A riveting mood board mounted messily on an army of books & fabric swatches catches my eye. Sparse black and white images of women in oversized skirts with piercing gazes, geometrical abstractions and a bare nipple — a curious melange of all the elements that inspire Yirantian Guo’s Spring/Summer 2016 collection.
A chic bob and the smile of a Cheshire cat, Guo’s sprightly energy is instantly amicable. The Shanghai-based designer who graduated from the London College of Fashion in 2014, already has worthy accolades attached to her name and has been acknowledged as one of the most influential young designers by Elle China. Her S/S 2016 collection is replete with deconstructed androgyny. The line effortlessly transitions from demure evening wear with floating trousers and tuxedo jackets, only to don a more athletic vibe with reinvented skater skirts and boxy t-shirts. We sit down with her to discuss the current scenario in Chinese fashion and her kind of woman.
What pushed you to study in London and become a fashion designer?
From the beginning, it was my sheer love for designing: to watch sketches materialize into collections. When I was 17-years-old, my father urged me to get a formal training in this field as he thought I had the talent. I pretty much dove straight into it after that. I find the entire process of creating very satisfying and quite magical, in fact!
What’s the aesthetic behind your label?
I recently graduated from LCF when I decided to start my namesake label. My target woman is very independent and mature. I like experimenting with androgyny so there are a lot of clean lines and sharp shapes that have strong silhouettes. Asymmetrical patterns are the signature style of my brand. I want my garments to have a sense of versatility so that it compliments all personalities and body types.
Your clothes appear to have Western influences. Are you incorporating any oriental influences in the detailing?
Due to my heritage, the Eastern influences come in quite naturally. My education in the UK is the reason behind my affinity for Western aesthetics. I don’t intentionally try to make a distinction between the East and the West while I’m designing — I just follow an organic thought process. For instance, if you see my prints from last season’s collection, they resemble strokes from a paintbrush. I wanted to create this graphic element. The inspiration from this came to me from the Chinese oil paintings, a quintessential part of our cultural history.
Why do you feel a lot of Chinese students chose to study design abroad as opposed to local institutes?
I feel like this is a recent development as when I studied in London, there weren’t so many Chinese students. I think the students choose to study abroad because of a renewed creative perspective and also the availability of resources. The city is very advanced in terms of infrastructure as well. There are libraries stocked with great books and the museums always have some interesting exhibitions. All these engaging aspects make for highly inspirational experiences.
A lot of young Chinese designers are following a very contemporary or futuristic aesthetic but nobody is tapping into the traditional form of the Chinese garment anymore. What is your opinion on this?
I don’t think that they are doing this intentionally. I feel like me and my younger counterparts are not thinking that way. Today, there is still a balance between younger fledgling designers with niche aesthetics, and then there are well-established ones who chose a more traditional path and dapple in couture with Guo Pie being one of them. At the same time, I always try to keep in mind that I need to cater to not only an international consumer but to a local one as well, so I create silhouettes that suit the Chinese frame while keeping the influences of traditional Chinese clothing (i.e. the buttons from my current collection are traditional Chinese). On a very subconscious level, your heritage is bound to incorporate itself in your designs.
I definitely design for…somebody who is very sure of her sartorial choices and herself. I don’t design for wallflowers.
What do you feel makes your label stand out from the work of your contemporaries?
I feel like there are many designers who are inspired by art and architecture. While I am too, I don’t just do this on a basic level, but really like to dissect a certain concept and project a deeper meaning through my clothes. It’s not just about geometric shapes, but also about mixing hard and soft fabrics to create clothing for a woman who is independent on the surface but has an innate aura of sexiness at the same time.
Tell me about your consumers.
I definitely design for a demographic that is between the ages of 25 to 45-years-old. She is somebody who is very sure of her sartorial choices and herself. I don’t design for wallflowers.
What elements have inspired you over the years?
The Bauhaus aesthetic has definitely been influential during my student years. Later, I found fascination in more minimalist forms, especially greys and blacks and sharp edges. For my graduate collection, I was heavily inspired by cubism and abstract art. I gain a lot of inspiration from my personal life, especially street style or the dimensions of space when I visit a restaurant for dinner. It could be the oddest of places that catch my fancy.
Tell me about your S/S 2016 collection.
The base concept of this collection is to describe a woman who is living in different time periods. The silhouettes are inspired by the 1930s. I’ve taken that inspiration to create spontaneous garments that are demure but have a relaxed ease to them. She could be wearing a trench coat to buy a cup of coffee — very nonchalant but confident. I’ve used fabrics like cottons, jersey and lot of knitwear to give a level of comfortability.
You have been quoted saying that “garments don’t speak, people do.” Can you explain this paradox?
You might feel that you are choosing a garment but the garment is actually choosing you. Even though clothes are materialistic objects, they possess an emotive quality. That’s why the same garment looks different on different people because its bringing out an emotion in you on a subconscious level. This relationship with people and their clothing always fascinates me.
Is their anything about Shanghai that is influential to your design process?
Maybe not to my design process, but I definitely love watching how older women dress here. They may be heavily wrinkled, but they don’t shy away from wearing make-up and putting on jewelry. This zest for life is very encouraging.
Who are the designers that inspire you and why?
I love Hussein Challayan’s work! His presentation and conceptual thinking is amazing. He’s not just creating weird things, but his garments are intelligent and wearable. Celine, [Mason Martin] Margiela and Raf Simons are some of my other favorites.
What is one lesson you’ve learned through your professional experience so far?
Don’t work at home. My studio was attached to my apartment and it made me extremely complacent. Sometimes that convenience is your worst enemy.