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Hualei Yu: Finding the ‘right’ way through the ‘wrong’ answers

Words Mahoro Seward

If an Elvis jumpsuit is wrong, then Parsons MFA graduate Hualei Yu doesn’t want to be right

“As a child, I always followed the rules, tried to conform, but made mistakes,” read the opening words to Hualei Yu’s portfolio for ‘Misunderstanding’, her Parsons MFA thesis collection. Often anxious on account of the fear of making errors, it was fashion design that made her realise that, sometimes, the ‘right’ answer just might not be the right one for you. “When you design, there are no right or wrong answers. The only thing that matters is whether you like it or not,” she tells us. “I wanted to find a way to make people feel what fashion made me realise when they see my collection, that sometimes an answer that comes from ‘misunderstanding’ can also be the right one.”

The focal points of misinterpretation in Yu’s collection are the puns and double-entendres that the English names for certain garments are loaded with. Album ‘jackets’, for example, are spliced and collaged to make wearable jackets; a pair of briefs is fashioned from the crumpled ‘brief’ that outlines Yu’s collection proposal. That’s not to say, however, that her primary interest lay in the actual objects themselves; rather, she chose the objects on account of the amusing mismatches of the various meanings of their names. “I thought it was really interesting when I saw how one word could relate to different things. But my approach is more of a way to translate that concept into the language of fashion.”

“I wanted to find a way to make people feel what fashion made me realise when they see my collection, that sometimes an answer that comes from ‘misunderstanding’ can also be the right one.”

For the ‘jackets’ of the collections, the recognisability of the musical varietal was indeed a crucial factor, primarily “to make it easier for people to understand the concept”: accordingly, she chose to work with album sleeves like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon or Madonna’s Like a Virgin. In certain cases, the albums chosen even inspired the form of the garments produced: “The ‘Elvis jumpsuit’, for example, is based on the classic jumpsuit that Elvis is wearing on the record, but the construction was also inspired by the way he moved on stage.” Elsewhere, we see a ‘handbag’ that is, quite literally, a hollow mould of a hand accessorised with a strap for the convenience of carrying.

Of course, with the wealth of puns that the English language offers, there were naturally a fair few options that didn’t quite make the cut: among them are “a ‘loungewear’ look, a look that’s related to both pyjamas and sofa covers. There was also a garment bag made into a garment, and a soft coat hanger that couldn’t hold a coat.” Yu notes, however, that this wealth also threw up as many difficulties as it did opportunities, particularly as she is not a native speaker: “Since English is not my first language, it was hard for me to find double-entendres that were related to clothing. I had to do extensive research with a dictionary, as well as on internet, and really think about them around the clock,” she says.

Images courtesy of Hualei Yu