Speaking with Samuel Yang over the phone feels almost like a mystical encounter. I ring him up on an early Saturday morning to find out more about the persona behind the conceptual clothes of his Autumn/Winter 2017 collection. Listening to his whispering voice is equally challenging and exciting as his story unravels and the designer draws the picture of his aesthetical journey. One element stands out and we start off the conversation about it: the image of hope.
The tension between the unknown and the visible, between the limited and unlimited inspired the young Central Saint Martins graduate to explore the curious concept of the hole, not just as a physical limitation but also as a state of mind. His fascination with negative space dates back to his first encounter with the Taiwanese movie called “The Hole”. The 1998 music-drama directed by Tsai Ming-liang depicts a post-apocalyptic reality of Taiwan hit by an unknown epidemic disease right before the turn of the new millennium – a situation somehow reminiscent of the post-truth reality we’re living in.
His research started when he came across a picture of a drowning girl. The hollow expression, the subdued drama combined with the bright colours of her surroundings – green and blue – contrasting with her black hair, loosely flowing in the water… the image pulled a string in the designer’s creative being. Another image, this time from the early 1920s, of a newly married couple who kept their savings in a cave, is linked to the idea of the dying young woman. Her subconscious, immersed in thoughts and future projections, is suddenly interrupted by a mysterious hand which pulls her up. This girl is no longer in the hole, the void is filled with hope. “My stories are almost the same,” says Sammy, “and they are always a bit dreamy.”
The metaphor of the endless void has a symbolic significance. As a physical expression, the hole is a leitmotiv in Samuel’s designs. It’s a three-dimensional vision of mixing and twisting realities, just like the vortex of a black hole.
The starting point for the fabric selection of the collection was a traditional checked woven fabric from Shanghai, hand woven on narrow looms typically used for interiors. The fabric is mixed with jersey and nylon and twisted in a whirlpool-like vortex to create an unexpected volume. The unusual proportions are balanced with Samuel’s taste for elongated elegant shapes and flaring fishtail skirts.
The skirts are double-waisted with a white edge, like a contour of negative space. The geometric silhouette and straight lines contrast with the hole. Samuel has continued the narrative he started in his previous collection with trompe l’oeil effects (the back of a skirt looks like trousers), but has developed his sense of experimentation with patterns.
Music is crucial to his creative process. For his latest presentation, Samuel created a track list based on the moods he was going through. During his research he listened to a variety of Asian and European bands, as well as the soundtrack of “The Hole”. His fascination with mixing old and new become apparent in his choice of 80s bands like Tuxedomoon. Samuel shares a story that’s similar to one of the front men, Winston. He was born in America with Chinese parents yet stayed connected to his Chinese roots, which is what the young designer is communicating through his collections. The soundtrack also has some Japanese elements, which he explains by the diverse and multicultural upbringing he had in Canton, Shenzhen, a city near Hong Kong and Taiwan. Marked by pop culture, Japanese animation and Kung-Fu fictional characters, Samuel describes his teenage years as futuristic: “There has always been something quite nostalgic about the way my generation grew up.”
Samuel’s study of the depths of the subconscious is an ongoing project. For his future works, he would like to collaborate with various artists and aims to transcend the embodiment of fashion as being ‘purely clothes’. He is more interested in the way fashion could be manipulated on the body, and what meanings this could bring.
Words Desislava Todorova Images courtesy of SAMUEL Guì YANG