ALL THE PIECES THAT MAKE US UP
THE AUTO-ETHNOGRAPHIC FASHION DESIGN OF YAYI CHEN
Yayi Chen believes fashion is a way of applying art onto the human body, ultimately becoming a medium of self-reflection. For Yayi, this self-reflection extends beyond herself, back in time to her ancestral lineage, into the spaces she and her family have occupied as well as the history of the east and the west and how they are made manifest and complicated in bodies, work and lives like hers. Yayi’s work specifically focuses on the identity of Chinese immigrant women.
Designs by Yayi Chen. Photography by Son Dae Yoon. Artist Collaborator Cathy Mou. Accessory Collaboration with Hau Yin Andree Kong.
Her designs include lace bodysuits and translucent knitted textiles to reflect invisibility, as well as garments heavily adorned with mounting drop beads, flaring fringes, and decorative knit jacquards meant to critique through exaggeration the objectification of the body. The contrast between aspects of traditional eastern philosophy and contemporary western art has stimulated Yayi’s interest in challenging traditional interpretations and expressions of fashion. Her research and creation often focus on women’s identity in society throughout history within multicultural backgrounds.
Yayi tells us of her upbringing and the makings of her inspirations and themes, “Being born to a Chinese immigrant family in Spain, from a very young age, I had the chance to appreciate the values and art forms from two very distinct cultures. The countless cultural contrasts I encountered throughout my life made me reflect on my personal identity as a woman and how that identity is perceived in the community I grew up in.” This she says fostered her ability to interpret the art world through multiple lenses and triggered her first step into the creative field, a field which she has now made the focus of her passion and career, which started as explorations of fashion, fine art, and photography in high school and culminating in a study at both Parsons School of Design in New York City and Central Saint Martins in London.
Designs by Yayi Chen. Photography by Lusan. Model Eve Liu
Coming from a similar cross-cultural background, artist collaborator Cathy Mou and Yayi started working on a project inspired by their mothers’ experiences as southern Chinese immigrants to Europe during the 80s and 90s. This project eventually took form as a collaborative collection of fashion, performance, and film which questioned the overlooked and objectified laboring body of women in the immigrant community, called “in tran · sient.” The collection also explores the poetic relationship between these women’s invisible social identity and their impermanent home and working space, the Chinese restaurant. With “in tran · sient” and a community of artists from the same diasporic background, including New York-based designer Hau Yin Andree Kong as well as the aforementioned Cathy Mou, Yayi aimed to empower immigrant women by pondering their struggle through poetic and feminine vision. This project, which had a lace sponsorship from Solstiss and a yarn sponsorship Lineapiu, earned Yayi several awards including, The 2019 Parsons Academic Awards of Creative Systems, The 2019 Parsons X Solstiss Sponsorship Award, and The Parsons X Neiman Marcus Hudson Yards Showcase, among others.
‘in tran · sient ’ performance film trailer. Designs by Yayi Chen. Filmmaker Zhuo Chen. Choreography by Cathy Mou. Set Design by Cathy Mou. Makeup & Hair Artist by Jerry Hong Jin Wu Esther Lee. Performers: Jia Yi, Xuan Ye Li, Won Che, Liao Zheng, Vistanny, Claudia Jiang, and Cheng Zi Hao.
While many artist look outwardly for inspiration or struggle to find meaning in their projects, the work Yayi Chen speaks to the fact that within all of us there are stories of movement and of strife but that within those moments of discomfort or oppression, hope and community can be found and cultivated. Of her artistic process and how the history of her family and other members of her diaspora, Yayi tells us that research is a big part in her process of work, and specifically for the “In Tran · sient” collection, she used auto-ethnographic research such as studying a family photo album and interviewing immigrant women about their experiences to derive the basic silhouettes of her collection. Yayi and her designs speak to how, within us and in the history of those that made us up, there is much to be gleaned and that when the work is put in to look inside yourself and your past, a unique beauty and the truest of art can emerge.