Words by // Laila
“That one is actually a reflective fabric for life vests that comes in clear,” says Alex, referring to a spectacular blue-green tunic. “I went to a fabric factory in Taiwan and said, ‘OK, I really like this but do you have it in another colour?’ They had some samples of the other hues and I ended up taking the orange one which I used as a trim, a piece of pink, a piece of green. I just love how it shines under the light. It’s actually see-through; it’s a thick plastic with a reflective coating on it.
“A lot of the fabrics that I use are not materials that are usually made for garments. I used a lot of netting that’s used for window panes, a lot of outdoor materials used for things like lawn chairs. I liked the concept of taking these odd materials and making them into wearable clothing. I think that, as a young designer, it’s my time to explore, to play with different things, and experiment. I actually have a tattoo of a triangle, the symbol of change in chemical reactions, to remind me to keep challenging myself.”
Alex has only just returned to Vancouver, here to showcase how far he has come to the city that first fostered his foray into the world of fashion. With the full support of prestige lifestyle publication Niche Magazine, Alex plodded out an army of youthful baby doll poufs atop jelly sandals, his reflections on his time spent with the scrappy, politically inclined youth of London and Paris.
“I lived in East London for one and a half years; it’s a bit more down beat – some people will say ghetto – but there’s a lot of artists, fashion designers, young people there. There are loads of people performing on the street; street art, graffiti and all of that.
“I went to Paris also five times in one year – all the young people in both London and Paris are really aggressive but they do it in a sort of passive way. They are resentful of their government. I wanted to take that negative, powerful, resentful mood and use that as a starting point for my collection.”
That the collection, packed with punchy hues and shimmering surfaces, was centered on such acerbic concepts may come as a surprise. Take a closer look and gritty vinyl trim, the handsewn patches of overlapping metallics on neoprene take on the the unapologetic air of torn murals, of shredded flyers on sullied street walls. Yet Alex still insists that still it remains a “very happy collection.”
“My process is really dark and the textures are quite harsh, but I wanted to wrap that with a more optimistic mood. I turned to my favourite author Dr. Seuss; I have like every book by him. I flipped through all of it and was inspired by all of the shapes and colours of the characters, and the scenery in the books.
“For my overall design aesthetic I always want to bring out the childish, naive side of people. I design womenswear but I believe that inside every woman – no matter how old you are, how mature you are, how sexy you are – there’s always a little girl. I like all of my designs, my clothes to bring her out. Put on a dress, have some fun and forget about the pressures in life, jump around… that’s my main design aesthetic. I don’t believe that flaunting your curves and showing off your body is the only way to be sexy – it comes from an attitude. When I was explaining this backstage before the show one of the models asked me, ‘So you want me to walk on my tippy toes?’ and I said, ‘No darling it’s just a mood’ ” laughs Alex.
When asked about his segway into Fashion Design, Yu shrugs and relates that it had never really occurred to him in his youth. His aunt, who had studied Fashion Merchandising in LA would always be about reading Vogue and so he became interested in styling, but growing up in an Asian family there were “certain expectations.” He enrolled in a Computer Sciences program at SFU.
“A lot of times when people were designing websites, I’d be making stuff for fashion. I started taking a part time course for fashion; there was some merchandising, some sewing...when I began the sewing class I picked it up really quickly. I learned to sew and pattern cut and I started making some of my own dresses. Once I had a bit of a portfolio I decided to apply to Blanche Macdonald. I applied and then told my parents,” he chuckles knowingly.
After a year spent with Canada’s esteemed Fashion Design program at Blanche Macdonald and a subsequent course with the London College of Fashion, Alex launched off into a spree of globe trotting that would go on to inform his future collections, visiting over twenty countries. For the fledgling designer, one urban centre stood head and shoulders above the rest.
“Definitely Tokyo. I’ve been to Tokyo over ten times now. It’s a city where people aren’t afraid to dress up and the fashion there is crazy. People can wear candies on their clothing and nobody would stare, but then you’ll turn around and see a flock of businessmen wearing full proper suits and you turn around again and there will be a group of girls wearing skin tight sailor suits, dressing up as Sailor Moon. It’s a really crazy place but nobody really judges anyone. It’s just full of inspiration and the fashion there is insane. Tokyo is where I would go for fashion, and pretty much anything else.”
Alex might have been whisked away to this candy-coloured craze forever had it not been for a very special call from Editor in Chief and Creative Director for NICHE magazine, Tracey Drake.
“I wasn’t planning on coming back anytime soon. I’ve volunteered with Vancouver Fashion Week before but his year it was very impressive. The Emerging Designer sponsorship opened a lot of new doors. Not many knew who I was before here in Vancouver.”
If they didn’t then, they certainly do now. Alex has been the hot topic of the ss 2015 season, gaining extensive coverage with local publications such as The Province and sending the Vancouver style elite into fits of blog-asm. He even had star stylist and Elle Italia Correspondent Deborah Latouche hanging out with his Lost Youth backstage before the show. All of the ado has changed his opinion about Vancouver’s ever growing fashion scene.
“It is very different compared to two years ago when I was studying at Blanche. There wasn’t The Room or anything like that. The only true fashion you could find was on the internet or else in a very limited selection in store. People weren’t open to anything really new; you’d go out dressed up a little bit differently and people would be like, ‘Oh are you crazy?’ I mean just looking around at Fashion Week, I see that there is a lot more style now; people are actually willing to wear and acknowledge emerging designers and more experimental fashion, so I think that’s a good sign.”
Alex has made fond memories of his sponsored experience back home, yet the lead up to Fashion Week was far from a nostalgic amble.
“Time was really the big issue. I had gone back to Taiwan from London at the end of June to take some time off and then went to Tokyo for a mini vacation; that’s when I found out that I had received the sponsorship. Prior to that I hadn’t been doing anything with the collection; I had some ideas in mind and a few sketches but no actual garments made. I had pretty much one month to make the collection. Thank god I was in Taiwan because it’s really easy to find manufacturers for fabrics and I was able to get a lot of different textures.
“There’s not really a specific method for translating a concept to a collection. I’ve done four collections so far and each time it’s quite different. Most of the time I am very visually inspired. I try to take my visual inspiration into my head and use my imagination to reorganize that into my own vision. I feel also like I never quite grew up; I’m still a little kid inside. I love colours and textures, volume but on another side I am quite dark and so I like to use both sides of this imagination. I will sketch...sketch, sketch, sketch, sketch, find fabrics and then from there just go on and create the collection.”
Design vision, says Alex, comes from engaging with the culture that surrounds him.
“I am really inspired by street art and younger, more avant-garde artists. In Vancouver we don’t have a lot of that but in London and Paris there are loads of galleries all over. I would be going to different galleries every week, finding pieces I like, trying to find out more about the artists. A lot of them are young designers working in the city. I made a lot of my friends this way, through finding a piece of art and then looking up the artists through Instagram, connecting with them to see more of their art, to be inspired by their vision and how they see the world.”
This fresh perspective is a souvenir we’ve certainly taken delight in. All the same, Yu recognizes that as a star on the rise, he has a ways to go.
“Right now my fashion is more experimental. I do believe that there are people that would wear it to go out, but not everyone. Going forward I’m looking for that middle ground between the experimental and wearable clothing, that will be accessible to more style types.”
That’s for next season, but for now Alex invites us to fete the end of a thrilling week with a one-day pop up frenzy at Vancouver’s recently re-branded collective @thisopenspace. We can’t wait.
“I want to make my collection available to all people, not just in a tiny room for media only. It will be a one day only pop-up with my entire ss 2015 collection there. I’ve made a limited amount of tee-shirts that will be for sale. Each one will be different as I will be personally sewing the reflective patches on and there will be both men’s and women’s sizes. I’ve made three types of iPhone cases, and the bags and the hats are for sale too!”
The Alex S. Yu one day pop-up runs from 12-7pm at the Chinatown space (434 Columbia St.)// http://ow.ly/BKptG
“Think and wonder, wonder and think.” - Dr. Seuss
Images courtesy of Marshall Heritage & VFW