There’s something utterly blissful about discovering a new fashion brand that happens to be really, really good. Everything comes together—timing, taste, design—to assemble a perfectly packaged collection that swoops in to save the day and fill the seemingly impossible-to-fill gaps in your wardrobe. If it’s been a minute since you’ve experienced this anomaly, then rest easy because newly-launched YanYan is here to save the day (newly as in less then a week ago). The aesthetic is a nod to colorful Espirit nostalgia meets sumptuous knitwear meets eccentric downtown silhouettes. There are grandpa cardigans with embroidered pineapple knots, a handful of polos in fluorescent hues, and even a pair of chartreuse knitted bike shorts. In other words, JACKPOT.
Former Rag & Bone Director of Knitwear Phyllis Chan alongside Hong Kong designer Suzzie Chung co-founded the brand, meaning “everyone” in Cantonese, with the aim of providing design-driven products at a not-insane price point. “A lot of people our age want high quality, fun novelty product and are willing to invest,” Chan tells COOLS. “But so much of what is out there is either really expensive or too cheap/poor of quality.” YanYan’s debut capsule launched in mid-march with pricing ranging from $225 to $475 (though there is a $95 tote bag!). Their pilot collection explores the duo’s Chinese heritage and includes traditional details like cheongsam-inspired closures and hand-tied embroidered Chinese knots. It’s also worth calling out that everything is knitted in China (they do utilize Italian and Japanese spun yarns and Scottish lambswool as well). They employ a “slow fashion meets limited-edition runs” business model and plan to release fresh capsule collections every two to three months. The designers met while in high school and are both currently based in Hong Kong.
Ahead, see why YanYan is a brand you 100% should be wearing this spring, and hear more from the designers on why they launched the collection.
What was the impetus to start YanYan?
Chan: “As a smaller company, with a focus on direct to consumer (whether it’s through online or pop ups), we are able to use materials and techniques that would otherwise retail for more at a bigger company. We hope that this model will allow us to push our materials and techniques further as we grow.”
Chung: “We also wanted to take control of our design and production calendar—we show new product every few months, but produce in small batches, and design with the season/weather in mind. It’s an experiment that we hope will work. We wanted to design on our own terms—we don’t have big investors and we don’t have a lot of money, so we try to be as economically and environmentally sound as we can be.”
YanYan means “everyone” in Cantonese—what’s the idea behind this?
Chan: “When we were naming our company, we knew we wanted to have a logo and a name that reflected both our Chinese/Cantonese heritage and our upbringing of being something caught between the ‘east’ and the ‘west’. We loved that when you flip YY around it becomes 人人, and yanyan is how we pronounce these two characters in Cantonese.”
Chung: “人人 translates as “everyone” in English. The concept of “everyone” comes from our experience working in larger companies and mass. Sometimes it moves so quickly, it’s hard to take time to think about the processes and how it affects people, from the designers, to the factories, to the connection with our customers. We want to be thoughtful about people.”
There are a lot of fun, bright colors in your collection. Where do you get inspiration for which palettes to use and why is color an important design element for you?
Chung: “Color is a big part of Chinese culture; we use a lot of bright colors like red and green and gold during festivals, and traditional ceremonies. There’s also a lot of color found in local Hong Kong architecture, in both old and new. We wanted our debut collection to be bright and cheerful, like a celebration.”
Chan: “Also, Suzzie loves wearing color, print, and texture, as opposed to me, being more neutral and minimal. The color palette was an exercise in Suzzie pushing me to incorporate more color in my aesthetic.”
What fabrics do you use and why was it important to have all of your materials knitted in China?
Chan: “The factory that we worked with have a lot of beautiful luxury yarns leftover from production with their clients. One of our ongoing goals is to help our factory use up this stock, so it doesn’t expire and go to the landfill. For this capsule, the leftover qualities were: the brown tweed, designed and spun in Italy; the lambswool, which is a mulesing-free quality farmed in South Africa and carded/spun in Scotland, and the cotton cashmere is from China. The two tone tweed is made from new material, designed, and spun from the same mill as the brown tweed, and the bright yellow polyester was made in Japan.
Hong Kong and China have a long history of manufacturing high quality knitwear for brands all around the world, but there’s still such a stigma to the “made in China” label. The industry has changed so much even in the past 10 years, with a lot of techniques like intarsia, crochet, hand knit, and flat bed knitting being less common and more expensive, and bigger companies are moving a lot of their manufacturing away to places that are cheaper to produce. Our city and our country has invested so much into this industry, we wanted to contribute our part in sustaining it.”
How does your heritage come into play and what’s your interpretation of what modern Chinese clothing can be?
Chan: “There were two key items we wanted to reinterpret in our capsule, the cheongsam and the Kungfu jacket. There’s been a uptrend in the iconic ‘Chinese waitress’ dress in the west, but Chinese clothing isn’t just this one thing. We wanted to play with classic details like the pineapple button knots and reinterpret the classic silhouette of the high necks and the longer lengths, and the keyholes. Our goal was to evoke the feeling and the romance of these styles without being literal.”
Chung: “We wanted to experiment with the familiar and see how far we could push before losing the feeling of ‘that looks Chinese’. Hong Kong is a funny place of ‘east meets west’, ‘old meets new’—so much of our culture is a see saw between our heritage and the future. We really explored the concept of nostalgia and old Hong Kong in the color and fit, while still keeping the designs modern and fresh.”
What are your design references and inspirations?
Chung: “For this capsule, we were really inspired by the images and cinema of old Hong Kong from the ’60’s and the ’70’s—styles that we imagine our parents and grandparents wore. A lot of the color and texture we picked can be quite nostalgic and modern at the same time. The bright colors in particular were inspired by a lot of the architecture in hong kong.”
Chan: “In general we’re really inspired by Chinese traditional costumes and ethnic wear, crafts, and folk art, as well as Chinese cinema. There are a lot of graphic elements of Qing dynasty Qipaos that look incredibly modern. We recently went to the Hong Kong museum of history, and we were so inspired by the folk art of the Hoklo people and the Hakka community. I love Fan Ho’s images of old Hong Kong. We’re also obsessed with Anna May Wong right now, having a life-changing experience of reconnecting with her heritage when she visited China for the first time in her 30’s.”