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Shao Yen is a London based Womenswear designer from Yilan, Taiwan. He started his own label after graduating from Central Saint Martin’s, MA Fashion Knitwear in 2010. Shao Yen also featured in Nicole Formichetti Pop Up show in New York in September  2011 and has created a specially made dress for Icelandic singer Björk.

Volt Café: When did you realise that you wanted to become a fashion designer?
Shao Yen: I became interested in fashion design when I was in high school. I studied Art and Design and majored in Jewellery Design. I was really inspired by Japanese designers like Rei Kawakubo and Issey Miyake at the time. But I didn’t actually study and work in fashion until I came to London. The experience I had here made me realise this is what I really want to do.

VC: Whilst studying at Central Saint Martin’s you worked at both Alexander McQueen and Hussein Chalayan. How do the experiences differ from one another?
SY: Both are very important experiences to me. I started working part-time at Alexander McQueen’s textile department, where people always come and go. It was fascinating for me to see how many people and time was involved to create these amazing pieces and shows. Hussein Chalayan’s team was much smaller but I had more opportunities to work with the team closely. I worked full-time there for two seasons and gained a better understanding of how a company worked and the preparation that goes into the shows. It also gave me more confidence and made me realise what I really wanted to do.

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VC: How would you describe your latest A/W 14 collection, ‘Ripple’?
SY: It’s inspired by the variable quality of water. Water can be pure but also mysterious and dangerous. This collection looks at the dark side of water. The silhouettes are much more feminine and softer than my last season, for water has no permanent shapes. In comparison, the colours and materials are relatively heavy, bringing more volume to the collection.

VC: Where do you get your inspiration from and what things have inspired you in your previous collections?
SY: Nature and people are always my biggest inspirations. I enjoy walking and observing the surroundings. I also like to do a lot of book research and go to exhibitions or performances. To be able to feel something live is very important to me.

VC: How did growing up in Yilan, Taiwan motivate you creatively?
SY: Yilan, is famous for natural scenery so I had many chances to embrace the nature with my family. My mother is a florist and art lover. Besides taking us to exhibitions and performances, she encouraged us to find and work on our own interests. Both of my sisters are dancers. It has definitely influenced my creativity and love for art and nature.

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VC: Can you take us through your design and production process?
SY: I usually spend a lot of time doing research. Besides researching from books, I like to go to flea or antique markets. Knowing the history and story of the objects or clothes really inspires me. I also do a lot of research on materials. It’s really the key to my work. After finding a few directions, I’ll start doing experiments on fabrics and patterns. And then it’s the never-ending toiling and fitting. And during the process, I will find out a more specific direction and theme.

VC: How would you describe your designs to someone who just discovered your collections for the first time?
SY: My work is about structure, texture and playfulness.

VC: Do you have anyone in mind when you are designing?
SY: I didn’t. But I am more and more aware of this now. It helps me visualise my design.

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VC: You recently did a collaboration with filmmaker Penny Tu where you created a fashion film (featured in show studios new fashion film series). Can you tell us a little bit more about this?
SY: I have been working with Penny for many of my collection videos. We have developed a great understanding and trust between us. So when she asked me to help create a few pieces for this film project, of course I said yes. She has a great vision and we wanted to express the punk spirit in an ideological way. I think flowers and plants can represent this strong yet fragile resistant spirit. I really had fun working on this and I am pleased with the result.

VC: Who else would you like to collaborate within in the future?
SY: I’ve always really wanted to work with dance companies. Choreographer like Sasha Waltz, Akram Khan and Pina Bausch, who passed away a few years ago, are always inspirational to me. I’d really like to work on film projects, too. I think it’ll be a great and exciting challenge for me.

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VC: What advice would you like to give young fashion design students currently at university?
SY: Be motivated and make full use of the resources your school and teachers can offer. You might not have access to these once you have left school. Doing internships is also crucial. It’ll help you understand many important things besides designing.

VC: Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
SY: I hope I can keep creating projects and my label can make stable progress season by season.

Words by Hannah Sweeney

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