Still only 26, Yang Li is a fresh young voice amongst all the superstars of Paris Fashion Week. We shot his laid-back, baggy spring/summer 14 collection on teen model Angie Sherbourne from The Smell of Us - the new Larry Clark movie about young skaters hanging around outside Palais de Tokyo.
Yang Li is a daydreamer. He might not be able to remember the ones he has in his sleep - we all only remember 15% of our dreams - but the ones he has while he’s awake are much more important because they’re the ones that come true. Born into China’s strict ideals, spending his teen years as a skater in Australia and now living in the same building as his studio in Whitechapel, Li is a cool mix of rebellion and nonchalance, and at only 26 has purposefully placed himself among the most established designers by showing his collections in Paris. He dropped out of two university courses, first law in Australia (“Chinese parents!”) and then fashion at London’s legendary Central Saint Martins, before going on to work with Raf Simons in Antwerp and starting his own label in 2010. The kids he skateboarded with were the seed for his interest in clothing - “It was that community and type of personal expression. It was like the school of the street, I learnt so many things” - and it shows in his designs, which are brimming with attitude. His autumn/winter 14 collection was based on “the dreamer” and showcased soigné slouchy pants, LBDs and leather jackets left with raw, unfinished seams or ripped at the knees, while his previous collection was topped off with every model wearing Vans. Li creates for the skater in all of us; the girls and boys who are made by the street, with romantic sensibilities and naïve determination, those people who fall in love easily and are so easy to fall in love with! “I want to show people that it’s ok to follow the fantasy in your head.” If that’s true, then dream baby dream.
Do you think everyone’s a dreamer?
Yes, I think that specific attitude is in everybody, even in the most seemingly boring people, there’s a story to them. Some just don’t realise it or don’t dare to dream. The thing that’s most attractive to me in other people is seeing someone actually working towards making their dream a reality. I’m full of respect for that struggle and that type of patience. You have only one life and you have to do what you want. That’s more free and punk than anything else.
Would you call yourself a punk?
I’m not sure, punk is about so many things now. It’s not about wearing a certain type of clothes or doing your hair in this or that way. Some people who wear suits everyday are more punk than some punk bands. It’s an attitude rather than an aesthetic. It’s about reacting to your gut and doing what you feel like.
Why did you drop out of Central Saint Martins?
First of all, I didn’t want to have this stamp on my head. And towards the end I really felt like I was being put in a pigeonhole. There’s kind of a formula where you do this and that and meet these people and I guess I always had in my mind that there must be another way. I have nothing against Saint Martins, I would not be where I am or who I am without it.
Did you think about all that before you started there?
Well, it was a piece of the puzzle that I needed. I never knew how to make clothes before or cut patterns or anything like that. But people think fashion design is just about the clothes you draw and it’s not. Your taste, your aesthetic, you don’t learn that at school, that comes from your life - walking the streets, meeting people, making mistakes.
Our model Angie Sherbourne is in the new Larry Clark film, do you like his films?
Yeah, I’ve seen most of his films. The beauty of them is that you can relate to those issues. They might be magnified in his films but it’s pure drama made out of something totally realistic. They are a very modern take on that kind of energetic youth and growing up and new experiences.
You were a skater when you lived in Australia...
Yeah, because I couldn’t swim! I spent half my life out on the street with other kids, skateboarding. Australia is 200 years old so you don’t really have the fine art or design culture that you have in Europe, everything comes from the street. I didn’t really think of skating as a sport. It’s like listening to music - you don’t have to be able to do tricks, it’s an individual thing. I don’t think there should really be skateboarding competitions - it’s like, how do you judge a painting?
Why do you show in Paris when you are based in London?
Maybe the best way to describe why I show in Paris and work in Italy is that, I like the feeling of going to a three-Michelin-star restaurant and wearing jeans and a T-shirt - you shouldn’t really be there but it works. That’s punk.
Do you go to three-Michelin-star restaurants in jeans?
Well, the budget’s not quite there! But it’s more about being in a place you shouldn’t be.