whitehot | Summer 07, WM #4: Jean Yu: Post Millenium meets Classical Grecian Style
We’re going to work in reverse chronological order, or no order at all in this article. The first question I have is considering that there are 20 designers in the V+A Show Top 20 American Designers, why do you think I chose you to interview?
J: ‘Cause we’re friends.
N: Exactly! ‘Cause we’re friends. And perhaps I’m a little bit biased. How did you find out you were selected for this exhibition?
J: The curator told me.
N: Who’s the curator?
J: Sonnet Stanfield.
N: And were you surprised to be one of those 25?
J: No. Not really.
J: Because she came. When I first met her she was really really into it and it was just. You know if you like it, if you’re touched by the work, you’re going to do something with it.
N: And she’s one of the curators from the V+A?
N: You received a prize recently in . What was that about?
J: It’s a new shop,Avenue L, a multi level luxury only concept. The parent compa
ny is Lotte, one of only handful of corporate dynasties there.
N: And the prize was what? A plaque, a trophy, money?
J: A full runway show production, press conference, award ceremony w/ plaque and money. Like a proper “coming come parade”.
J: It was the designer of the year award and it was a committee (predominantly editors) who decided.
N: You’ve had a busy year. Was it always this hectic and rewarding, your work as a designer?
J: You know there are always different things happening.
N: Hectic in different ways. And how did you start out?
J: I always had my own line. Even when I was in school, FIT.
N: And how many of each item do you make? Each piece in your collection how many do you make? Do you have a limit?
J: most pieces are limited edition. We number it to 20 but we never make that much. I don’t think we ever even cut 10. But every piece is cut and sewn and numbered one piece at a time and so the client knows exactly.
N: I’ve been thinking if I ever had a gallery I’d definitely rep you and sell your work for 20-50K in editions of 5. You know, display it in a glass case like at the V+A, and have people come to your atelier to try things, get fit etc.. What do you think about that?
J: I think that sounds more like how I work. I’ve made the shop gallery like, deliberately. Is piece has the space for one to explore the details one piece at a time.
N: Right. I like the disconnect between the display of art and the receiving of it. You know, they can’t just walk in and take it home, like a retail store.
J: Well you can with some things in the store.
N: If you see something you like and it fits you just pay and take it home?
J: Yes, sure. But we offer made-to-measure service- It’s a decadent treat! to get things you know something contemporary, edgy and cool. You can get that sort of thing done from the old houses in Paris but they look like something for mum. Not for you.
N: I know what you mean, not for me.
J: I wanted to have that really classic atelier boutique experience but to make things that I would wear, different things than you’d find in traditional couture. Something fresh.
N: The first time I walked into your atelier I had this visceral experience that I have had in the presence of really good art; a feeling of euphoria. So I left very happy even though I hadn’t purchased anything, which is not the normal retail experience.
N: Have other people described that feeling?
J: Yes certainly.
N: That’s really cool.
J: Yes. They’re enchanted.
N: Enchanted. That’s a good word.
J: I think I offer a little surprise, something different than what they expect to find.
N: How would you describe your ideal client?
J: I don’t know.
N: Who do you work with that you say, “Oh, it’s so easy to work with that person.”
J: Well –
J:, No... Of course, Kate or Natalia… and true tastemakers such Mary Frey, very strong innate style (Mario Sorrenti’s wife and confidant), Alex Wiederin (Another Magazine/ co-founder and creative director) for his gorgeous fiancée, Lina and Cecilia Dean (Visionaire, V magazine/ co-founder). Gift from her boyfriend for the Paris Couture shows going on right now!.
N: They are all it clients and are used to having the designers, big and small, sending them dresses for free in exchange for the affiliation but with regards to your dresses, they buy?
J: Exactly. They are invested in their affection. Also, I think it’s a rare and exotic experience to pay.
N: Do you have any muses, you know someone you can say who inspires your work, what you design, how you design?
J: I’d say the late Isabella Blow. I’ve met her twice. Once at the YSL party in Paris and once for a breakfast room in milano. I was in my normal jeans and sweater. She scanned me as I walked in and she smiled. I had butterflies in my stomach!
N: So the inspiration comes from where? What do you work from?
J: From my own standards.
N: And we know how high those are. I won’t mention here who of the top designers you like and don’t like and for what reasons!
J: Yeah, my standards are not so high as difficult, particular. I’m a stickler for details, not bad or good, just particular.
N: And when you were young did you play dress up with dolls? Did you dream of being a designer?
J: Yes, definitely. I always knew. I remember having a conversation with a girlfriend during recess and we were talking about what we wanted to be. I can’t remember what she said but she asked me and I was like, I want to be a fashion designer!
N: What was your childhood like?
J: I grew up in the suburbs and it was really boring. I had to be creative to amuse myself.
N: And the suburbs were where exactly?
J: In the Valley. I grew up in Southern California.
N: And when did you move to NY?
J: I came here for school. FIT
N: And then you just stayed?
J: But I always knew I would live here.
N: And your vegetarianism? Do you see it related to your work in anyway?
N: When did you realize or decide you would be a vegetarian?
J: I never liked meat. And then I met this very hot musician who was a vegetarian. I had no idea that you could live like that, without having to eat meat everyday!.
N: Right. Do you work better when you’re single or in a relationship.
J: I have no idea. Never kept track.
N: Let out your ultimate dream. Do you have an ultimate dream, something you aspire to?
J …I live in NY and do whatever I want. And so, no.
N: That’s good. That’s so liberating to be able to do that. And do you have any plans besides work, for say, a family, or relationship stuff.
J: (Laughter.) …love! We met up at your playboy channel debut dinner at your house my dear!
N: But do you see yourself with 5 kids in a country house or something like that.
J: I want the country house. And he knows it too. Babies after the house.
N: Anyone living in NY doing anything intense at work, needs a country house. And your dream vacation. Besides the ideal Caribbean?
J: Oh, an African safari or riding an elephant in , hot springs in Kyoto, stuff like that.
N: Yum. So NY will continue to be your base for awhile.
J: Yeah. Absolutely.
N: What was the most recent press you had?
J: Everyday there’s something new.
N: That’s great. It’s out there but still underground.
J: We’re still under the radar. It’s good to be able to pick and choose what you want to do, who you want to work with. Just this week there was French Vogue, Italian Vogue, (---?)
N: A lot.
J: A lot.
N: So send me some pics with your favorite colors.
J: Black white red.
Jean Yu is now working on a commission for Warner Brothers; a Tweety theme creation that’s neon yellow clear vinyl and covered with feathers!
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief