Phyllis Chan and Suzzie Chung have been friends since they were 15, both aspiring fashion designers having grown up in Hong Kong. Phyllis moved to New York, where she became director of knitwear at Rag & Bone, while Suzzie studied fashion design at Hong Kong PolyU and remained in the city. The pair had always discussed launching a brand together, but it wasn’t until they reached the age of 30, that they decided the time was right. “You hit 30 and you deal with the mortality of your job, of the world, of your life, of the environment. And you think, am I contributing?” says Phyllis, who also missed her family back in Hong Kong and felt “burnt out” from the industry. “This industry is crazy, people always want a newness. What does that even mean?”
YanYan launched in Hong Kong in spring 2019, with a playful collection of knitwear created from reclaimed Italian and Scottish yarn that was left over at a Hong Kong factory. This factory has gone on to become the brand’s prominent collaborator, providing the pair with unwanted materials to be upcycled. Inspired by brands such as Margiela (“the holy grail of knitwear”), the debut collection challenged the traditional concept of knitwear, combining different (leftover) materials – lightweight cashmere, merino and cotton – and presenting contemporary designs that explore identity and champion individuality, while giving a nod to the founders’ Hong Kong heritage in the form of kung fu jackets and qipao dresses. “We’re really interested in how Chinese people view themselves, how the west views us, and how we view how the west views us,” says Phyllis. “We base our customer on ourselves and what we know – Hong Kong culture, Chinese culture, a little bit of western culture. That feels authentic to us.”
The AW19 collection continues this exploration. “We were really inspired by Chinese opera, and Leslie Cheung in the film Farewell My Concubine – it’s sad and romantic. We were interested in the colours, and how Chinese clothing is feminine, without being body-con,” says Suzzie. “I feel like this relates to an interesting conversation within fashion right now. Do you feel feminine even if your clothes are oversized?” To this end, chunky block-colour knits appear in billowy silhouettes, while lightweight cashmere pieces are more form-fitting.
As Suzzie and Phyllis look ahead to future collections, they continue to source leftover materials to be reimagined, hoping that their followers will appreciate the consciousness of the brand as much as the aesthetic. “Does the world need another clothing brand?” They ask. “If it can do some good, then that’s worth our time.”
See the AW19 collection below.