Whether its time or place, fashion truly knows no boundaries. The clothing we wear is passed down from generation to generation, taking pieces of each and incorporating different facets into new, reimagined garments that are modern but honour their past. Designer Yinan Mao’s garments embody this concept, blending together the different cultural experiences she’s had throughout her native home of China. By incorporating her own aesthetics into her designs while deconstructing the idea of what fashion is and turning it into what fashion could be, Yinan Mao’s garments are transformative.
Her latest collection called DONG01 is Mao reconnecting with the Dong nationality, an ode to China’s costume culture and the tales woven throughout it, passed down from wearer to wearer. In her designs, the clothing is its own form of language — making meaning of symbols, patterns and the like to embolden those who embrace and wear the garment. Through the different aspects of the Dong costume, Mao has crafted intricate designs for hair accessories, skirts, straps, and more, and incorporates them with tailoring elements that originate in the West.
In her conversation with Schön! Magazine, designer Yinan Mao discusses the Dong nationality and its influence on her work, the ethos behind her brand and designs, and more.
As a designer, you’ve been able to explore different cities and cultures and you have strong roots in China. How has China and the other places you’ve explored within the country inspired your designs and collections as a whole?
While I pursued my career in design, I’ve developed a deep fascination with the diverse local cultures found throughout different regions of China. The people and landscapes I encounter during my travels are a constant source of inspiration for me. One of the most rewarding aspects of my experiences has been the opportunity to connect with local communities and learn about their unique stories and ways of life. I’m always seeking ways to capture and preserve the beauty of these moments through my design work. By deconstructing the elements of Eastern culture that I’ve been exposed to and integrating them with my own aesthetic and fashion philosophy, I’m gradually developing my own design language.
Your collection DONG01 pulls inspiration from the unique costumes prevalent in China’s Dong nationality. What was it about these costumes in particular that made you want to create garments inspired by them?
I was initially attracted by a photo of a Dong woman appreciating her hand-dyed fabric. Dressed in traditional clothes and adorned with silver jewelry, she stood in a field looking at her dyed cotton fabric with a joyful smile. This expression is very familiar to me — it is the same smile that I have every time I finished my design. At that moment, it was as if our souls were united across time and distance through the power of the photograph. This experience prompted me to delve deeper into the culture and history of the Dong people in China and to explore the stories and traditions that have shaped their way of life.
How do you describe your design aesthetics and tendencies?
I want to seek a hybrid approach that combines the handicrafts and aesthetics of the Dong nationality with different technologies through in-depth research on the costume art and culture of the Dong nationality. I want to make the Dong costume and contemporary fashion collide with each other and finally fuse in my works.
Dong costumes have changed and shifted over time and, through your research, you took note of the different ways to be more adventurous in your designs with different contours and accessories, in addition to the different dyeing techniques. What was the process of adapting these Dong costumes into a more modern garment?
I extract the silhouette of the Dong costume, including the pleated skirt, camisole, blouse and straps, as well as the unique hairstyles that Dong women wear with hair accessories, deconstruct them through draping and recombine them with Western tailoring elements.
In my research, I found that Dong people are good at combining their costumes with silver or metallic ornaments in a very interesting way. Local people are good at making clothes by weaving and embroidering with silver. Meanwhile, the famous shiny cloth of the Dong nationality is also full of metallic lustre. So, in this collection, I recycled old Dong ornaments and integrated them into the structures of the dresses, such as the metal structure connecting the pleated skirt with the collar and the silver chain directly woven into the knitted skirt. As the wearer’s body moves, those dresses reflect a metallic sheen and texture from different angles, echoing the shiny silver culture rooted in the hearts of Dong people.
What is the ethos behind the Yinan Mao brand?
I think Yinan Mao is using design to capture the essence of our everyday lives. My creative vision extends beyond just clothing and in the future, I hope to design accessories, jewelry, tableware, and furniture.
Are there specific artists or craftsmen that have influenced your work?
My inspiration comes from a variety of people I have encountered throughout my life. For instance, the Dong people have been the primary source of my creativity for this collection, as their way of life has deeply inspired me. Moreover, I have always been fascinated by the designs of Uma Wang and her eponymous brand. Her ability to integrate Eastern culture with Western tailoring has significantly influenced my design philosophy.
How do you see the Yinan Mao label growing and evolving in the future?
This collection is the beginning of my exploration of Eastern culture. I firmly believe that I will never stop using this theme in my design. The Dong culture alone has a lot of content that I haven’t presented yet. I hope to get back into their stories and bring those stories to a bigger stage. In my eyes, the so-called traditional Eastern culture is lively and alive, which can complement other cultures and elements, and finally generate new designs and tastes in her hands.
Secondly, regarding brand development, my goal for Yinan Mao is to create a distinctive and exclusive clothing brand that can tell a unique story and connect with the audience who appreciate my work. I am aware that achieving this will be challenging.
You plan on incorporating aspects of the Dong costumes into your designs and collections in the future. Why is it so important to you to honour those stories in particular through your designs?
The Dong costume culture has always fascinated me and has been a constant source of inspiration for my design collections. As a branch of Chinese culture, the Dong people possess a distinctive style that is often overlooked by the public. This realization motivated me to create a collection that showcases their unique qualities. However, I feel that I have not yet fully captured the essence of their story. The Dong culture is so rich and multifaceted that I anticipate it will continue to appear in my designs in the future.
Was there a garment in the DONG01 collection that you feel is your favourite? Were there any garments in the collection that you found difficult to create?
I particularly adore a knitted blue dress that I designed. Although there is no knitting tradition in Dong clothing, the artisans who create Dong garments are good at weaving, dyeing, and embroidery. I have a passion for knitting and have studied this technique during my MFA. As I mentioned earlier, the Dong people love to combine clothing with silver. Thus, I designed the silver chains and threads into this knitting dress, allowing the metal threads and chains to be knitted directly into the fabric during the manufacturing process. I went through countless attempts before I finally found the best way to make it.
Lastly, what do you hope those that wear Yinan Mao designs feel or think when wearing the clothing?
I hope the people who wear my designs are free and strong.
To view more of Yinan Mao’s collection, visit their Instagram.
designs + accessories. Yinan Mao
photography. Steven Zhan
model. Kyra Ehle
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