- by Heloise Wilson
THE CRAFT OF MAKING IS ENDLESS
FASHION DESIGNER AND BESPOKE HAND TAILOR YUECEN CAI TALKS ABOUT HIS LABOR OF LOVE
"Clothes mean nothing until someone lives in them," Marc Jacobs quoted. Clothes can be heirlooms passed down from generations, wedding dresses, a cashmere cardigan, or they can be milestones - the first pair of heels bought after a promotion. Fashion designers and garment workers tailor our memories and shape our identities. Yuecen Cai is one of them - a fashion designer and bespoke hand tailor. Originally from Shanghai, he now works for well-established design studios in New York City with a focus on luxury products. Much like his peers, he has a vivid imagination, an attention to detail, and a desire to shake things up.
Fig 1. Yuecen Ricky Cai's collection "Things such Remain" 2020-2021
How does one's dream to become a fashion designer begin? For Yuecen, it wasn't always an obvious choice. Influenced by the artistry of his grandparents who raised him - they were both Calligraphy artists - Yuecen first considered becoming an interior designer (he hated the table in his bedroom), eventually a furniture designer before considering architecture. While he certainly was a very creative person, he was also passionate about collecting exclusive sneakers during his high school years. "One day, my friend commented asking me if I didn't have better clothes to pair with all my sneakers, and that was the moment I wanted to give fashion a try," he recalls. This decision was a natural extension and a testimonial of who Yuecen really is: someone who uses art to find his way and occasionally get out of trouble. He remembers how becoming creative as a child helped him with his schooling: "I had gotten away with things because of it as well. Because Chinese calligraphy and painting are regarded as special, I could get into school with a lower test score or just simply because I was good at art. I was never a good student in the classroom, and my test scores weren't good enough for me to go to a public middle school. I got into a good class in the local middle school because I could paint". Yuecen has a rebellious side, and paired with his natural groundedness; it was a perfect match for a successful career in fashion design.
Fig 2. Yuecen Ricky Cai's collection "Things such Remain" 2020-2021
Yuecen's passion for everyday wear and his eye for new trends has landed him opportunities and partnerships with high-end agencies and clients. One of them is Eric Hu - the founder of his namesake studio of creative consultancy and design practice. The studio focuses on striking visual identities and imagery for clients operating in fashion, music, architecture, and technology. Yuecen designed and made tailored made clothes for Mr. Hu. This opportunity was right up Yuecen's alley as the fashion designer, and bespoke hand tailor's style is versatile: professional but unpretentious and straightforward. The perfect match for the wardrobe of a busy urban creative director. Yuecen also worked for threeASFOUR, a fashion label and collective fusing cutting-edge technology with traditional craftsmanship to create clothing at the intersection of fashion and art. This was obviously right up Yuecen's alley. He worked with the collective to hand grade complex patterns and tailored the stage outfits for the infamous American composer Meredith Monk. Yuecen has also worked on impressive runway shows in New York for Sho Konishi Design Lab, where he finalized their collection design and couture finishing on all garments. His versatile eye for patterns also led him to work for Gregory Scott Studio. Yuecen worked as a Fashion Design Consultant. Focusing on cutting and pattern making and overseeing the artist's pattern-making book. This book is a true state-of-the-art project: this is the first time that a new book on pattern making has been published since the turn of the new century. This book will serve as a reference for the upcoming generation of fashion designers; it is a detailed step-by-step manual on pattern making. Patterns are to fashion what scales are to music: the theory and the foundation of the whole craft. Yuecen is a stellar fashion designer who knows the understructure of his craft, like the side seams of his trousers (pun intended).
Fig 3. Yuecen Ricky Cai's collection "Things such Remain" 2020-2021
Continuing to mix pop culture and fashion, he also worked for The Row. In case you are not familiar with the name of the label, the name of its founders might ring a bell: Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen. The net-a-porter fashion brand focuses on minimalist silhouettes. Yuecen designed and executed boards and specs for their Fall and Winter 2021 collection. His other clients include Ya Yi as a Designer for its collection book and videos, as well as Flair Chocolatier, where he was a Designer and Style Consultant for their Fall 2021 campaign.
Yuecen's work was featured in various publications, including L'Officiel, Vogue Italy, Vulkan Magazine, NowHere Columbia, Eleven and a Half Journal. In 2021 he also received the Honorable Mention at the IDA Design Awards. The International Design Awards focuses on fashion designers who know how to make an impact. This sounds just about right for a Fashion Designer such as Yuecen, who isn't afraid to take risks and make waves. "I make fashion that speaks of control, erasing personal presence, and obedience," Yuecen confirms. His designs reflect his personality: bold but simple combinations when it comes to color schemes, minimalism with an edge, and clear cuts. There is an element of nostalgia as well that pierces through: mid-century silhouette mixed with raised hemlines, suits, and satin scarves paired together. While Yuecen has an entrepreneurial spirit - he is currently talking to investors to fund and launch his own label- and a will to do things differently, technique will always remain at the core of his practice.
Fig 4. Yuecen Ricky Cai's new 2022 collection
To him, it means focusing on patterns: "My inspiration always comes when I am pattern making. What if I shift this or erase this seam? Wouldn't it be more interesting and absent? The craft of making is endless, and there is always more to learn and master. What keeps me moving is those little things, like when you simply shift a seam to make the fit more relaxed or simply moving a pleat ¼ forward on a trouser. These skills come from experience and obsession, which I absolutely love and want to keep moving forward." He shares it with us. Yuecen understands that fashion ultimately is a true labor of love. When asked what tip he would give to newcomers in the industry, he insists on the virtue of patience and repetition: "Be ready for labor. Fashion design is physical labor, and it requires a personality that can repeatedly do the same thing over and over again". Repeating while creating something new and unique, this is the winning formula for Yuecen.
YUECEN RICKY CAI