Brief encounters: Wan Yifang
Spotlighted by London's Fashion Scout as a rising star, the talented young Chinese designer discusses mentorship and moving between China and Britain for her label
"Louise Wilson, my MA course leader at Central Saint Martins, taught me how to be a designer, rather than just to design. Being a designer requires more than just drawing clothes; it is about time management and communications as well as how you present yourself.
I used to wear colourful clothes at college, and she hated them. She said: 'It is not about how good you are [as a designer], but how you present yourself that is important.' On one occasion she introduced me to some important people in the industry, and I was wearing a large checked shirt. She said: 'If you don't have anything nice to wear, wear black.' I've worn black almost ever since as I don't have time to make anything else.
She told me the reason she always wore black was that she didn't want us students to know what she liked, and I admired her for that. I was very sad when I learned of her death in May.
I hadn't planned to start my own fashion label so soon after graduating, I thought I would look for a job in London, but there were work visa issues. I was then offered the opportunity to show my collection for autumn-winter 2013 at Fashion Scout during London Fashion Week. They provide a sponsored catwalk show and exhibition area. I didn't have much time to think it all through, but I launched my business, and now I have an entrepreneur visa. London Fashion Week next month will be my fourth collection, although I also designed a special one-off outerwear collection shown at Shanghai Fashion Week for Dongliang, which has stocked my collection since the first season.
My aesthetic is simple: effortlessly elegant and minimal - the lines are clean and sculptural. The collection is now stocked in London, Paris, Taiwan and in China, but as the orders have grown, I am no longer able to produce in-house, so I have temporarily moved back to my home city, Xiamen, so I can do production in China. Life there is totally different. It is so humid, and I realised that people in Xiamen don't need fashion, as it is too hot. They don't wear layers, just very simple pieces.
To get the best of both worlds, I am researching setting up a studio in the city, but will continue to design in London. However, I would need to train the new team to understand fashion and creativity. As a child, I was into art and design. I had imagined myself being a painter or perhaps an architect - until I realised that I would need a team and that it takes time to see the results. Fashion is much faster, but I didn't realise how stressful it would be.
I liked drawing because I was a lonely kid with pencils and time to kill. I studied fashion management at a college in Fuzhou and worked at Ports 1961, the Canadian brand that has a factory in Xiamen. They hired graduates from London and New York, and through talking to them on lunch breaks, I got to know about fashion design and the colleges, particularly Central Saint Martins. My parents supported me through my BA degree; I think I spent my dowry.
I then received the £25,000 (HK$327,000) L'Oreal Professional Young Designer Award for my degree show in 2010, which, together with a bursary from Lane Crawford, paid my MA tuition when Louise Wilson asked me to go back and study. I like being a designer, but fashion is just a starting point. I am interested in art and design, and would like to incorporate other aspects of lifestyle, interiors and sculpture in my work one day."
As told to Francesca Fearon