Christina Yu Shin-yee

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 April, 2005, 12:00am

Meet the region's leading fashion designers

Hong Kong-born Christina Yu Shin-yee always loved fashion, although she spent most of her career working as a lawyer. She moved to Vietnam in 1995 and was inspired by the traditional craftsmanship of the country, which she hoped to use for her own fashion line.

After a brief stint as a designer for local brands G.O.D. and Shanghai Tang, she launched her own label, Ipa-Nima, in 1997. It was the first fashion brand to offer high quality, originally designed handbags, scarves and shoes from Vietnam.

Yu says she designs for the modern woman who dares to be different. Her clients include the likes of Hillary Rodham-Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea, Jamie Lee Curtis, Bai Ling, Yasmin Le Bon, Michelle Yeoh, Cate Blanchett, Maggie Cheung and Faye Wong.

When did you launch your label? I launched Ipa-Nima in Hanoi in 1997 after exhibiting at an arts and crafts fair in 1996. The response was great. Everyone told me to export, which I did.

Have you always wanted to be a designer? My rational part told me I should be a lawyer, but my subconscious told me to get into fashion. I applied for a textile design course at the same time I applied for my law degree. I thought it would be good to have a professional degree as a background.

How did you set up the label? I opened a shop in Hanoi. The development was a lot faster than I anticipated. Just by word of mouth, we had people knocking on our door, wanting to be our distributor.

Do you have a production team?

I have about 70 employees, including people who do my samples. I do most of the design work with one assistant, and I have a production team that deals with the shipping and liaises with local suppliers. I have my own quality control, packing, accounting and graphic design team. Two managers deal with US and European distribution.

How many lines are there? We have two brands. Ipa-Nima is catered to eccentric yet stylish women between 25 and 45. Tina Sparkle is aimed at girls from 16 to 25 who are hip trendsetters. We produce two collections a year, and we feature a cruise and a holiday resort collection in between. We also have diffusion lines for other brands that commission us. I also design shoes and costume jewellery, a small range of interior products and garments for private labels.

What inspires you? Travelling, friends, people around me, materials I can touch, great pictures. So many things can inspire me. I think designers are like sponges. You need to have different stimuli. After you've digested them, you turn them into a concept.

What does your next collection look like? My autumn/winter collection is called Tainted Love. It's dedicated to my mother, who passed away in March last year. The collection includes a soft nappa leather day V bag with a ribbon ruffled heart, a wool felt day bag with embroidered roses, a tapestry travel series with reversible tote, a black wool felt tote with an imperial eagle and disco-like metallic leather bags.

Where are your designs available? In Hong Kong, my designs are available at the Swank, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Running Bare, Rush, Ellespa and a few private clubs. I sell my collections in Australia, New Zealand, the US, Europe and Asia.

What are your plans? My plan is to take Ipa-Nima to a different level, to have a fuller and a more comprehensive range of merchandise under both labels. At the moment, we're still focused on handbags. I also want to have my own Ipa-Nima outlets in at least 10 major cities.

What's your motto? Live life to the fullest. Be true to your own vision and work on it.