At the recent Paris Fashion Week, Yang Li formally debuted with a strong, conceptual show that put forth his belief: “Recorded is smooth, live is rough. In the future, luxury must be rough.” As China continues to be one of the biggest spenders of luxury today, it was particularly resonant that a Chinese designer (albeit having grown up in Australia) should challenge the very notion often still equated to show-off symbols of status and wealth. Nevertheless, the message was universal: in abolishing the smoke and mirrors that fashion is notoriously renown for, what you get is something real.
The tightly edited and original collection – Li’s fourth since quitting Central Saint Martins and interning at Raf Simons – consisted of industrial, gothic designs with a refined punk spirit. Beyond the clothes, watching the show was in itself a luxury. An open backstage doubled-up as the set, while Yasmina Dexter, the multi-talented lady who mixes some of the most modern club sounds as Pandora’s Jukebox, DJed live. As we playlist the tracks Dexter used, the friends discuss the ideas that bubbled beneath Li's stellar collection and reveal a relationship that perhaps best epitomises this young brand.
Yasmina Dexter: What is key for you this season? What were your inspirations - and what about them fascinated you?
Yang Li: Ultimate luxury imagined with a raw punk attitude. I imagined a young woman going into her mother’s or older sister’s wardrobe full of classic luxury pieces, deconstructing it and putting her stamp on it. I’m particularly attracted to things of extreme high quality but with an intelligent roughness - something raw with spirit. Clothing that is made too clean or smooth becomes soulless and just a product. While there is a place for this in fashion, clothes should represent something more, an attitude or psychology. Just like the difference between live and recorded music, I guess you could call this "human"… hence the format of the show with the fitting-like set up and open backstage telecast on the screens and of course your audible sensations.
Yasmina Dexter: Why did you choose me to DJ live at your show?
Yang Li: I respect you very much as a woman, oozing character and certainly yet something mysterious and fragile. The mix of your presence with my collection was something very curious and interesting for me. I felt like I didn’t need to explain everything to you and that you would just get it - and you did. Asking you to play live was part of the concept for our first show in Paris, to say that we have just arrived. I wanted it to have the feeling that we were in the act of creation, like a fitting or rehearsal.
Yang Li: Can you recall how we first met?
Yasmina Dexter: Through friends many years ago, when you’d come to the clubs I play. What struck me about you is your very clear vision of what you want in any spectrum - not just design.
Yasmina Dexter: You've put men in rather figure-hugging knit dresses. Is gender play a strong theme in your work?
Yang Li: I don’t believe in unisex clothing, which means creating the same garment for men and women without considering the context of the male/female body and their distinct attitudes. But pushing new propositions on what can be considered attractive on a man or a woman is very interesting. In that context, gender play is a key component in my work. The attitude, in the end, should be definitively feminine for a woman and definitively masculine for a man though the form or texture may be challenging to those notions. The punks did this very well in their revolt to challenge what can be accepted dress, which of course spawned from their attitude against the establishment.
Yasmina Dexter: What would you like your work to be recognised for?
Yang Li: I can’t say that I want to be recognised for a certain shape of trouser or an "it" bag. I just want my work to stand for something some people can feel aligned to and make them feel good. I know that’s a very broad statement but in the end we are all human and change is all we have.
Yang Li: This collection was all about the beauty of spontaneity and roughness, such as the difference between live and recorded music, so I asked you to play live - what was the experience like?
Yasmina Dexter: Ha, you said magic words there: spontaneity and roughness. Surely there is nothing better for pushing to the true self. I really enjoyed the experience, it was a different format for me and I’m always encouraging variety, the more the better. Also as we are friends and I know the feel of you, it all happened naturally and felt like working with family.
Yang Li: What was the noise in your head when you previewed the collection before the show?
Yasmina Dexter: Luxury Modern Chanel Industrial Hot Goth.
Yang Li: And what did you like about the collection?
Yasmina Dexter: Loved it straight away. I wanted to wear it; it sat in my core immediately. Fantastic fabrics, shapes and the thickest metal zips on the market.