My opinion of Yang Li keeps changing, even within the same collection. On one hand, this is the kid (he’s only 26) who dropped out of design school in a huff because they pushed him to be more creative rather than constantly borrowing from Raf Simons and Helmut Lang. At the same time, however, he has bucked the odds, created his own look (admittedly influenced by Simons and Lang), and built a name for himself that is beginning to generate some respect. What he did last spring with a leather-heavy collection was pretty damned impressive and there are parts of this season’s collection that continue that trend toward potential greatness.
Where Li is at his best this season is in the unconventional ways he drapes and layers chiffon not only on top but through, under, and around traditional silhouettes. These very thoughtful, carefully placed and well styled executions are fresh and sometimes even dramatic. A sheer tunic layered over a printed t-shirt under a suit jacket on a men’s look defies gender expectations and crosses boundaries in some very good ways. An early piece that has tan chiffon over and then trailing a pleated skirt is nothing short of elegant in its own contemporary way. There are several looks that has one wanting to stand up and shout, “Bravo!” at the top of their lungs.
Unfortunately, there are also those moments where one might get the impression that Li was just phoning in his design ideas for the day, making only half-hearted attempts because he needed more looks to fill up the collection. This is most noticeable in pieces such as a sheer white blouse over a white t-shirt with the word “BORED” emblazoned across it, paired with a hideously full and strappy black skirt. These are the times when, instead of opting for careful styling, Li just seems to slap one material over another and let it walk. There is an absence of effort that is rather disturbing.
For the most part, this is a very blue collection. There is a touch of taupe, a scattering of dusty rose, and of course some black and white, but it is the blue that is the focus of this collection. He does well contrasting materials such as chiffon and leather and is perhaps at his best when he is working those contrasts against each other. Tossing the leather moto jacket over the full-length chiffon gown was a rebellious act that makes perfect sense given the overall tone of the collection. Treating plaid as though it were a piece of uncommon refinement is a very strong move.
I end up thinking of Yang Li like that Facebook friend who has some really great qualities and can be really fun and exciting when they’re with you, but they have to manufacture some form of angst to give them some reason to complain. Li starts out with some really strong, creative, and fresh ideas and scatters them heavily throughout this collection, but then counters that brilliance with moments where all one can do is shake their head. At this point, I’m willing to give Li the benefit of the doubt and chalk all the unnecessary sloppiness up to his youth. There is a wonderful designer lurking in there. We just have to wait for him to finish growing up.
Photo credit: Guillame Roujas