LONDON, United Kingdom — This month, the Spotlight turns to Yang Li, a 24-year-old Central Saint Martins dropout and former Raf Simons intern, whose laser-sharp, monastically clean aesthetic is, surprisingly, the product of a range of reference points.
“I got angry at school because they said: don’t look at other designers, you can only draw with your ideas,” says the London-based Li, who, instead, likens design to being a DJ, sampling and remixing a variety of source material to make a track. But make no mistake. Blending classic tailoring and architectural silhouettes with a healthy dose of punk, Li is creating a look that’s very much his own.
Though born in Beijing, Li grew up in the sleepy city of Perth in Western Australia, where basketball and skateboarding — which still influence his work today — served as his primary introduction to style. “Both of these activities require an expressive sense of dress,” says Li.
It was the work of Helmut Lang and Raf Simons, however, that first turned him onto the possibility of becoming a designer. And like his fashion icons, Li is less interested in “re-inventing” a product than “what I’m saying with it.” Indeed, many of Li’s silhouettes are familiar — full a-line skirts for women and double breasted military coats for men — but the designer makes restrained use of edgy details like raw edges, tab closures and side slits to create a quiet sense of “roughness.”
And while many of his fabrics, including double face wool and top-grain leather, are rich, the way he subtracts unnecessary seams from his pieces creates a strong and distinctly modern effect. “Luxury is not about giving everything. It’s about knowing what to give.”
For this month’s Spotlight, Li has designed a custom BoF logo featuring a pixelated, black-and-white image of Dutch model lekeliene Stange, which captures “the emotional intensity, anonymity and roughness that are cornerstones of the Yang Li brand,” says Li.
In his third season, Li has already attracted a growing tribe of fashion followers, as well as a list of highly influential stockists, including 10 Corso Como, L’Eclaireur, Hostem, Dover Street Market and LN-CC. “I think it’s really fresh to have a young designer with such a minimal and mature collection and it really appeals to me as a brand,” says John Skelton, creative director of LN-CC, who was one of the first to buy Li’s work. “All of the references seem to come from the right places from my perspective. It seems to be a modern update of brands such as Yohji Yamamoto, Prada and Jil Sander, which are all very close to my heart. In fact, Yang Li is probably the most relevant young brand in the world to me personally at the moment.”
As for expansion, the designer is taking a measured approach. “I’m not in a rush,” says Li, who lives in London, but has decided to show in Paris. In London, designers grow too fast, he says, while Paris, though harder to crack, he finds more conducive to his patient approach. “I’d rather build one brick solidly at a time to build a church where it’s a ritual for people to go than build a pop-up which is popular for a couple of seasons.”
Robert Cordero is a contributing editor at The Business of Fashion. Photos by contributing photographer Morgan O’Donovan. Styling: Lyson Marchessault. Makeup: Linda Andersson using Dr Hauschka. Hair: Petros Mairoudhiou using Trevor Sorbie. Model: Margret at Elite Model Management, London.