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Photography by Thomas Cooksey

Shao-Yen Chen

Taiwanese -born Shao-Yen Chen explains the land and seascape inspiration behind his Central Saint Martins graduate collection

Shao-Yen Chen has just graduated from Central St. Martin's with a gleaming, all white MA womenswear collection. His unusal choice of materials; nylon string mixed with cashmere and lycra, has allowed this young designer to challenge the boundries of traditional knitwear creating sexy yet strikingly bold, abstract silhouettes. Chen fuses body-con luxe cashmere skin-tights with tutu-esque nylon layering creating a tension between the expected curves of the female figure and the fluid but graphic, outsized overall shape. Dazed caught up with him.

Dazed Digital: How old are you and where did you grow up?
Shao-Yen Chen: I'm 28 and I was born in Yilan, Taiwan. It's a small city next to the capital Taipei. As a kid I always liked to draw, so I attended an art school in Taipei and later majored in jewelry design. It was the happiest time in my life, I met many friends with the same interests. I was lucky to be able to do what I enjoyed and avoided a lot of academic pressure that other kids had put on them.

DD: How did your interest in fashion begin?
Shao-Yen Chen: Before high school I didn't really care about or understand 'fashion'. I would wear the matching sweatshirts and sweatpants that my mum bought from the market. I only got into fashion when Japanese designers like Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, and Rei Kawakubo started to show in Paris in the 90s. Their work changed the way I look at fashion, especially Comme des Garcons S/S 97 collection "Body Becomes Dress Becomes Body", which still influences my work now.

DD: Why did you choose to study at Central St Martins?
Shao-Yen Chen: Like everyone else, for its reputation. And it's where most of my favourite designers have studied.

DD: What do you think of London?
Shao-Yen Chen: London is inspiring. In this city, you never feel anything is too weird. It keeps you creative. I love the contrasting characters of tradition and innovation in British culture.

DD: Tell us about your MA collection?
Shao-Yen Chen: This collection was inspired by natural landscapes, especially seascapes. I tried to play with the materials and layers to create textures resembling water and waves. I also looked at 70s fur coats and African tribal costumes for the silhouettes of the garments.

DD: Your MA collection uses very unusual materials, can you tell us about them and why you decided to work with these?
Shao-Yen Chen: Before actually designing the garments, I did many experiments with materials. It was a really long process, eventually I found that nylon string gives the best result and can be used to create volume. I also used cashmere and synthetic yarns for different textures, and lycra to support the structure.

DD: Why did you decide to make an all white collection?
Shao-Yen Chen: I wanted to focus on the texture and structure of the garments and it suited the theme of waves.

DD: Your designs are really huge in scale and weighty whilst still having a very fragile quality - How do you begin making one of these, what are the processes?
Shao-Yen Chen: Everything was knitted on domestic knitting machine, but I have to put every bit of nylon string through the needles by hand, and then brush it to make it finer. It was really time consuming. Each piece took me more than a week to make. I have eaten and inhaled so many nylon fibers while making them.

DD: If you could have any photographer shoot your pieces who would it be and in what context?
Shao-Yen Chen: This is a hard question. Can I choose two? I like the humour in Juergen Teller's photos. He captures human nature in his work and has excellent taste for locations. I also adore Sarah Moon's images, for they have a dream-like quality and tell stories like film stills.

DD: Who are your favourite designers?
Shao-Yen Chen: At the moment, Raf Simons for Jil Sander and Francisco Costa for Calvin Klein Collection. I really admire the fact that they introduce new elements every season but still maintain the brand's spirit.

DD: What is next for you?
Shao-Yen Chen: I am working on my next collection and an accompanying short film with a digital designer Yaojen Chuang. There will be an exhibition in September or October. I hope to have a catwalk show next year.

Photographer Thomas Cooksey
Stylist Kim Howells
Makeup Martina Luisetti using Bobbi Brown
Hair Yoshitaka Miyazaki using Bumble and Bumble
Photographer Assistant Gilbey
Stylist Assistant Reuben Esser
Makeup Assistant Valeria Aleman Alcocer
Model Nastasia at Next