Yang Li Dreams Big

Published February 26, 2014

London is a hub for young designers, but in the case of Beijing-born and Australia-raised Yang Li—who dropped out of Central Saint Martins, interned with Raf Simons, and has decamped to Paris to show his collections—the French capital seems a better fit for his ongoing conceptual exploration of what he calls “romantic minimalism.”

“Work must evoke the brutal romance of human nature,” Li says.  “I often find I am drawn to the challenge of saying more with less. I guess that way the message is not crowded with noise. However it’s very important to keep an element of warmth in the work. The ongoing mantra is to be like live music rather than recorded.”

His Fall/Winter ’14 outing, which walked earlier today to Bruce Springsteen’s “Dream Baby Dream” on the soundtrack, kept constant some of Li’s signatures—clean silhouettes with a grunge sensibility—but upgraded with polish and plenty of finesse.  “Individuals with a dream and their path toward realizing it inspires me,” Li explains of the impetus behind the collection. “The story of struggle and triumph—it’s so interesting. I call them ‘the dreamers’ and I think they are inside all of us. It’s a determined, optimistic, yet somewhat naïve attitude. Completely seductive. The collection is about them and empowering clothes.”

With “strong,” “determined,” and “decisive” silhouettes, Li balanced elegant riffs of trench coats and full floor-grazing skirts with statement outerwear, low-slung, baggy trousers slashed at the knee, and fur bustiers, in rich plums, navys, and camels, grounded with clunky Chelsea boots. Constructed in leathers, ponyskin, plush furs, and double-face fabrics—”all pillars of what is traditionally perceived as luxury,” according to Li—the clothes are imbued with the sense that  “an act on spontaneous beauty and destruction has been committed, two unlinked events to juxtapose craftsmanship and the brutal romance of human nature,” Li explains. The end result? “Disrupted elegance.”

One might think that central to Li’s process is a penchant for spinning an elaborate high concept backstory, but his clothes are utterly wearable, and play with ideas of quotidian refinement and sophistication.  “I find the real world, and real people, astonishing, without the need for theater,” Li says.