For Yiqing Yin, haute couture is a state of mind. The Grand Prize winner at the 2011 Andam Fashion Award is a true architecte for clothes. After working as a creative director for big names of ready-to-wear, she now takes the time to create her own way. Her 10-year-old label allowed her to be awarded the official ‘haute couture’ designation by the Chambre Syndicale back in 2015. While she works as a creative consultant here and there, Yiqing Yin now dedicates herself entirely to her craft, and considers haute couture as a laboratory of experimentations that allows her to dip into numerous other disciplines. At the start of a new year that still seems to be full of interrogations, we met in her Parisian apartment filled with dresses and memories…
How did you experience 2020 as a designer, especially working with handcrafted pieces and in collaborative settings?
This year was unexpected in many ways because we lost all our markers abruptly. My job has two dimensions: the first being related to craftsmanship, working almost like an artist. This is something I can work on by myself, with few resources and outside communication (for example for my research on volumes, textures or techniques). This part of my work hasn’t changed much, apart from the fact that I now do it from home. On the other hand, the second part of my job, which consists in creative direction or consulting for various clients – particularly in China – has become very difficult to maintain. We had to find new ways of working together and communicate efficiently on artisanal objects that require experimentation and research. It wasn’t easy, but we managed! Eventually, this year was an opportunity to renegotiate our living spaces, work and relationships to realize what’s essential: investing in our community and the human factor.
Did you find yourself challenging or questioning your creative process this year?
YY: 2020 confirmed my desire to distance myself from the seasonal system of fashion, from this machine we’re all driven by and which it’s very hard to get out of. Today, designers create to ‘produce’ and not to express their creativity. For the past ten years, it has become a great source of frustration for me because I could end up creating designs I wasn’t completely happy with, only because I had to respect the scope statement. Eventually, lockdown forced us to take our time, and to step back. It allowed us to analyse what was essential, and to ask ourselves why we are doing this job, what we still have to express. It allowed us to look at our work with a critical eye. Today, I’m not interested in being part of the fashion cycle anymore. I believe that the greatest luxury is that of being able to take your time – and it is essential for inspiration to regenerate.
Your desire to take your time seems to be present in your work since day one.
Is your job as an artistic consultant related to collaborations you created with other brands, like most recently Vacheron Constantin?
What would you say is the proportion between haute couture and ready-to-wear in your work today?
How important is haute couture in 2021?
YY: When I started out in 2011, haute couture was a dream I reached for instinctively because I’ve always had this more sculptural, instinctive approach. I didn’t know how to design ready-to-wear. Haute couture gave me all the freedom I needed to realize my biggest fantasies and to challenge various craftsmanships. Today, haute couture has evolved to become more of an intimate space, something to protect, essential. It has become my secret garden, something I don’t have to sell or disguise. It is a laboratory that allows me to regenerate my creativity. It also allows me to create collaborations with filmmakers, textile artists, or brands that share the same values. It is a completely hybrid space.
It is said you studied sculpture?
YY: I wanted to, but I ended up studying at the École des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. My interest in sculpture nourished my relationship to clothes. I never work on paper when I design haute couture pieces, but always in volume. The only times I sketched my designs was for the ready-to-wear brands I was working for.
What have you learned from your experiences as creative director of various ready-to-wear brands?
"Haute Couture has become my secret garden, something I don’t have to sell or disguise."
A few years ago, the Chambre Syndicale awarded you with the official ‘haute couture’ label. What did this mean to you?
You started your career ten years ago, and this year marks Say Who’s 10th anniversary as well. What do you take from the past ten years?
What projects are you working on today?
YY: I’m working on more punctual projects, halfway between fashion and another discipline, cinema for example. I’m still working as an artistic consultant remotely, and I also have this project of re-editing some of my signature pieces. The goal is to create on-demand editions from previous ready-to-wear and haute couture collections, on the model of designer furniture. I thought it was a beautiful idea to create something that will stand the test of time. In the past, clothes were the architecture of the body, and we kept them for a lifetime. Today, they have become consumer goods, and I think it’s important to go back to how things were.
Consumer habits seem to be changing nowadays.
I see you displayed a few dresses in your apartment. Can you tell us their stories?
YY: These are a few of my first dresses, one of which comes from the collection I presented for the Andam Fashion Award in 2011. I remember it very well because the dress caught fire… Ten days before the show, we took a scooter to go to the presentation, I was sitting in the backseat, holding two dresses in their protective covers, and I didn’t notice they’d fallen on the tailpipe. They caught fire right in the middle of Place de l’Opéra. So I went to the Andam presentation with two burnt dresses… and I still won! All I can say is that burnt silk really doesn’t smell good!
Interview: Maxime Der Nahabédian
Portraits: Jean Picon