Using development techniques that aim to question the social perceptions of ‘normality’, Yuhan Wang’s interest in the abstract self surfaces through lingerie finishings, bagged out linings and reconstructed night-robes. With her serene and delicate collection, Yuhan scooped the runner-up L’Oréal Professionnel Young Talent Award. Beginning her design process with focusing on the life-span of a garment, she started to explore laundry as a metaphor for how people lead their everyday lives and construct social identities through the guidelines of clothing. Having to re-think her key design features only ten weeks before the deadline, Yuhan made herself start from scratch and cut out almost every look. Still, she underlines the value of following your intuition in the midst of having other people giving their opinions about your work. “The most important thing to remember as a designer is to have self-confidence and belief — you have to remind yourself that you are the decisionmaker, and that no one else in the world could understand what you are trying to express more than yourself.”
“We think that we can hide ourselves within our shells, and use the clothes we wear to mimic social norms. We are likely to use that protective cocoon to maintain this socially constructed ‘normality’ and to get a sense of safety.”
What was the conceptual starting point of your graduate collection?
People nowadays tend to dress alike, with specific unified codes for almost every occasion and time, even though they come from different countries and cultures. They join the parade and catch the trends without focusing on who they actually are below the surface. We think that we can hide ourselves within our shells, and use the clothes we wear to mimic social norms. We are likely to use that protective cocoon to maintain this socially constructed ‘normality’ and to get a sense of safety. However, when vanity turns around, what is real? We squeeze our covers into the washing machines to rinse off everything painful and exhausting, to get rid of that pressure and sadness underneath. Gradually, in the process of losing our self-actualization, we achieve a sense of social identity. In my collection, I’m using laundry as a metaphor to express people’s confusion, insecurity and imagined constraints. This process involves a series of actions: soaking, swinging, squeezing, pressing, drying and folding — the same actions people are forcing upon their identities every day of their lives. After washing our clothes, everything might seem to be as new and fresh as before. But is that really the case? We get a reconstructed identity, consisting of entwined, tied and overlapped clothing. There is a man’s top trapped in a dress, or a woman’s underwear stuck on top of a man’s trousers — which are not the expected norms for the specific gender or person. No guidelines, no defining laws, no restricting views.
How do you create a visual narrative out of an abstract concept? Is it a challenge to translate a very conceptual idea into something practical?
I don’t think it’s a big challenge for me to translate an abstract idea, it depends on how far you really want to go and how much you push yourself along the way. Everyone has their own perception and understanding of the abstract. The difference is the way you choose to express yourself, as the writer writes, painter paints and actor acts. For me, I rely on my imaginations and emotions a lot. Just take a day, let your emotions flow, and even the sound you hear will have pictures. It flickers by very quickly and you can still see it, but maybe not always with your eyes.
Did you face any serious challenges during the development of your collection?
I can’t say it was an easy process. The final year was like no other time, especially since during the first couple of years at CSM, you only have three weeks to complete almost every project you get. In third year you have nearly a full year to think about your final collection. However, you’re always going to be the one making all the hard decisions. At one point I was really confused and didn’t know how to continue. I was unlucky that I had to cancel most looks of my final collection, since there was someone else that showed the same key ideas as I had. I was really thankful for the guidance of my tutors, everyone stood by my side and supported the originality of my previous collection, but in the end I had to give it up. That was a really difficult time. People around me were already producing their garments, but I almost had to start all over again. But I never knew that I was capable of accomplishing that much within 10 weeks, including a new collection.
“There is a man’s top trapped in a dress, or a woman’s underwear stuck on top of a man’s trousers — which are not the expected norms for the specific gender or person. No guidelines, no defining laws, no restricting views.”
Are you inspired by every brief you get? If not, how do you make projects work for you when you get stuck?
Not every project is as interesting and inspiring. When I get bored, I just jump onto a double-decker bus and grab the front row seat to look at the city and the people on the streets. I take a break from the project and try to enjoy life with friends. You sometimes tend to forget that life is always the most beautiful and inspiring journey.
What do your design ideas mostly revolve around, do you have a certain theme that you usually return to?
I really enjoy exploring my inner thoughts and emotions, I talk to myself as if I was another person. I couldn’t live without my thoughts and emotions. At the end of the day, they’re the only thing that matters.
Do you feel that your collection somehow reflects who you are as a designer?
I have no doubt that each collection tells a designer’s own story with her aesthetic and thoughts. All the choices made in the design process reveal the designer’s personality.
When do you think your identity as a designer really took shape and a ‘concrete’ form? Is it important to have a specific ‘signature’ as a designer, or is it better to be flexible?
The ‘signature’ is very important for me. I don’t think there’s any conflict between being yourself and being flexible, it depends on the dimensions and how far out you’re willing to go. I think there are always some clues you can trace from the beginning — from your foundation year or even earlier on. Sometimes it’s just a drawing you liked, a person you admired or a film you enjoyed. They all come together into a sort of uniqueness in the end.
“You have to remind yourself that you are the decisionmaker, and that no one else in the world could understand what you are trying to express more than yourself.”
Being critiqued constantly, sometimes we can lose sight of who we are or what our work stands for. Where would you draw the line between growing from those feedbacks, and conforming to produce what the tutors want?
You could never imagine how frequently I questioned myself in the past year based on the opinions that tutors, friends and strangers had about my work. But I enjoy to collect as many diverse views as I can, so it wasn’t really that scary. The most important thing to remember as a designer is to have self-confidence and belief — you have to remind yourself that you are the decisionmaker, and that no one else in the world could understand what you are trying to express more than yourself.
What did you do during your placement year?
I didn’t do a placement year, but I did a few internships during summer and Easter breaks before my final year, such as Nicomede Talavera, Claire Barrow, J.W. Anderson in London and Oscar de la Renta in New York.
What are your plans for the immediate future?
I will attend the MA program this fall.
Do you have any plans for the not so near future?
I’ll probably work for someone. Or maybe go back to graphic design and design books, that’s just a different way for me to express myself.
Words by Matilda Söderberg
All images courtesy of Yuhan Wang
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