Diaspora diaries

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 September, 2010, 12:00am

Andrew Yang, 25, is enjoying 'it'-boy status among those who love haute couture - on collectable figurines. Kouklitas, Yang's latest collection of handmade dolls - dressed in his interpretation of designs by everyone from Alexander McQueen to Yves Saint Laurent - has been on show at Central's Joyce boutique (today is your last chance to see them) and will appear at a Vogue event in New York this month. The Collette store in Paris carries copies of a book based on the collection and designers themselves, including Rick Owens, are lining up for a doll of their own.

'A year ago, I was collecting unemployment [benefits] and was disenchanted with the fashion industry,' Yang says. 'If you had told me that a year later I'd be travelling to Hong Kong with my dolls, I wouldn't have believed you.'

Yang traces his passion for the craft back to an unconventional upbringing. 'Both my parents were rebels in their own way,' he says. 'My mom's parents didn't want her to marry a Chinese guy. She had had a previous marriage and that was a big deal for my dad's family.'

Yang's parents met in their mid-20s, when his mother went on a Mormon mission to Taipei. They had been pen friends for three months when Yang's father proposed in a letter. He moved to the United States and converted to Mormonism.

'At the point that they decided to raise their biracial family in Salt Lake City, Utah, they'd already committed to the fact that they weren't going to fit in, so why try?'

Yang is the second of seven siblings, all with names starting with an 'A' - 'very Mormon' - and Chinese middle names (his is Yuen-du). One of his first memories is of his mother's antique doll collection, which, despite his pleading, Yang was never allowed to play with.

'I think that's part of the reason I pay so much attention to the texture of my own dolls; that satisfaction of touching and playing with these toys that was denied me as a kid.'

To balance the simplicity and family-centric values of his adopted community, Yang's father made sure his children were exposed to experiences outside of their 'bubble in the desert'. From the age of 12 to 18, Yang spent summers with relatives in Taipei, where he developed a fascination for traditional puppetry.

Yang moved to New York when he turned 18 and put himself through fashion school. After four years of working in the industry, he grew tired of its constraints. In 2008, he made his first collection of dolls using scraps of muslin, debuting at a small gallery to 60 friends. His work caught the eye of the industry he had left after being featured in underground, gay-centric e-zine East Village Boys.

'[In my family], we are all creative but I was the one willing to take risks. My younger brother is the golden child - he learnt Mandarin, studied in China and went on a mission to Taiwan. Meanwhile, I'm gay, moved to New York, have a ton of tattoos and ... I make dolls.'