Worn by FKA twigs and inspired by 80s Madonna and Nobuyoshi Araki, NYC designer Yeha Leung is building an Instagram-fuelled underwear empire
You no longer need Amazonian models, a pair of wings and Taylor Swift performing mid-catwalk to create an underwear empire. Far from the billowing chiffon, lacy balcony bras and mega blown out hair, there's a new generation of lingerie designers creating beautiful yet dangerous looking pieces that both embrace and intimidate. New York City-based, Chinese-American Yeha Leung, better known as Creepyyeha, custom-creates each of her garter belts, bras, harnesses, and chokers for a fast growing audience using a signature style that's brutish and architectural, yet also incredibly delicate. Loop after loop of silver on an angular maze of leather flatters even as it restrains, and as part of a conscious juxtaposition that reflects Leung's upbringing, there's often wholly feminine, old-fashioned touches; metal is sometimes fashioned in heart shapes, tulle is sewn to belts to create a tutu effect, and bows adorn garter straps.
Leung models much of it on Instagram, her minimalist aesthetic accentuating a quiet power and sensuality that's brought legions of fans, while stylists, artists and musicians – most notably FKA twigs – adore her work. Here, she discusses how she came to design, her inspirations and why some people will just never get what she does.
You began designing (or customising) as a kid, when you cut up your ballet clothes and shoe ribbons. When did it turn into a full-time job?
Yeha Leung: It all started naturally. Since early on I have been blogging about design and outfits that I'd put together. I could never find clothes that I wanted to wear, so I decided to make them. Later on, I started attending fashion school then interning for a women's apparel company, and I realised I didn't want to follow the conventional idea of employment. Over time, people would request those personal custom pieces and I turned that demand into a business. The priority was to be able to be independent.
What drew you to lingerie? And why this style?
Yeha Leung:What drew me to lingerie was the Blond Ambition tour videos of Madonna. I was five and my family wasn't able to afford cable TV. My dad would rent movies and music videos and one day he brought home Madonna. I didn't even have the slightest idea of what lingerie was at that moment, but I remember how amazed I was at such beautiful clothes. Every outfit change was so dramatic and stunning. I was innocent, I didn’t know there were so many restrictions on what you are ‘supposed’ to wear – that idea of female beauty, questioning taboos and discovering defiance have stuck with me ever since.
You play with and incorporate two extremes into your designs, the sweet frills and bows with the metal, leather and restrictive garments. Why combine the two?
Yeha Leung: This has always just been my taste. I like the contrast between two things that are or are represented as being opposed or entirely different. The same way I was into Madonna and ballet, I also liked horror movies.
Are there people that don't understand your pieces? Who think they're too perverse or violent or too confrontational?
Yeha Leung: I understand that when you do something out of what is considered the “norm” people will always have something to say. As far as the people that automatically judge my character by addressing preconceived negative judgements of the way they see me, I just tell them this: ‘You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there's still going to be somebody who hates peaches.’ (Dita Von Teese)
Some might consider your work fetishwear. If someone said, ‘What do you design?’ how would you describe it?
Yeha Leung: I don't consider my brand fetish wear. I design things that I consider beautiful without a preconceived label – I try to see design as a tool of freedom and to label it would defeat that purpose.
One of your influences is the artist and photographer Nobuyoshi Araki. What inspires you about his work and who else feeds your creativity?
Yeha Leung: He was one of the first photographers that caught my eye. I thought his work was refreshing, provocative and beautiful. I just fell for his use of color, contrast and layouts. One of my biggest inspirations from the start was illustrator John Alexander Scott, better known as John Willie. I like his attention to detail when it comes to dressing his subjects and the idea of basing your drawings on muses.
My current muses are mostly friends that have interesting styles or people I've worked with. Artists like Maidenfed, Tahliah Barnett (FKA twigs), photographers like Enga Purevjav, Nedda Afsari, Vivian Loh, Djiun Wang and Diederik Comte. I'm also inspired by photographers that tell a story using the female body, like Ellen von Unwerth, Guy Bourdin, Irving Klaw, Helmut Newton and Kishin Shinoyama.
When you create something really intricate how do you go about designing it in relation to the body? Is it mathematical given the angles and lines where the straps have to sit, a physical or aesthetic reaction? A combination?
Yeha Leung: I would say it's a combination. There is a lot of math that goes on when I'm creating samples but everything in my shop is made to measure. This means any sample can be adjusted to anybody. Most of the products have adjustable features to ensure comfort.
“(As a child) I didn’t know there were so many restrictions on what you are ‘supposed’ to wear – that idea of female beauty, questioning taboos and discovering defiance have stuck with me ever since” – Yeha Leung
Is there a Creepy gang? And who wears Creepyyeha?
Yeha Leung: All types of people wear my brand. I love discovering the identity and ways people style my product. Some are women who are discovering their sexuality, others see it as a socially defiant act of choice. Some men wear it in private, others in clubs. I get all types of feedback.
You've had your harnesses on the likes of FKA twigs and Azealia Banks. How did that come about?
Yeha Leung: With twigs, we both really respect each other's work and the opportunity to collaborate came naturally. Other performers usually find out about my work through their personal stylist. Being based in NYC has given me the opportunity to collaborate with stylists, students, and artists that can see my product within their vision.
Your profile has been increasing year by year and you have over 220,000 followers on Instagram. Are you where you thought you'd be or surprised by how things have turned out?
Yeha Leung: I'm very thankful for everyone that supports my work and I plan to keep perfecting my product. This year I'm planning to create experiences through events and shops, so people in NYC can get to physically experience the brand. I want to be able to see how they try things on, how they style it and meet them on a more personal level.