Chi Yu Han’s gender-defying clothing explores the area between masculinity and femininity
As they emerge onto the fashion landscape in the midst of a global pandemic, the new gen of graduates have never had it so hard. With this in mind, 1 Granary launched its Designers To Hire initiative in late 2020, with the intention of spotlighting bright new talents – and most importantly, getting them jobs. As part of a new series created in collaboration with the platform, Dazed will also be putting a selection of these designers forward across the course of the coming months.
It may have been almost four years since it first entered our consciousness, but we still can’t stop thinking about Timothée Chalamet’s iconic peach scene in the 2017 film Call Me By Your Name. Neither, it seems, can Taiwanese designer Chi Yu Han, who paid homage to the infamous moment in his graduate collection. Exploring the intensity and softness in the moment Elio expresses his passion and sexuality, the offering also delves into Han’s memories of digging around his sister’s closet to try on floaty dresses as a child, where he first experienced the joys of gender ambiguity.
The Parsons graduate’s collection, entitled Exploring An In Between Moment, blurs the gap between the aggression of masculinity and fragility of femininity by juxtaposing stereotypically gendered materials. Through combining tailored pieces, shirting, and sports jerseys with colourful floral chiffons and jellyfish-like silhouettes, Han applies intricate techniques of pleating, topstitching, and cutting to, “capture the romance of gender ambiguity.” One look tells the story of tension between a father and his gay son through a blue button-up shirt spliced together with a ruffling blue floral dress and grey trousers, which encapsulates the “disappointment and enormous care,” of the moment, Han noted on Instagram.
CMBYM aside, Hans imagines mythological Greek character Narcissus – who fell in love with his own reflection after being banned from looking at himself – would wear his clothes. While today’s society often centres around self-doubt and comparison, he finds value in moments of self-realisation similar to Narcissus. Otherwise, he tends to keep in mind the “heartbroken” people when designing. “I’ve seen too many great spirits suffering from gender or any other existing society stereotypes,” he notes.
Here, Han talks further about his graduate collection and breaking into the fashion industry in 2021.
What’s your fashion mission?
Chi Yu Han: To empower one’s individuality.
How did you become interested in fashion?
Chi Yu Han: It was a natural encounter. On a normal off-school day when I was 12, I walked into a bookstore. I saw a book called The 100 Most Important Fashion Brands in the World. I didn’t have any idea of what fashion is, but for some reason I got it and I started reading. I didn’t know much when I was 12, but after reading that book I was so sure that this was what I was going to do for my entire life.
Tell me about your approach to fashion?
Chi Yu Han: I think empathy is a very important value as a designer. I’m obsessed with understanding and listening to different life stories from different groups of people. I listen to their voice, try to feel how they feel, and try to capture beautiful moments of their stories and experiences. There are too many tragedies happening every day worldwide, and I think it is also the fashion designer’s responsibility to transform these emotions into designs.
“I think empathy is a very important value as a designer. I’m obsessed with understanding and listening to different life stories from different groups of people. I listen to their voice, try to feel how they feel, and try to capture beautiful moments of their stories and experiences” – Chi Yu Han
Tell me about your collection and your aesthetic – what are you inspired by?
Chi Yu Han: My collection is inspired by my childhood, when I was obsessed with digging into my sister’s closet, dancing around wearing her beautiful floaty dresses. As a child, I didn’t know what a dress represents, nor what masculinity and femininity meant. As a grown-up, I found this “play moment” to be beautiful and naive. I tried to blur the given roles of masculinity and femininity and capture the abstraction with an unselfconscious gender play. I further developed my collection with materiality and a hybrid silhouette system practice. I used different kinds of heavily gendered fabric such as suiting, floral chiffon, sportswear jersey, shirting, and more combined with multiple clothes making principles – pleating, topstitching, and cutting – to create blurred visuals representing an ambiguous, hybrid, equal, non-judgmental vision of how I think gender identity should be.
Do you have any favourite pieces? Why they are important?
Chi Yu Han: My favorite look is the floral mesh white jersey singlet and briefs. I’ve always been attracted to the fragility of masculinity – the contradictory romance of it. This look is inspired by my favourite scene in the movie Call Me By Your Name when Elio released himself in a peach. The director didn’t film it but I found it very beautiful to think that a male genital – which represents something strong and masculine – is inside a peach, which is something thought of as soft, delicate, and fragile. I transform this romance of contradiction into a combination of male undergarments and floral mesh.
Where are your clothes meant to be worn?
Chi Yu Han: This collection is a super high key dress-up collection. The person who’d be wearing the pieces has to be really bold, confident to show their body, comfortable to perform themselves in it. It’s probably going to be a party night, wearing the big skirt trousers overall, ready to be the centre of the dance floor. It would probably have to be a special night to wear the singlet and briefs to just feel sexy. It could be someone’s wedding day to be able to wear the blurred suit look, celebrating this important moment of life with a suit, but not a suit we’re familiar with.
Who would you most like to see wearing your clothes?
Chi Yu Han: Troye Sivan.
How do you want to change fashion?
Chi Yu Han: I genuinely think fashion should slow down. Let’s take more time to enjoy the process of making a simple dress, more time to feel and touch the clothes we already have in our closet rather than buying more and more. Design two or even one well-considered collections instead of rushing out six plus seasons per year.
What song would you pick for your runway show and why?
Chi Yu Han: Philip Glass’ “Etude No. 2” – I love how it is a pure piano song. I love the atmosphere the song creates.
What is the best thing and and the worst thing about working in fashion in 2021?
Chi Yu Han: The best thing is that the pandemic kind of forced the entire fashion industry to slow down and look at its existing problems, and what can be done better or how can we make a better change. The worst part is stepping into the real industry. To be honest, I’m very scared. Sometimes there’s a thought in my brain, “Why me? Why us? Why does it have to be us to step into the industry during this tough time?” But feeling scared is not a bad thing. It keeps me diligent, always trying my best.