IRENE SJ YU
The Central Saint Martins alumna Irene Shuang Ju Yu founded her womenswear label IRENE SJ YU in 2015.
The Taiwanese designer's work has appeared in prominent titles such as Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, and Tatler.
I touch upon Taiwan's changing sociopolitical landscape and dissect the work of Irene and her creative partner Yuro Huang who produced the installation for Irene SJ Yu's S/S18 presentation in Soho's Icetank.
Interview & words: Rebecca U @bec_u
Photography: Marc Abe @marc_abe
IRENE SJ YU
Contrasts of patterns, textures and bright colours collaborating with combinations of unexpected fabrics is your signature style;
does this aesthetic reflect on your own identity formation while you were studying abroad?
My environment influences my work consciously and unconsciously; being in London gave me the opportunity to engage with people from different cultures;
from school to the nightclubs, I was inspired by London while looking back on my own culture as well.
Those years in London have definitely shaped who I am, and as a result, the mixture of influences shows in my work through the fabrics, shapes, and
Your debut collection features reworked office wear fused with fun, 90's-Esque designs that were modeled by self-assured female individuals—female
power is a recurring strength throughout your collections; connecting this with Tsai Ing-wen becoming Taiwan's first female president, do you think
Taiwan has a certain strength that has been generated from the country's past struggles?
For years, the Taiwanese people had fought for their rights which accomplished the democratic status we have now of freedom and tolerance; however, it is
not 100% equal in all aspects yet; for example, the traditional perception of females still exists, like how much skin a woman should reveal, so in a fun way, I
tried to challenge this ideology through my work.
Has gender equality improved since Tsai Ing-wen became president?
Is she someone that influences your work?
I don't think that Tsai Ing-wen has a direct influence on my work but I believe that being in a place where a strong female figure is in the highest
political position in Taiwan means something to me.
Gender equality is improving for sure, not just for women but also for LGBT groups as Taiwan is set
to become the first Asian country to legalise same-sex marriage.
Who are some strong female individuals or groups that have influenced your label?
Female artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Karla Black, and manga artist
Naoko Takeuchi who is the author of Sailor Moon and musicians like Rihanna.
They are all powerful in different ways to me and I admire their work.
The models wore your collection as if the clothes were from their own
What's your take on street casting and using popular digitally-connected
Did you take into account the models background, values, and personality
Well, not 100%, to me, everything goes together like visuals, regarding the process,
I consulted with Toni who was the casting director and I followed my instincts on who to choose.
We had diversity in mind while we were searching for models who have interesting figures; some of them came from street casting and some others came
from Instagram because I loved how they presented
themselves on the internet. They were either friends of mine or from agencies. I think every woman has their own character and it's always quite exciting to
see how the garments look on each model.
Your work merges styles and designs from various subcultures and archetypes.
Does this communicate your ideal world where mainstream groups and
social tribes collaborate and/or fuse?
I think we are heading into a decade where everything will be merged together in some
way, probably in a more digital manner. We get to see what other people are doing so we are easily influenced, ideas are being exchanged faster than ever.
Collaboration between groups and individuals is necessary in my opinion, I say, be inspired and inspire others.
‘Play' is an element in your label.
How is ‘play' defined in relation to Irene SJ YU?
Garments are made for wearing. I wish to make playful garments for people
to wear and to have fun in them, nothing too serious, just being sexy and enjoying your time.
Did you have a mentor who encouraged your talent?
What were some invaluable things that were shared with you?
There was no specific person that guided me but I found the people around me gave me the most support; friends and family; also the people who love my
work, I get messages from people saying how they find my work inspiring,
it means a lot to me, these kinds of things encourage me to keep working.
Taiwanese artist Yuro Huang worked on your debut presentation as an
installation artist; besides being a close friend of yours, he also seems to
have a close connection with your label, acting as a photographer and collaborator on graphics.
How did you guys come to meet each other?
We first met each other when we were both studying in London, I was
impressed by his work and we started to work together on some projects.
We became really close friends through sharing our thoughts on
various subjects. I think it has always been a great experience working
together, as he knows me well and there is no barrier between us.
I can trust him completely and I trust his vision as well, I can really let him do what he thinks is best.
Tell me about your research and methods involved in your work for Irene SJ YU's S/S18 presentation?
Irene and I have opposite perspectives on the perseverance of gathering materials and thoughts—working with her was challenging;
Irene involves wild, artificial aesthetics and fiction into her creations,
there is no doubt that her work has inspired me since our time studying together in London.
I tried to explore the concepts of female sexual objectification, combining it with ideas of artworks that have been turned into trash, and then recreated into a
piece of artwork again.
The installation I created consists of artificial flowers, trees, things from the chain stores or pound shops, and discarded goods I've collected from street
I wanted to highlight the ideas of overproduction through the setting of my selected materials and structure—allowing the audience to experience six different
stages of a micro-society.
You worked with Amy Chang on Irene SJ YU's logo, can you break down the process and share the meaning of it?
Irene is an imaginative artist with an explosive force; I view her as a female shaman, transforming herself with her magic.
Amy Chang and I worked together to capture Irene's transfiguration as an image. The logo is a personification of Irene's third-person which also reflects on
her religious leanings.
Your personal work relays a serious stillness which contradicts Irene SJ YU's image.
What made you interested to join her label?
Would you like to do more work in this kind of territory? If so, what kind of work would you like to do or continue doing?
Irene and I are extremely different, so it's always a surprise when we are able to find a balance in our work relationship and friendship.
Her work is bold and wild, while my work focuses on the noiseless and pensive mood of a restless environment.
In some way, her work has helped me release my repression.
Your diverse creative background demonstrates that you can confidently apply your skills and vision to various formats and contexts.
What creative role did you hold first?
Aesthetics is the foundation of my educational background, to define my first creative role sounds a little abstract to me, in my opinion, as long as I can
express my ideas, there is no restriction on the formats and
contexts. I'm open to any kind of technique which helps in sending my message.
Do you switch mindsets when you are working on fashion orientated productions?
Yes, there is no doubt that it is quite different from my usual practice. I respect the ideas of the person I'm collaborating with, and normally, I evaluate the
ideas first and project my own perspective onto the idea to
transform the concept to fit our vision.
This kind of collaboration is very exciting to me because it is a kind of 'perceptual infiltration'; it gives me a whole new understanding of perception and
observation. In order for me to work in the fashion industry,
'stage' and 'participation' is vital to our concepts; this has a huge impact on the final presentation.
To bring awareness to what you're directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, helps in breaking down
your conditioned responses, halting your auto-pilot mode so you
can truly see and feel what's really going on.
Your work seems to mainly cover spatial art and documentation of a changing
environment and its people.
Would you agree that your work promotes the practice of mindfulness?
I always think of my work as an intermediary. It embodies my personal feelings, thoughts, and reflections; to a certain extent, part of my body has been
transformed into another physical state. ‘Hybrid'—combining various elements is central to my ideology. It is hard for us to define a certain object, space,
phenomenon or feeling because they are integrating fluid
changes, you can still decode a futuristic message through the 'hybrid' occurrences in our daily lives.
The experience that is never experienced, I believe that physical
structures and our mental flow can reach a certain frequency, it is constantly happening
in daily lives, waiting for us to understand its message.
Do you find mindfulness to be second nature to you when you are working on your art projects?
It has always been my natural way of understanding, but I have to learn to use it
effectively. Sometimes, I get involved in dangerous situations which bring
darkness and distractions into my life.