YANG LI & SAMIZDAT
Buried deep in the archives of Yang Li’s eclectic Instagram is a photo of a Genesis P-Orridge etching that reads “there is no reason on earth why you should run out of people to be so destroy the expected.” This quote – broad, rebellious, invigorating, inspirational – calls its viewer to action, to reject the banal and assert their individuality against the friction of the world. But most importantly, these words also call for reimagining oneself within an existing structure, and to use previous states of being as an axis for creativity and the future self. This quote is a simple, succinct articulation of the guiding principles behind Yang Li’s designs.
The Chinese born and Australian raised Yang Li had a meteoric rise to prominence in the fashion world, interning at Raf Simons and leaving Central Saint Martins prematurely before launching his eponymous label at Paris Fashion Week at the age of 24. Conceptually and aesthetically, Yang Li is chiefly influenced by the 1990s minimalism. He draws heavily on mid 90’s Helmut Lang-esque precise silhouettes and lines, along with the elongated garments and technical fabrics that characterized the era. Yang Li offers his own unique perspective on these principles, frequently employing his couture inspired craftsmanship techniques of double face-construction as well raw seam edges on his garments. While Yang Li’s production values and choice of factories are of a premium grade in accordance with the standards of a luxury garment line, he chooses to work directly with the Chinese fabrication company KTC instead of either Mackintosh or Gore-Tex. By reaching beyond traditional intermediaries as a way to remain true to his origins while still presenting a top-grade product, Yang Li circumvents the predictability of conventional fashion production cycles.
Yang Li reimagines many of the tropes of contemporary fashion, drawing from fashions historical obsession with youth subculture, but without drifting into the nostalgic. While certainly dabbling with the avant-garde, Yang Li works within the structure that the couture and high-fashion landscape has laid out for him, as he seeks to stimulate but not revile his audiences. At the heart of Yang Li’s garments is the philosophy of their designer, someone who has knowledge of the context in which his clothes are born in, and how a vision for both the past and present must inform his work in a provocative way. It is hard to place Yang Li’s designs in a temporal framework, because they occupy so many different elements of the past, present, and future.
Yang Li’s instagram is one of the best in the fashion industry, achieving notoriety on par with the likes of Alessandro Michele. In the reality of the pervasive technological apparatus that has cast an all-encompassing shadow over self-expression, Instagram is one of the best windows into a public designer’s consciousness. Li’s instagram reflects an obsession with the gilded and ephemeral aspects of 21st-century society and culture, an obsession with what is lasting and what is transient and how to parse out the difference between the two. The images Yang Li shares suggest a desire to reclaim and repurpose the ubiquitous symbols of late-stage capitalism, staging a rebellion through transcendence achieved through art and alternative forms of presentation. The nuances of Li’s instagram are endlessly thought-provoking, and they show the deep sophistication of his work.
This desire for transcendence from the trappings of 21st-century modernity is reflected in Yang Li’s passion and nearly encyclopedic knowledge of music, especially the industrial sound genre. Music, in Yang Li’s eyes, is one of the last windows into a communal experience that technology has now denied in other forms of artistic expression. Music, in addition to the club culture that accompanies it, offers a door to reaching beyond the superficiality and hyper-individuality of the now.
Of this infatuation with musical transcendence, Yang Li’s diffusion line SAMIZDAT was born. Samizdat originates from the Russian word ‘samizdat,’ translating into ‘self-publish,’ and is used in the Russian lexicon to refer to the clandestine publication of banned literature, music, and art. The DIY nature and spirit of Samizdat against the landscape of contemporary fashion is even imbued in its name. Samizdat is a fictional musical group Li has created to sell merchandise for, described as a minimalist, dark electronic noise collective exploring the dark, unconscious recesses of the sexual imagination. While Samizdat may be fictional, they collaborate with real musicians and artists and constantly tweak expectations by releasing bizarre branded lifestyle merchandise and new products on a randomly orchestrated schedule. Samizdat resists imposing a preordained aesthetic or brand identity that real music merchandise carries with it. Instead, he lets the consumer fill the vacuum with their own meaning, tacitly encouraging and forcing creativity in the wearer of the garments. Band and musical iconography is another fashion trope that Li reimagines, and through Samizdat the consumer experiences band semiotics without being expressly tethered to the traditional constraints of the systems of fashion. Yang Li very consciously taps into the transcendence at work in the musical medium and superimposes them at an aesthetic level.
One in a litany of Yang Li’s revered references is the acclaimed American post-modernist author, WS Burroughs. His quotes appear on Samizdat’s garments, as well as on their pins, patches and branding for the upcoming season. Simultaneously loved and hated, Burroughs relentlessly pushed convention, forged new artistic ground, and flagged controversy in the literary world – he was the kind of author that whether you loved his work or hated it, you had a strong opinion on it. While remembered for his major successes, Burroughs also encountered a tremendous amount of criticism levied at his unrefined, bombastic writing. His career, in many ways, reflects Yang Li’s. After all, Li stresses that “if something is so perfect, it almost becomes emotionless.”
text: Aaron Gray
photos: Yang Li and Samizdat Websites
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