Ximon Lee x Yunan Wang
The Friendship Between Homeless Russian Children and Icelandic Volcanoes in New York.
Ximon Lee, a young Chinese designer living in New York was recently break out as the first menswear designer to ever win the H&M design award. This incredible achievement has made me feel so happy and fortunate to have known this fun and crazy young man that made me laugh over our hour-long interview.
1. Life Experience?
Yunan: I was born in Tianjin, grew up in Beijing and came to New York after graduation of high school. I also spent a semester on exchange at Central Saint Martins in London and interned at Alexander Wang and Philip Lim. I am now working under the designer Chris Gelinas, who was in the final list of the LVMH prize this year.
Ximon: I was born in Manchuria and both my grandparents are Koreans. What is different from Yunan is that after I was born, I kept moving from cities to cities. I have lived in places such as Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong etc. People often ask me where I am from in New York, a question I often find it difficult to answer. So normally I say Hong Kong since it is the last place I lived before coming here.
2. Why New York?
Ximon: I think being in a dynamic city like New York, which gathers people from everywhere in the world and everything is changing on a daily basis, I can easily find my source of inspiration.
Yunan: I lived in America for a little bit when I was 9. I realized that I could fit perfectly in this educational system, which is largely different from that in China. So I decided to come back one day and study fashion. Even though Europe is great for fashion design, but I just never seemed to have dreamt about it. So New York became the obvious choice.
3. But since both of your designs involve a lot of artistic element, how do you cope with the market or environment in New York, which is leaning to the commercial side?
Ximon: We have discussed about this as well. Indeed it is harder for the people here to accept our design. Even professors at our school had the same thought, condemning that we do not consider the “sell-ability” of our clothes. But since I was awarded as the “designer of the year” at Parsons, I think this symbolizes the transformation of the fashion attitude in New York. Before the winners were mostly suit-and-tie or stresses on minimalism. So the media and the industry was very surprised to see that such Avant-Garde design was appreciated this year.
4. What was your mentality like when you were creating your design?
Yunan: STRESSED! Especially in a competitive school like Parsons, trying to do your first collection ever. You run into people with bad attitudes from time to time that makes you depressed or upset. But since our inspirations were entirely the things we are passionate about, it became easier. But I also had worries and questioned myself about whether my artistic concept would be accepted by the school. For example, I used a lot of natural wax to create a earthy texture. This means the clothes cannot be sold or be kept for a long time. But I came to the understanding that as long as you are doing something you love, you will regret nothing.
5. Ximon’s collection, which was inspired by homeless children in Russia; and Yunan’s collection, inspired by her love for Icelandic culture, were both realized after their journey to the land of their universe. Could you tell us more about your trip? What did you discover?
Yunan: My inspiration originated from my love for Icelandic “trip-hop” music, such as Sigur Rós (Sugar Rose) and Björk. So us two decided to visit my inspirational “Mecca”. Growing up in China, living in New York, I seldom get the opportunity to appreciate the majestic beauty of nature. We visited a lot of places in Iceland and took a lot of pictures. A lot of the embroidery in my design is intended to imitate the texture and lines formed by nature, such as the mountain ranges, the ocean, the icebergs, the stones and the soil. I also fell in love with their street culture as well. Iceland lacks a lot of natural resources. Even though their original color palette is gorgeous already, it still appears to be pale, monotonous and lacks a lot of bright colors. But Icelandic people have learned to intergrade artificial elements into their natural habitat, without destroying the beauty of it. For example, they would lay a crowd of stones on the streets, all colored in neon colors, or paint their houses in lively, upbringing red, blue, yellow or green. So I interpreted this artificial improvement of the color palette into my own design and created this visual contrast. I also added little pieces of chopped wood in different shapes, painted in neon-blue or neon-yellow on my clothes, and the contrast between the texture of these wood pieces and the soft texture of the fabric truly surprised me. Moreover, I am in love with fabric design so I tend to have a more low-key silhouette.
Ximon: I, on the other hand, did not always have the passion for Russia. But I sometimes would drown myself into the library and flip through random books. One time, I discovered a lot of documents about the early stages after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In those pictures, the soulless, constructivist architecture from the communist era; the greyish tone of the colors; those empty playgrounds, in which the paint on the facilities has faded away; all created this atmosphere, that reminded me so much of the environment and the surrounding from my childhood in northern China. Moreover, in a documentary about the homeless children I watched, I noticed those worn down houses they lived in; the piled up hills of garbage, covered in snow; the unstableness of these children from moving around, it felt like I was collecting fragments of memories from these splattered elements. The thing that attracted me the most is the clothes these children are wearing. In China or Russia, there is no tradition or culture of second hand clothing, or organizations such as the Salvation Army for orphans or homeless kids. So they could only pick up old, worn out clothes from old people on the streets, and put them all on themselves to stay warm. Thus their styling becomes very interesting, for example, an oversize shirt or sweater underneath a giant military coat that fit them in no way possible. Since they do not have quality clothing, layering becomes the key. Of course they could not possibly be conscious about what they are wearing, but I was obsessed with these unintentional beauty of styling. After seeing all these, I suddenly had the strong urge to visit this land and discover more, in search for this familiar yet strange inspiration. During this trip of my life, I met a lot of people on the way and a lot of them have become friends of a lifetime. Some of them are DJs or photographers and they have been nothing but kind to me. Before when I studied in western countries, there is a strong bias towards the people of Russia. But I realized it is not entirely true and those people are, just like their vast nation, accepting, generous and straightforward.
6. To Ximon: your design looks like there are some futuristic elements to it. How do you see this?
Ximon: To be honest, I do not like it when people say that my collection is something in the future or involves technologic elements. I have been honest and true to my original inspiration this whole time, using a lot of recycled materials, and made almost entirely with my hands. For example, on one of my coats, there is a gradient effect on the back with a cracked texture. Many people think that I used some high-end printing technology to create this, but in fact all I used were just a toothbrush and different kinds of bleach, applying different levels of strength to create this effect. I call this “paint on denim”. Even the entire silhouette came to me as a surprise when I finished it. Since the materials I used were a compact of six layers of denim, the volume expands as they get washed. If you look from the side, it looks like a sandwich, which is why I named this fabric I invented “sandwich wear”. You can also see some uneven black stripes on the sides, and a lot people thought it was leather or latex. But these are literally burned garbage bags I made. I still have a lot of them left in my house and I was so amazed by how good I was at burning garbage bags that I want to make an installation art with it haha.
7. Do you have any more future extension of your graduation projects after they picked up a large amount of fashion media attention?
Ximon: After the graduation show, a lot of buyers stores, mostly based in Scandinavia or focuses on Scandinavian style Avant-Garde design, have contacted me. Actually, I did not intend to make my clothes like this, but the outcome accidently fell into this theme. I thought that was quite amusing.
Yunan: Many fashion media borrowed our clothes for photo shoots and we keep sending them out. We really love how our design can be viewed, appreciated and displayed in a completely different perspective from ours. After all, we have been looking at these clothes all year long and are a little tired of their beauty.
8. Do you have any secret sides of yours that could share with us?
Ximon: I work hard and play harder. If I have nothing to do all day, I would flip out. Plus I absolutely love techno house music, so New York has plenty to offer and keep me away from home haha.
On the contrary, Yunan is pretty much a hikikomori(in Japanese, the abnormal avoidance of social contact). Often, I would call her all morning and she would only reply me in the afternoon after she woke up. And the first thing she asks is “what are we eating today?” And you might think she looks like such a cold, cool person. But her Instagram feed is pretty much all about famous dogs, cats, rabbit and food. Also, when she was making all these gorgeous clothes inspired by Iceland, she wasn’t listening to artsy Icelandic music. She was most definitely grilling a steak on the side and watching Iron chef at the same time.
Yunan: Yes I guess this is my secret self hahahaha. But could you still make me sound cooler please?
Ximon Lee & Yunan Wang
Yunan：我本人在天津出生，但我在北京长大的。我小的时候从幼儿园开始就在北京长大。直到高中毕业以后我来到了纽约。我junior year的时候有一个学期在伦敦中央圣马丁交换。而我在Parsons就读期间，也在Alexander Wang和Philip Lim实习过。而五月毕业之后，我现在跟着今年被LVMH大奖列入最终候选人名单的Chris Gelinas实习。虽然是一个小公司，但是我觉得他非常有未来的一个品牌。
Yunan：我的灵感来源也是从小就一直很喜欢听冰岛的音乐，比如说像Sigur Rós（Suger Rose）和Björk那种Trip-Hop的风格。所以我们两个人就决定一定要去冰岛朝圣。对于在中国生长，纽约生活的我们很少能够有机会去体验和感受自然的壮美。我们在冰岛的时候走遍了许多景点，也照了很多照片。我的设计里面有很多的刺绣其实就是用来表达和模仿冰岛自然环境，山、水、土地、石头等很多不同的质感和纹路。另外那里的街头文化我也很喜欢。冰岛本身是一个资源很匮乏的地方，有时候冰岛很多地方的颜色虽然很美，但并不时分鲜艳，有时会略显几分单调惨白。但是他们会将人工的元素嵌入到自然环境中加以改善他们生存的空间，但又不侵犯到自然本身的美。比如说他们会在街上摆放许许多多的石头，但是确实人工漆成荧光的颜色。所以他们这种色彩的强烈对比也被我应用在了设计当中。并且我还融合了spray-wood的元素，就是将木头锯成很多不同的形状，喷成荧光蓝、黄等颜色，将冰岛这些最简单的装饰放在我的衣服上。这种木头的质感和柔软布料的对比的效果也出乎我的意料。因为我钟情于布料设计，所以我设计的轮廓会相对比较简单一些。
Ximon: 我挺讨厌别人说我的东西是高科技的或者未来的东西。的确，我看过很多杂志写出来的评价，但是我并没有这种理念。我的设计一直都很忠于最初的理念，用了很多回收的材料，而且基本上是完全手工制作的，很少有科技数码的元素在里面。比如说我的一件外套后面是渐变的感觉，包括很多碎裂的质感，很多人以为是打印出来的，但是完全都是我用牙刷和漂白水以不同的力度一条一条刷出来的。简单概括就是“paint on denim”。整个廓形做出来以后对我自己都是一个惊喜。我用的布料是由六层牛仔复合在一起，从侧面看就像三明治一样。所以我称这种我研发出来的布料叫“sandwich wear”。衣服上面有一些黑色凹凸不平的须须，别人看都以为是皮，或者是乳胶之类，但其实都只是我用烧掉的垃圾袋制成的。我当时就买了一大堆路边装垃圾的黑色胶袋，到现在我都不舍得扔，因为我觉得自己烧的实在太漂亮了。也许我可以做个装置艺术挂在墙上！（笑）