Haute Couture has become my secret garden, something I don’t have to sell or disguise.
For Yiqing Yin, haute couture is a state of mind. The Grand Prize winner at the 2011 Andam Fashion Award is a true architecte for clothes. After working as a creative director for big names of ready-to-wear, she now takes the time to create her own way. Her 10-year-old label (just like Say Who, coincidentally) allowed her to be awarded the official ‘haute couture’ designation by the Chambre Syndicale back in 2015. While she works as a creative consultant here and there, Yinqing Yin now dedicates herself entirely to her craft, and considers haute couture as a laboratory of experimentations that allows her to dip into numerous other disciplines. At the start of a new year that still seems to be full of interrogations, we met in her Parisian apartment filled with dresses and memories…
How did you experience 2020 as a designer, especially working with handcrafted pieces and in collaborative settings?
This year was unexpected in many ways because we lost all our markers abruptly. My job has two dimensions: the first being related to craftsmanship, working almost like an artist. This is something I can work on by myself, with few resources and outside communication (for example for my research on volumes, textures or techniques). This part of my work hasn’t changed much, apart from the fact that I now do it from home. On the other hand, the second part of my job, which consists in creative direction or consulting for various clients – particularly in China – has become very difficult to maintain. We had to find new ways of working together and communicate efficiently on artisanal objects that require experimentation and research. It wasn’t easy, but we managed! Eventually, this year was an opportunity to renegotiate our living spaces, work and relationships to realize what’s essential: investing in our community and the human factor.
Did you find yourself challenging or questioning your creative process this year?
2020 confirmed my desire to distance myself from the seasonal system of fashion, from this machine we’re all driven by and which it’s very hard to get out of. Today, designers create to ‘produce’ and not to express their creativity. For the past ten years, it has become a great source of frustration for me because I could end up creating designs I wasn’t completely happy with, only because I had to respect the scope statement. Eventually, lockdown forced us to take our time, and to step back. It allowed us to analyse what was essential, and to ask ourselves why we are doing this job, what we still have to express. It allowed us to look at our work with a critical eye. Today, I’m not interested in being part of the fashion cycle anymore. I believe that the greatest luxury is that of being able to take your time – and it is essential for inspiration to regenerate.
Your desire to take your time seems to be present in your work since day one.
It’s true. But there was a time when I was making eight collections a year: four for couture and ready-to-wear, not mentioning the ones I was making as a creative director to finance my haute couture business. Doing haute couture is time-consuming, but it’s the most beautiful way to ‘waste time’ because it will always be about expressing yourself freely. It is a laboratory of experimentations, and you never know what you’re going to find out. On the other hand, having to create six other collections simultaneously in order to support your haute couture work is simply not viable. I believe there are other ways, like artistic consulting for other brands, which is a less restricted approach. My job consists in jumping in with ideas and impulsions, and it stops there.
Is your job as an artistic consultant related to collaborations you created with other brands, like most recently Vacheron Constantin?
It is something else. With Vacheron Constantin, it was about creating a relationship based on our values, and writing a common history between haute couture and luxury watchmaking. Our approaches are similar: the attention to detail, the search for excellence. For us, it was about finding metaphors and telling this story together.
What would you say is the proportion between haute couture and ready-to-wear in your work today?
I stopped doing ready-to-wear in 2015. Today, I’m dedicating myself to haute couture, to expressing myself freely, to collaborations with artists or brands, as well as artistic consulting, often for brands abroad. I distanced myself from having to do a show every season because when you have to do something, you don’t do it for the right reasons any more. Today, I want to create at my own rhythm, with the means and the time I want to put in my work.
How important is haute couture in 2021?
When I started out in 2011, haute couture was a dream I reached for instinctively because I’ve always had this more sculptural, instinctive approach. I didn’t know how to design ready-to-wear. Haute couture gave me all the freedom I needed to realize my biggest fantasies and to challenge various craftsmanships. Today, haute couture has evolved to become more of an intimate space, something to protect, essential. It has become my secret garden, something I don’t have to sell or disguise. It is a laboratory that allows me to regenerate my creativity. It also allows me to create collaborations with filmmakers, textile artists, or brands that share the same values. It is a completely hybrid space.
It is said you studied sculpture?
I wanted to, but I ended up studying at the École des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. My interest in sculpture nourished my relationship to clothes. I never work on paper when I design haute couture pieces, but always in volume. The only times I sketched my designs was for the ready-to-wear brands I was working for.
What have you learned from your experiences as creative director of various ready-to-wear brands?
I learned that haute couture and ready-to-wear are interconnected. Haute couture is vital for me, it’s like breathing, but ready-to-wear can also be exciting because it is about finding pure lines, and answering to very concrete needs. It is about embracing the reality of the body and offering the wearer an experience of identity and freedom. For me, ready-to-wear means being at the service of the other, whereas haute couture is about retrospection. Of course, the languages created by one can nourish the other. Moments of my life when I was only doing ready-to-wear were synonymous with great creative frustration, but you simply cannot only do haute couture today, because it is not profitable. In the end, haute couture is very close to the approach of an artist.
A few years ago, the Chambre Syndicale awarded you with the official ‘haute couture’ label. What did this mean to you?
It was the Holy Grail! It was a true honor for me because I wasn’t born in France and I came here at a young age. To see my work recognized by the great French institutions was a milestone in my career. It also gave me a great legitimacy abroad because luxury brands see the French institution of haute couture as a token of excellence.
You started your career ten years ago, and this year marks Say Who’s 10th anniversary as well. What do you take from the past ten years?
I loved them, both for the achievements and the bad choices. It was a learning process. We worked a lot, we faced a great deal of defeats, but that’s what being a young designer or entrepreneur is about. If I had to do it all over again, I would do exactly the same. Our youthful, fresh energy transformed into wisdom and analysis. My experience allows me to be more precise, more focused now. I know myself better, too. Still, there is nothing like the folklore of the first years. It’s a vivid emotion, just like a new relationship.
What projects are you working on today?
I’m working on more punctual projects, halfway between fashion and another discipline, cinema for example. I’m still working as an artistic consultant remotely, and I also have this project of re-editing some of my signature pieces. The goal is to create on-demand editions from previous ready-to-wear and haute couture collections, on the model of designer furniture. I thought it was a beautiful idea to create something that will stand the test of time. In the past, clothes were the architecture of the body, and we kept them for a lifetime. Today, they have become consumer goods, and I think it’s important to go back to how things were.
Consumer habits seem to be changing nowadays.
I hope they are. It comes with a certain conscience and education. Today, I want to think of my projects in the long term and be in a situation where we are sharing our values on quality and what it means to design a luxury product. It is about creating quality, products that will last and provide a unique experience. I don’t believe you need to design ten collections a year to do so. On the contrary, you have to think about what you’re creating and think about who you’re creating for. That’s the role of the designer if you ask me. After all, that’s what furniture designers do, so why not apply that to clothes – the architecture closest to our body?
I see you displayed a few dresses in your apartment. Can you tell us their stories?
These are a few of my first dresses, one of which comes from the collection I presented for the Andam Fashion Award in 2011. I remember it very well because the dress caught fire… Ten days before the show, we took a scooter to go to the presentation, I was sitting in the backseat, holding two dresses in their protective covers, and I didn’t notice they’d fallen on the tailpipe. They caught fire right in the middle of Place de l’Opéra. So I went to the Andam presentation with two burnt dresses… and I still won! All I can say is that burnt silk really doesn’t smell good!
Interview: Maxime Der Nahabédian
Portraits: Jean Picon