PORTRAIT OF: ALYSÉE YIN CHEN
Alysée Yin Chen is a Taiwanese fashion designer based between Paris and Figeac, France. By integrating art to fashion, her brand's approach is often described as luxe expérimental. At the core of her designs is the idea of modern femininity evoked through the use of delicate patterns and elements inspired by natural forms and landscapes. We talked to her about her roots and her work.
Alysée, when you were a child, how did you imagine your future?
I was one of those kids who was interested in quite a lot of things but never an expert in any, so I have neither had a clear dream nor a goal. The future for me was only a vague idea of being “free”, an independent adventure far away from the authority.
Happiest childhood memory?
Directing and producing a silly play with friends at school. We created a huge drawing on a cardboard for the scenery. On one side there was the façade of a castle, on the other side the interior staircase. We all thought that was a brilliant piece of work. We were 11.
How did you figure out that you want to leave your home country Taiwan?
It all started during my rebellion era. I really had too much aversion against the school system in Taiwan. Kids at the age of 13-18 have only been put to “study”, and I truly find it horrifying that both educators and parents just subconsciously teach kids to be competitive instead of appreciating life and trusting. This is not how I picture myself. I really dislike competition but at the same time it is the only motivation that drives you to face all the tests and exams at school. There were just too many.
Do you feel like a foreigner in France, like a stranger in Taiwan? Where do you really feel at home?
I think all kinds of immigrants have this complex and mental doubt in them but people rarely discuss it because it is a sign of complaining or showing weakness. Moving to another place is a complicated process for one's mind. It is not just about about economics, life quality, or politics. The idea of home remains in one's memories and habits. It is very exhausting to be in between cultures all the time, not to mention it gets so much more complicated these days. Our generation no longer has time for waiting. We are constantly on the move and exposed to information. That makes our psychological state impatient and quite lonely as well. In order to get away from that cycle, I moved to my boyfriend’s birth town in South West France after 5 years of living in Paris. Being close to nature and having my own personal space in a smaller city made it a sanctuary for me after always feeling like an outsider.
What made you become interested in fashion in the first place?
When I was still in New York for university, I took a summer course in fashion design by curiosity and ended up deciding that I will not return to my business major at school. So I dropped out and went back home to Taipei for 6 months to search for fashion schools. The whole decision to come to Paris and learn fashion was a very spontaneous process at the start. That combination could have been something else if the timing was not right.
Where did you take your inspiration for your new collection?
Spring time, rain smell, my boyfriend’s garden, Monet, the beautiful textiles my suppliers created, Pina Bausch and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker.
Does your cultural heritage impact your designs?
I am not very sure if it does; but it probably did in a sense that growing up in Taiwan in my generation meant that you have to go search and figure out by yourself what is going on in the world and try to take that as piece of your own. Mainly what I experienced as a kid at home and during travels had the biggest impact on my work. The more I design, the more I realize I am seeking my childhood.
What role does fashion play in Taiwan?
I left Taiwan a long time ago and have never worked there, so I cannot speak for now. However, before I came to Paris, I had the impression that fashion in Taiwan is based on the concept of uniforms. Not the kind of uniform influenced by Soviet style that is trendy nowadays in the Western fashion world, but rather the invisible uniforms that label social groups. People dress themselves according to the particular groups' style codes. There is no in between, no deviation. I really think that a lot of people judge certain kinds of clothes. They really represent social labelling. However, it can be explained from an economical point of view since consumption is connected with the minimum wage and working conditions as well. A lot of people do not earn enough for a living, so the fashion scene in both commerce or creation are less strong as a result. Sociologically speaking, fashion in Taiwan to me is still a product related to classism.
What does the following mean to your work?
The idea of being comfortable and accept womenswear designs simply arises out of this thinking process in which each pattern is originally designed and pinned on a woman’s figure. A garment should be thoughtfully made to neither force nor hide the lines on a woman's body. The clothes should complement you individually instead of making you reject who you are.
The idea of romanticism is basically a continuation of the idea above. I see negative spaces, volume, a drape here and there on the neckline or right on the bust of a woman’s figure. For me, that is the poetry of making clothes; and it is romantic to think that your body can just interact with a color or a form to tell a story.
Like I mentioned earlier, as a designer I feel that the more I design and create, the more I seek pieces of memory down in my brain. I think it is sharing a story of the clothes maker and customer sometimes. Like, when our mothers used to cook soup with ginger, you pass along the ginger flavour when you cook for others.
What was the strangest compliment you have ever got?
“You speak good French!”
What question would you like to know the answer to?
Is it a partial time travel by our brain molecule each time I think of a memory?