Ahead of our LCF MA17 menswear catwalk show on Friday 6 January (watch the live stream here), we’ve been talking to the MA Fashion Design Technology Menswear graduates who’ll be showcasing their collections at the show. Next on our Graduate Spotlight series is Shu Yao, who created a paper silk collection inspired by tally marks and multiples of 5cm.
Can you tell us about your collection?
My collection is called 5. The idea came from tally marks and people who suffered mental illnesses. I found a picture of a room a while back with a wall completely tally marked by a patient who was suffering from mental health issues and kept a tally mark score to count the days he stayed in the room. He was in this room for hundreds of days. The marks were drawn in red, this really took me back. I found it very interesting how he kept on characterising five as a group. My collection was based on this number and pattern cutting, through the use of straight lines with measurements of multiples of 5cm. The collection is designed for a standard size 40. I altered all the measurements for each part of the garment to the closest multiple of five. I used this to create a new size for a new body shape. For example, if something was 102cm, I would round it down to 100cm. I was trying to create patterns for the new body shape. All my patterns are straight lines and again multiples of 5cm. Every part of the collection is based on that principle. I had to change many of the patterns, twists and joints so I could manipulate the garment to what I wanted it to be.
I think the first thing most people would notice about my collection is the fabric I’ve used. This is because it is a unique fabric from China that is double sided and was dyed naturally in a river bed. The fabric was buried in the river bed, this is what created the colour. There are only ten dye workshops left in China. I got the fabric over the summer when developing my idea. Normally double-sided fabrics are quite thick – mine isn’t though. It’s very thin and slippery. It also sounds like rubber brushing against each other when you walk or move, which is interesting because it’s actually silk but doesn’t feel like it. To be honest it’s quite a difficult one to explain. Paper silk is probably the best way to sum it up. One of the sides is very bright with blue and purple while the other is almost black, they are quite interesting colours next to each other.
Where did you study prior to your MA at LCF?
I studied at Nottingham Trent University before coming to LCF. My BA course focused heavily on the technical aspects of design and garments. The MA at LCF is more about concept and building vision, so having those skills from Nottingham Trent was very beneficial for me.
Reflecting back on your MA, and thinking of any prospective students thinking about starting an MA, what would be your top three tips/bits of advice to them?
- Do exercise and keep healthy!
- Be passionate about what you want to do. You need a clear aim to really achieve your goals. There were 60 people in my BA, many went straight to work and panicked about finding a job after graduation. Before my BA I knew I wanted to study an MA in Fashion Design. I planned to take a gap year but decided to go straight into MA Menswear.
- Be prepared! You need to bring all the knowledge you’ve gained over the years together for an MA. It’s super intense, being in the studio for 14 hours a day. I didn’t sleep for three days before deadlines, I didn’t know I could do that, I was just working and working around the clock. You need to ask for help from friends, family and even previous year students. Someone told me before I started that I needed to use all the connections I’ve made over the years – I didn’t believe them at first, but you really do need to use everyone. I needed help from everyone to finish my collection! I actually got some help from Nottingham Trent and my placement year studio in Shanghai.
Why did you choose LCF and MA Fashion Menswear?
London is a great place for research and developing a vision. There are galleries, museums, and plenty of fabric resources available to look for new ideas. Tate Modern is always a great place to visit. We went on a trip to Raven Row to learn new technical ideas. I wanted to study at London College of Fashion because of London and because I really appreciate how the university emphasises the technical aspects of design. I wanted to improve this area of my ability, that’s why LCF seemed like the only option for me.
What have you found the most enjoyable and interesting parts of your course? And what have you found the most challenging?
The most interesting part was meeting a lot of great people on the course who were incredibly focused on the course. Studying an MA means you are really interested in the topic, while at BA level you sometimes end up there because your family suggested it. So you meet a lot of incredibly talented people who are really passionate about the course and Menswear, that’s probably been the most enjoyable part of the course for me. The collaborative unit was also really enjoyable. At first, I hated the idea of collaboration but I really ended up enjoying it. I worked with a factory in Hong Kong and made some great connections for the future. I had no knowledge in knitwear before the project but learned a lot in a very short space of time.
The most challenging part of the course was time management. The course is incredibly intense so you really need to manage your time well. You have deadlines most weeks, sometimes you don’t have time to rest because you need to keep working on the next deadline.
What was your favourite thing about studying in London?
London is incredible for exhibitions and events. I really enjoyed going to the Abstract Expressionism exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts recently. I’m also really looking forward to the David Hockney one at the end of the year.
Describe your work in five words…
One, two, three, four, five. I think the best way of describing my work is a combination of tailoring with a modern twist.
Do you have a muse? If so, who and why?
I don’t really have a muse, just people around me. I look up to people who live a very healthy lifestyle. I really looked up to Pina Baush growing up. She’s a famous German dancer and ballet director who curated some beautiful work and performances. I guess my muse is a male version of Pina, if that person exists. Someone who is very elegant and portrays sophistication.
What are your future plans and how do you think the course will help you to realise these plans?
I registered my brand over the summer, so I’d like to stay in the UK. I want to work in the industry for a couple of years to gain insight and experience before really developing my brand. I believe I truly need some work experience to expand my skills and industry knowledge. When I did my placement year in Shanghai, they also suggested I take a job for one or two years to learn the industry, but no more than two years. I would like to work somewhere like Margaret Howell or Dries Van Noten to gain experience. I think they are very close to my design aesthetic. My brand is called Chat – I wanted a name that sounded friendly and didn’t want to use my own name.
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