The avant-garde Chinese label fusing jewellery and prosthetics
From surreal face pieces to intricate prosthetics, Yvmin want to make jewellery’s sense of play accessible to everyone.
Photos courtesy of Yvmin
The duo behind Chinese label Yvmin frequently contemplate the question: “What is jewellery?” And, by proxy, what is a modern jewellery label? Rather than a traditional brand, co-designers Min Li and Xiaoyu Zhang have always considered Yvmin a “body decoration lab”. With it, they explore the connection between the body and its adornments through avant-garde, jewel nose pieces, Dalí-esque hair clips and, most recently, prosthetics. The designers aim to push the boundaries and conventions of jewellery to their absolute limit — and then some. “I think of jewellery as part of my body,” Min says. “Sometimes we express ourselves through dance or movement… jewellery can aid in that expression.”
Min and Xiaoyu met at Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts, where the former chose fashion as his major; the latter, jewellery. The pair quickly found a yin-yang affinity — Min, the rationality and Xiaoyu, the emotionality — and struck up a creative partnership. In their final year at CAFA they founded Yvmin, the moniker its own ‘yin-yang’: a portmanteau of both of their names.
In the studio’s early years, they created what Min describes as “material experimentations”: mini sculptures or installations including a series of Greek busts and a mannequin draped in fabric. It was neither ready-to-wear fashion nor jewellery, but reminiscent of both disciplines. Eventually, they gravitated towards jewellery, inspired by the conceptual design approach they’d picked up in the Netherlands while participating in Galerie Marzee’s International Graduate Show in 2012. This Dutch ethos, which championed ideas over materials, stood in direct contrast with that of the Chinese jewellery industry, and fuelled Yvmin’s new approach to adornment.
“For us, jewellery is a pure way to express yourself,” Min says, likening a pair of earrings or a necklace to a “tag” or a “flag” that symbolises — or perhaps explicitly states — the wearer’s personality, proclivities or moods. Jewellery is emblematic; pieces worn are conduits of personal meaning and instruments of self-expression. This sentiment, of jewellery as totem, is embodied rather literally, and cheekily, in one of Yvmin’s earliest jewellery projects. A pair of earrings designed by Xiaoyu were fitted with a sensor, speakers and sound card that would emit a voice recording when the wearer was in proximity to others. “She was trying to emphasise how jewellery works when we’re social, how we use it to express ourselves,” Min elaborates.
Much of Yvmin’s jewellery is equally playful, shedding light on the whimsy and wonder of everyday objects. With its “Pasta Lovers” collection, they cast penne, rotini and even farfalle in precious metal and strung them across a series of elegant pendant earrings and necklaces. The textural rings from the “Sweet” collection draw from the topographies of rumpled and crumpled candy wrappers and are inspired by a childhood game. “We used to put candy packages around our fingers like a ring,” Min explains.
Likewise, the undulating, otherworldly shapes of Yvmin’s “Ripple” — its SS22 offering — find their roots in another personal pastime: the Polaroid photo. The collection’s centrepiece, a pendant necklace, resembles the famous instant photograph, its shimmering zircon centre held in a liquified silver frame. “In the photos, my friends move so fast, you can’t see them clearly. It’s supposed to look like a blurry photograph. And the entire collection is about the jewellery in your memory,” Min says. The collection spans earrings with the same photo-border look, a selection of mesmerising hair clips and a series of chain necklaces, encrusted with zircon pavés to evoke a lens flare effect.
Beyond infusing whimsy and humour into their pieces, the duo’s goal is to push the boundaries of traditional jewellery. First, materially: in place of precious metals and diamonds, the gold standard within the Chinese jewellery industry, Yvmin experiments with more unconventional materials like titanium and nylon. These allow for the large, sculptural silhouettes the label has become known for.
And, second, in terms of form. “Jewellery is more free,” Min says, comparing the fashion category to clothing. “You don’t need jewellery to keep you warm or to protect you. So, in some ways, I think jewellery is useless. But it makes jewellery have more possibilities.” With Yvmin, Xiaoyu and Min explore the category’s seemingly limitless possibilities, toying with the fine line between functionality and purity of form. “Back in 2018, many of my friends were wearing glasses without the lenses, just for the look. To me, that’s also jewellery,” Min says. Inspired, they created a series of face jewels for their “Electronic Girl” collection. Some of these face pieces rest upon the bridge of the nose, others are more abstracted: a headpiece that wraps around the occipital lobe and culminates in a set of pearls perched on the cheekbone.
Yvmin revels in finding new ways to adorn these unexplored bodily expanses: nose bridges, neck napes and the backs of heads. Xiaoyu and Min’s practice has centred the relationship between jewellery and the body since Yvmin’s beginnings. In fact, it was during their school years, over a decade ago, that the pair conceived of their latest project: a line of artisanal pieces that unite prosthetics and adornment. After a long incubation period, the project came to fruition when the duo travelled to Chengdu to meet model-and-influencer Xiao Yang. “Her photos show her strong personal style and she’s not even a little ashamed to show her prosthetics,” Min says.
During the duo’s visit, however, he noticed that Xiao was wearing a different prosthetic leg than the one in her most recent Instagram photos. It was a replacement Xiao had received one year prior and, Min learned, she had since been posting old photographs because she didn’t like the look of the new prosthetic. “I thought she should have a choice, just like how we can choose the clothes or jewellery we wear,” Min adds. Inspired by Xiao, Min and Xiaoyu created three custom prosthetics for the model. One, crafted from sleek mirrored titanium, features a heart-shaped knee cap. Another takes shape around the calf in a series of 3D printed flowers, leaves and vines. It’s an intricate and inspiring feat, one that exists at the intersection of art and prosthetics. Or, as the designers say, at the very “edge of the concept of ‘jewellery’.”
Looking to the future, Yvmin is hoping to partner with a medical organisation in order to supercharge production. Their goal: to provide jewellery’s sense of limitless possibility, and of play, to everyone. “Jewellery is for everyone who wears it,” Min says.