There’s a row of hotels in Upper Woburn Place near Euston, London. Facing their many veiled windows, is Yuhan Wang’s apartment, birthplace of her curtain-inspired MA collection. “I think everyone has the same feeling when you see a building like that,” she says, “you want to know what happens behind the curtain. It’s like a play.”
Yuhan’s collection focuses on the contrast between outside and inside, those parts of ourselves that we keep private. It’s a theme she began to explore in her BA collection, inspired by the ritual of laundry, exposing, layer by layer, the inner world of women. Curtains became her MA collection’s central idea, an object that determines how much we reveal. A barrier between inside and out was reflected in her designs in cut-outs, knots and unexpected layers. Yuhan wanted her clothes to be the metaphorical curtain that determines “how we express the body, how much skin one shows to people, what a woman looks like in front of others. It’s like a private room in public. I wanted to look at how women historically dress indoors and outdoors.”
The collection’s essence is an intense, concentrated femininity, but to call it delicate wouldn’t exactly be accurate. “In Asia, we don’t show that much skin and for me, womenswear and being powerful isn’t just about being sexy. Sometimes you don’t need to show the skin, just show the shape of the body,” says Yuhan. “That’s what I feel womenswear is for me, Asian femininity in contrast with Western culture. I always try to express a kind of beauty where there’s a weirdness and softness,” she adds. “It’s delicate, but in a different way. Softness can still be a power.”
Before her BA in Womenswear, Yuhan completed two years of Graphic Design at the School of Visual Arts in New York. Her background in art influenced her design process too: although her MA pathway was Womenswear, she designed her own prints, hand painting, scanning and digitalising them, then printing them onto fabric on a large scale. She enjoys the randomness of painting with a brush, the imperfect texture it creates. In her materials, too, there’s an evolution from her BA collection: the same focus on silk and satin, a muted pastel colour palette. But this time, she wanted to emulate “indoor ladies, indoor paintings, some indoor furniture,” resulting in a variety of curtain-like laces and muted chrysanthemum patterns that feel like they could have been made to upholster a sofa.
“The most exciting thing for me is the process of fitting,” Yuhan says, explaining how her models’ personality became a part of the collection. “I think it’s important to do fittings on real people, not just a mannequin. It gives me more energy to see that she’s human, a real woman not an object. I did fittings every week, it helped me carve out the woman and the story, and connect it together.”
She tells me that while making her BA collection, she was overwhelmed by her classmates’ theatrical creations. “You stare at your clothes for so long you end up not knowing what it is you want sometimes. So I asked my tutor and he said, ‘that’s not who you are, you should just focus on detail.’ I think people are touched by it actually, when you put all your attention in there, and emotion.”
The details in Yuhan’s designs enhance the weirdness and, accidentality, that is a key element of her collection. Her dresses are cut asymmetrically and the buttons, made of shell or dried leaves dipped in brass, sit at uneven distances from each other. A pearl chain dips in and out of a sheer blue chiffon dress; half of it can be unattached and worn like a necklace, the other half is sewn into the seams, tracing the lines of the body. A ribbon belt is held in place by hand-knit belt loops. Some elements are functional too, like the silk satin gloves and bags that can be wrapped around the neck like scarves. The jewelry, like the grape earrings inspired by an antique brooch, or the crumpled leaf ear cuffs cast in brass, were created by Yuhan’s friend, London College of Fashion jewelry design student, Yue Zhou.
But Yuhan’s favourite details are the hats, held in shape with a soft wire brim and made to match the dresses in the same chrysanthemum print. She wanted the soft, waved edges to reflect what her sketches look like when paint runs outside the contours, creating “some weirdness, that’s still beautiful.” Just like the rest of Yuhan’s world.
Words Zsofia Paulikovics
Images Max Chan Wang