Meet talented fourth year RMIT fashion design student Debbie Yann.
Born and bred in Melbourne town, a beach goer and a love for all extreme sports such as skiing, hiking and wake boarding! She is not only fond of fashion design, but as well a passion for other artistic creations being photography and watercolour painting.
During VAMFF 2015 I wore one of Debbie's show stoping pieces. The detail and amount of hours put into the feathered creation paid off, as it had people stopping in their tracks.
Debbie gives an in depth insight about what's it like being a fashion student!
You’re currently a fourth and final year design student at RMIT,
Tell us about what you’ve felt you’ve learnt since studying your achievements
Well on a technical level, pretty much everything! I came into fashion design without any real background in fashion. I’d made a couple of quicksew dresses growing up (you know, the patterns you can buy from spotlight?), but my design experience had been in graphic design and art during high school. I still remember going into my first patternmaking class in 1st year not knowing what ‘patternmaking’ was. I was expecting graphic designs for print patterns or something! We spent the class being walked through drafting up a skirt block, and it wasn’t until the end when the teacher told us we’d be sewing the toile of it the next day that I actually realised what the hell we were doing!
I’ve come a long way since then, both technically and mentally. My years of study have given me a really broad body of knowledge of fashion design. They teach us all the fundamentals of patternmaking and textiles, as well as fashion history and a business course related to the fashion industry. But I think one of the most important things you learn is an approach to fashion design. They give you the space and mentoring needed to develop a fashion practice, and a way of thinking about design so that you can use fashion design as a means of communication to convey complex concepts or statements about society or culture.
How did you come up with the idea for your current collection/ project?
Currently, my 4th year work is interrogating processes of cultural appropriation and exploitation. I’m focusing particularly on capitalist consumer culture’s tendency to ‘exotify’ and idealise ‘primitive cultures’, and the way in which it commodifies the cultural material of such ‘primitive’ cultures. There’s a lot of sensitive issues in there, and a long history of Colonial forces appropriating cultural material, that often has strong symbolic meaning to the native culture, for its own capitalist interests. My interest in this area comes from a couple of angles: first, my own background interest in sociology and anthropology, and the academic theories about the various processes going on in this topic. I’m also fascinated by the ‘primal’ decorative techniques, and was interested in investigating working with hand embellishment techniques.
I wanted to combine my own respect for the beauty of the work of these ‘primitive’ cultures with an interrogation of the appropriation processes that such cultures are often subjected to. We’ve all seen the shocking abuses of such cultural material of late, what with the rise of the ‘Cochella Navaho’, and the insensitive appropriations from designers such as Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel in the Dallas Cowboys and Indians collection a couple seasons back, or some of the looks H&M brought out a little while back. I wanted to interrogate the issue, and look at ways of using the traditional techniques of these ‘primitive cultures’ to make a statement about the insensitive ways that western capitalist culture appropriates and commodifies cultural material.
What is the process about your current project?
My work involves a lot of research, and a lot of handwork at the moment. I’m going through a lot of sociological readings related to Colonialism and Eurocentric treatments of ‘primitive cultures’, as well as carefully researching the cultures being affected by appropriation and the traditional values and meanings of their cultural material. I then draw on this research to investigate ways of taking that ‘inspiration’ from primitive decoration/dress and putting it through a process of western appropriation, so that original meanings are torqued and stripped, and the end result is a blatantly exotified version of the original. I use the hands-on techniques of the original artisans, but the pieces I’m creating are meant to be hyper-styled versions of the original inspiration pieces/cultures, which homogenise that culture’s aesthetic markers and create an aesthetic that fits with western propriety. That’s where the hyper-colour dyed elements, and metallic finishes and such start to come in.
And how do you source the right leather and feathers for this process?
All of my feathers I buy online, because I haven’t really found any brick-and-mortar retailers of feathers (plus, they’re expensive, so online wholesalers are the way to go). There’s a great U.S. based site called ‘Moonlight Feathers’ that has heaps of really beautiful exotic feathers (I got some stunning – cruelty-free – Macaw feathers from them the other week). I also use Feathers.com (based in NSW). They’re whom I got all the Emu feathers for the first piece for my 4th year collection from.
As for leather, I generally go to Lefflers Leather over in West Melbourne. It’s a fantastic warehouse full of hundreds of different types of leather, tanned in a massive variety of colours and finishes. Plus they’re got every leatherworking accessory you’ll need.
What’s your favorite fashion design technique to work with?
When I’m designing, I begin with selecting a fabric, and then I’m all about draping on the stand. I find designing in 3D makes the most sense, not to mention draping allows you opportunity for beautiful accidents or surprises. You can be pinning something up, and an unexpected drape in the fabric appears that becomes a new focus point within the design.
Most difficult thing to have to learn in fashion design?
Gerber. Hate it! Gerber is the CAD patternmaking program that we had to do a few courses in. I am not the most tech-savvy person when it comes to PCs. Adobe creative suite, I can do, but after converting to Apple products during high school, I am only really Mac-literate! I can see the benefits of the Gerber program – quicker patternmaking, and way easier to grade pattern in it… but I think I’ll leave that side of fashion design to somebody else!
Also do you have any side projects at the moment?
Well, alongside my studies, I’ve got my own little studio label going, called ‘jnipr’. It’s small and I guess sits somewhere between streetwear and demi-couture. I do it just as a kooky little creative outlet, where I can make things without needing to feel fettered by folio requirements or design briefs. I showed a small capsule collection for jnipr in December last year at the First Kiss event that you covered, which was really fun, but a lot of work! Semester had just finished, and there was a bit over a month until the event. So I made a (somewhat ambitious) decision to put together a new capsule collection for it. Four outfits, 2 tailored jackets, hand-finished cut-out patterns, and lots of feathers and sequins… and no social life for that month! But it was worth it in the end. The collection is up on jnipr’s website now (https://jnipr.squarespace.com). Since then, I’ve been doing a lot of hand work with feathers and leather, and I keep an instagram account of behind the scenes studio progress.
Anyone you aspire or look up to in the design industry?
There’s a (not entirely) small list… I suppose the big three designers that I look up to are Alexander McQueen, Christian Dior, and Madeleine Vionnet.
McQueen, for his vividly creative collections and ground-breaking approach to producing a fashion show. Something in his design aesthetic and the conceptual depth to his collections really resonates with me, and the fashion industry is surely missing something since his sad departure.
Christian Dior, for the majesty and wonder that he managed to re-infuse the fashion world with post-war, as he helped to usher in the golden age of couture. The label, Dior, I think still has much of that same spirit of majesty in its haute couture design. I just recently saw the film, ‘Dior and I’, about Raf Simon’s first collection as new creative director at Dior a couple of seasons back, and the whole world of couture just captivates me. It’s a fantastic film, not only because I think Raf is incredible, but it shows so much of what happens in the atelier, and gives proper credit to the workers producing the collection behind the scenes.
And, lastly, Vionnet… Such an inspiration for her genius in pattern cutting (though little known in mainstream circles, she’s pretty much credited as the best dressmaker in the history of fashion – she invented the bias cut, for god’s sake!) Furthermore, she was a bit of a revolutionary, and promoted the rights of her workers. I think that the fashion industry is going a bit of a sad way at the moment, with far too much exploitation of underprivileged workers, as well as far too much waste and excessive product being produced. If more minds like Vionnet were influencing fashion, then the industry would be steered in a far more promising direction.
The emu ruff is inspired by the feathered headdresses (enkuraru) of the Massai warriors of Kenya. It is meant to play with themes of Colonialism and homogenisation and insensitive appropriation of cultural material.
This is still a work in progress, so please note that this is just a preview of the body of work.
And what keeps you motivated through out your studying as we all know fashion design can be quiet difficult at times! What keeps you in there?
A lot of the time, stubbornness! There’s always those times when everything piles up, and you know that the only way through it is going to be no social life and a late night (or all-nighter) every night trying to get through the workload (and even then you might not get it all done). I’m sure everybody else studying the course will agree that sometimes it’s absolute hell-and-breakdowns on level 10. But you’ve sort of got to go through all of that to get to the end, and it’s always worth it at the end. Having your pieces come together, and getting to stand back and look at your finished body of work is a feeling of pride matched by little else. You’ve just got to be stubborn enough to not give up when you’re drowning in assignments!
Favorite part about being a designer ?
I get a rush from making things. The ability to dream something up, and then be able to creative a physical reality of that imagined design that you can hold in your hands. I just really like the hands-on part of fashion design. I find I can pass entire days working away at a project in my studio, totally enthralled by the process of making something.
Advice to anyone wanting to study your course?
It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s been the best years of my life. It’ a pretty all-consuming course, so you need to be ready to make sacrifices, but in the end you come out knowing a lot more about who you are and what you’re capable of.
couple quickie random fun questions!
It’s hard to go past a good wool. But I’m a fabricphile in general, so my favourite fabric is always “this amazing such-and-such that I found last week!”
If I didn’t study fashion I’d be studying…
I actually did a year of study at Melbourne Uni before coming to study fashion at RMIT. I did subjects in sociology, anthropology and creative writing. These are things that I’m still really interested in, and which do feed into a lot of the concept development for my work in fashion design (sociological theory surrounding identity, and anthropological analysis of social practices especially).
Mexio or Spain
Spain. Right now I’m being run sort of ragged by my workload for 4th year, so tapas and siestas sounds like it would be a dream escape!
Pizza or Pasta
If you could have one magical super power what would it be?
Tricky one… I’ve always thought that it’d be awesome to be able to fly. Though time manipulation would come in super handy too, haha!
I never leave the house without my…..
Headphones. Boring as it is, I’m pretty much spending all my time working on my fourth year stuff in my home studio, and only really leaving the house for uni or on supply shopping trips! I have to have my music with me when I’m working, so a good pair of headphones is essential for me to be able to plug into when I get to uni, and get help get me in
Special thanks to Debbie! Good luck in your final year!!! xx