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GFW19: Meet Chun-yin Chan and his poetic collection of 'solid memories'

16th June 2019

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We met the Manchester School of Art Fashion Design graduate taking us on a journey to discover  identity through his denim collection.

Image credit: Camille Dupont

Chun-yin Chan grew up between Hong Kong, where his mother lives, and the UK, where his father is – and where he now studies. He tells us how he felt when he moved here: “When I moved to Yorkshire, I missed my family, my mum, my grandma, my friends and things I loved and was used to.

“They are very different places; the shops, the food, the habits are different,” he continues.

So he decided to wear these memories, literally, by creating a collection based on the “things” that reminded him of what he could not see or feel anymore, from his home.

When taking me through this process, he suddenly turns his head, looks at the wall next to us, stops for a second, and puts his right hand on it: “I wanted my clothes to be like a wall where posters have been stuck on then taken off, or have other posters added over it and people writing messages on it… that’s what my collection is about: what was there, that you can’t really see anymore but that you can feel with your hand.”

 Image credit: Camille Dupont

Textile application as a technique to bring memories to life

He worked on what he calls his “solid memories” by reconstituting boxes of used metro and train tickets, pieces of paper or plastic, magazine covers, newspapers, posters and more to create a unique visual texture - a patchwork of his memories.  

After our chat in the media hub, Chun-yin takes me to his stand to touch the materials. “What does it feel like to you?” he asks. It feels like so many things; an old plaster wall, a plastic bag, a newspaper. Chun-yin created fabrics that transport you, not only by what you can see but by touch. He plays with the different techniques to glue the different elements and give these various textures.

This handmade fabric is based on the reuse of garments, mainly denim. He plays with the contrast of the “western and eastern memories”, as he puts it.  

Choosing denim is also his way of “creating Asian cowboys” that remind him of the old westerns he used to watch with his dad. These are emotional memories for him and the feelings morph into his designs and shape them.

 Image credit: Camille Dupont

Klein, Huan and laundry bags

The colours of Chun-yin’s work take from two very evocative sources.

First, on some of the designs we can recognise the iconic red-white-blue bags that originated in Hong Kong in the 1960s. The designer explains with a massive smile: “Everyone uses them. They’re everywhere in the city. And all my family uses them.”

Image credit:  紅白藍膠袋 via Wikimedia

But again, the colours aren’t just a product of Chun-yin’s previous Hong Kong life; it is the marriage of the two cultures. His western influence in the choice of such prominent blue is due to his discovery of the revolutionary post-war artist Yves Kein and his unique International Klein Blue. And it works perfectly for this collection. As Klaus Ottmann, director of the Phillips Collection in Washington DC, said: “Klein used colour as an instrument of revelation and a gateway to the soul... Since ancient times, the colour blue has been associated with wisdom, moral philosophy and truth.”

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Family tree by Zhang Huan #ZhangHuan

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This blue-themed denim collection is enriched by Chinese words, names and sentences painted on the garments. This time, the inspiration came from Chinese artist Zhang Huan and his performance piece, Family Tree (2001), documented in nine photographs. He painted his faces with meaningful words, names and stories that reminded him of his Chinese heritage.

In the end, at the core of this collection, it’s not just memories but the notion of identity that Chun-yin explores with these modern, experimental denim silhouettes.

The intuitive designer seems to have managed to give an incredibly powerful statement: this is who I am; artist, designer, Chinese and British. And I won’t choose between any of these labels.

Follow Chun-yin Chan on @bluelilyy

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