Directly reflecting the mass of waste created by the fashion industry onto her designs, Liya Liu’s entire collection L’indefini-Trash – featured at MADE Fashion Week 2015 – revolves around trash. Most of the collections shown, including Liya’s work, were more avant-garde than what is typically shown during NYFW, making for a remarkable runway presentation. Raw and dirty, her designs take on an artistic arrangement of New York City behind the scenes. She talks to us about her upbringing and how it altered her outlook on the importance of sustainability in fashion. Recent graduate of MA Fashion Design and Society at Parsons School of Design and alumnus of BA Fashion Design Womenswear at Central Saint Martins, Liya also talks to us about her experiences both in London and New York as an individual, student, and designer.
Studying at Central Saint Martins, which has produced countless fashion virtuosos, Liya picked up skills essential to the process of design: research, idea development, and model making. Studying in an environment surrounded by diligent and inspiring peers, and working with tutors who not only understood her design intentions but also urged her to dig deeper, she was able to find her own voice. After four years of experience in London, she wanted to start her own brand, and believed that New York would be the right fit for her to develop and broaden her perspective as a designer. With its commercial fashion market and countless opportunities, New York offered her a platform to use her creative thinking in showcasing tangible results.
“I wanted my collection to make people rethink fashion and how they define it.”
Having grown up in China with both of her parents running fashion businesses, she knew that she wanted to be a fashion designer as a child. Her decision to further pursue an education in fashion was to take advantage of the freedom given to students to create whatever they want to create. Keeping her eyes open to new creative processes and refusing to fit into a specific style, Liya is able to discover new directions for developing ideas, which results in a new aesthetic every time.
She explains the change in dynamics of moving from London to New York. “When I was in London I thought I had found myself, but after moving to New York, I discovered a totally new me.” Studying at Parsons, Liya constantly challenged herself to move away from her established aesthetic boundaries by trying new styles and techniques that she had yet to master, which resulted in many experiments and outcomes. “The styles are very different. My BA graduate collection was very dark yet elegant, and my MFA collection was more unisex and fun.” Her main source of inspiration for this collection came from Trash Mountain in New York Street and she focused on what was beneath the surface. “For this collection, I picked up a trash bag as inspiration,” she explains. “I wanted my collection to make people rethink fashion and how they define it.” Growing up with a background in fashion, Liya was constantly exposed to the image of waste being produced between factories and retail stores. “I think sustainability is the key word for us to think about today.”
“There are no rules to follow.”
L’indefini-Trash symbolises wasteful human behaviour and the pervasive trash bags of New York City. By redefining daily objects, she wanted people to realise the impact of the modern day fashion industry creating waste, emptying it onto the streets, only to be accepted as part of the city’s landscape. Waterproof nylon, chosen to represent a trash bag, creates an illusion of impracticality, when in fact it is a fully functional raincoat. As well as using waterproof nylon, she collected scrap materials such as paper, lace, and laundry tags to sew onto the garment for authenticity. To add to this, she even draped real trash bags on a model, transforming them into wearable garments. The simple and restricted use of black, red, and white in her designs are drawn from personal experiences. “Actually everything about me is black; it protects me.” The starting point of Liya’s thesis collection came from her desire to hide herself with the absence of colour, which was what led her to the Trash Mountain. From that, she began researching and photographing trash around different areas in New York City and finalised her colour palette. After visiting the Trash Mountain, she put herself into a trash bag to evoke a feeling of invisibility.
Recently, Liya has been preparing her own brand, and is currently working for some companies in and around New York City as a freelance designer in order to gain more experience. She wishes to soon finish her AW16 collection and move back to London to have her first show. “When I am designing, I feel freedom,” she concludes, looking ahead to the future. “There are no rules to follow.”
Words by Grace Ahn
Images courtesy of Liya Liu