spirit he cultivated in LA still pervades his work. “I’ve always wanted to take a different point of view, more artistic,” he told 1 Granary after launching the label.

“It would be quite sad if I had to come home and have to just focus on making a collection, production, selling clothes, because that’s not me. I have so many different interests and like so many different things.”

As a Chinese transplant based in London, Yang’s designs have always been influenced by a sense of place. His designs are distinctly Chinese, but influenced by many different mediums, including cinema and fine art. He cites the qipaos in the Wong Kar-wai classic In the Mood for Love as inspiration, as well as the intersection of his Chinese identity with a European education.

Runway looks from SS20

His designs incorporate feminine, form-fitting elements with strong, masculine silhouettes. Color palettes of China in the ’80s, padded jackets, cheongsams, and Mao suits all come to mind, especially when viewing his latest Spring/Summer 2020 collection.

Yang’s Instagram and website show that his multimedia, story-driven roots are continuing to influence his career. A quick scroll reveals a timeline of his many different projects, including designs from his SS20 collection “MOONLIGHTING,” referring to a Chinese tradition and a play on words for the verb to “have a second job/persona existing parallel to your daytime self,” and a photo series called PORTRAITS, a project shot with members from the Hackney Chinese Community Center in London.

Looks from AW19, photographed at London’s Hackney Chinese Community Center

A regular on Milan and London runways, Yang maintains a presence at Shanghai Fashion Week usually via Labelhood, an incubator that has helped launch many emerging Chinese designers’ careers. He has stated that it took him a while to became comfortable incorporating his heritage into his work. But now, he tells Dazed:

“I try to reflect a story about contemporary China, a mix of old and new, like traditional flower printed fabrics and Shanghai checks mixed with rubber and nylon.”

Designers like Yang are redefining Chinese creativity, which has in the past remained boxed in by the “made in China” label and generalizations about the country’s political system. His integrative process and thought-provoking designs have put him on the map not merely as a novelty, but as a powerful voice on the global scene.

Follow Samuel Guì Yang on Instagram.

Header image: Model backstage at Samuel Guì Yang SS20
All images: courtesy Samuel Guì Yang

Allison Jiang
    Allison Jiang is a Baltimore-based writer interested in the intersection of art and culture. She is passionate about big dogs, social justice, and stand-up comedy, among other things.