BORN IN BEIJING, CHINA; RAISED FROM THE AGE OF 10 IN PERTH, AUSTRALIA; STUDIED IN LONDON; WORKING AND SHOWING HIS COLLECTIONS IN PARIS – YANG LI IS A CHINESE DESIGNER WITH A BURGEONING INTERNATIONAL REPUTATION AMONG SOME OF THE WORLD’S MOST HIGHLY INFLUENTIAL STOCKISTS.
Yang Li’s unconventional silhouettes continue to created ripples of excitement from the industry and consumers alike
If his aesthetic (which has been dubbed ‘grunge romantic’) is informed by historical Western tailoring, Australian skate culture, and punk subversiveness, Li’s eponymous men’s and women’s collections are decidedly of the here and now, incorporating technical fabrication, razor sharp styling and a refined use of embellishment and finish.
While few people might deem the worlds of directional fashion and performance apparel as natural bedfellows, the cross pollination of technically advanced manufacturing methods and craftsmanship deployed by KTC, married with Yang Li’s unconventional silhouettes continue to created ripples of excitement from the industry and consumers alike.
"Luxury should not be precious. It should be usable"
Yang Li is quick to spell out why. “What the mainstream see as performance wear lacks heart and soul,” he explains. “It is made by machine in massive quantities, that’s easily consumed. My ultimate brief is to inject heart and soul back into performance wear. Not just physical function in terms of protection for the wearer, but also an emotional response. Luxury should not be precious. It should be usable. The mixing of different conventions creates this emotional response.”
With the consensus that the most radical innovations in fashion happen in sports clothes, a holistic approach by KTC and Li to exploring the latest technologies, pioneering manufacturing methods and capabilities is helping to narrow the cultural divide between the two disciplines.
“Few fashion designers can design products that can actually perform,” explains Li. “Much of what I see in high fashion is made to look high performance. Working with such an advanced manufacturer as KTC Lab is very liberating. Combining the fashion mentality with KTC’s incredible facilities and technologies creates a marriage that wouldn’t normally happen. It’s a very luxurious idea to have something that is both high fashion and real performance.”
Each season Yang Li takes a few key styles from the men’s and women’s collections and works with KTC Lab to apply their full arsenal of capabilities at them – in terms of fabric research and technology – to see what’s possible.
“What is so exciting is that we go to KTC Lab never knowing what will happen because to their breathtaking know-how,” he enthuses. “It’s about appropriating materials in a performance way; developing further fabrics; then giving these new fabrics a fashion and emotional sensibility again. It’s doing something punk in an intellectual and scientific way.”
One of Li’s favourite KTC Lab collaboration pieces from his Autumn 2015 collection is a voluminous, women’s 1950s, A-line, couture style coat. “We tried to preserve every detail that the wool and silk version would have but translate it using the conventions of performance sportswear. The end product of that recipe is a dish that the luxury customer recognises in terms of shape and fit and heart and soul. Yet because of the construction, it’s the type of piece of clothing that can be worn at a dinner party, to a rock concert or take you home in the rain. The result is a mutant between two worlds.”
Although KTC Lab works only on a fraction of Yang Li’s range, Li is quick to point out how integral the products are for delivering looks that are intellectual and inspiring for a fashion-forward customer.
"It simply isn’t possible to make the type of products we are making with KTC anywhere else in the world ... In the end the product speaks for itself"
He says: “I would view KTC equally as important as my tailoring factory in Italy. KTC produces a part of my collection that is then integrated with more traditional pieces and presented as one collection. These pieces were earmarked as highlights of the collection by people in the fashion industry who had never seen such resolved and considered products. International buyers and press were seduced the new sensibility this marriage with KTC creates. Just from a design and aesthetic point of view, stylists had not seen these sorts of seems or construction before, or the kinds of fabrics we were using – that’s a very good example of the potential of this sort of collaboration. Take something iconic, then take something from another room and improve it.”
Although there are no obvious Chinese references in Yang Li’s work, he has become something of a poster boy for a new generation of Chinese designers making a name for themselves internationally. With KTC’s "Made in China no longer means what you think it does” stance, he’s the perfect partner to showcase how performance sportswear Made in China is the best in the world.
He says: “I think that Made in China has had negative connotations over the years but clients and customers have become very savvy. In order to survive in the world China has needed to find its ‘savior faire’. With the example of KTC, it is large-scale production, high-tech machinery and pioneering proprietary technology, for very focused products. It simply isn’t possible to make the type of products we are making with KTC anywhere else in the world. They are leading the way. In the end the product speaks for itself.”