Yi Ng, 20, Student & Stylist (London UK)

@norm

http://www.yi-ng.work

Interview by Lindsey Okubo

Can you tell me a little bit about your background? You're in Australia, correct?  I'm in Hawaii and I think the similarities between the two is this whole mess of "beach culture" we find ourselves in.

Yet, the cultures are flip flopped. Hawaii is dominantly Asian and Australia is seemingly very "white". 

How did you find your aesthetic in that whole mess? You seem like a frickin' modern day Rei Kawakubo.

Well I'm studying economics and law and I'm in my second year of university . I moved around quite a bit as a child and lived in Singapore and Hong Kong before Sydney for the past few years for school. I went to a heavily mathematics and science oriented high school, so I never really did anything creative and was quite frustrated as I didn't know where to channel my energy.

 

Wow I would've never guessed, I thought you would've been studying art history or something of that sort! Law sounds really intense?! 

How did all the moving around affect you? How and when did you get started with styling in the mix of all that?

Growing up was quite nice, I would say that my parents are quite 'liberal' and are hoarders although my dad says that it's not hoarding if it's with good taste. My dad has one of the largest collection of original pop art furniture in Singapore, so growing up I was used to being aware of what pants were allowed to sit on the Corbusier to the Mies van der Roheto do a marcel breuer (http://breuer.syr.edu). I remember vividly being 5 or so, and counting the number of chairs in my house- it was like over 120 or something. So their appreciation for design translated to fashion, my parents have probably the best style I know. I remember whenever we would travel we would always only go to second hand designer stores or designer warehouses or just flea markets. Like that was their thing, and I remember sitting outside as a kid with an ice cream and just waiting for them. Now they have so much vintage issey miyake, raf simons etc. They were always so thrifty and I think that's what's translated to me. My dad still wears different issey miyake pleats trousers and a white shirt to work everyday

 

No way that's amazing! So all the moving around was kind of due to his career essentially?

 So where did your decision to study law and economics come in essentially?

Moving around made me very independent at a young age, especially moving when you're like 9 or 10, those adolescent years where you're just confused. I think it has defined certain aspects of my character as I'm very strong in the sense that I am so comfortable with myself, my tastes and preferences that i never feel pressured when my style is, and has been since I was young, been labelled as 'weird'. 

Despite having an enriching upbringing, school was always a priority and it seemed normal to do a 'safe' course. I liked the aspect of having the agency to implement permanent change and address an array of social and political issues, so I chose law. It's only now getting quite difficult balancing full-time uni and styling, I never thought law would be so intense...and time consuming...I started styling probably in January this year and when I say that, I probably only did a handful of shoots until July. It was mainly working with my friends who were photographers and so it happened quite organically. I'm still very new to this sphere. But I see it as a way of becoming an editor which is my dream lol. Preferably of a publication that uses fashion as a platform for addressing social and political movements.

 

 

A magazine editor? No way! Hmmm, yes that is a very interesting dynamic in the sense where fashion seemingly has more cultural/political relevance in today's world than ever before. It now seems and feels like the time where dressing, and all these couture houses, have a chance and the weight to actually make a statement that people are going to want to listen to and value.


I think that it's always been like that, but definitely on a larger scale now with an ease of technology. I don't really like the idea of fashion as just presenting something beautiful, that's so boring to me like- okay it's beautiful but what's next? what else? I think everything has to have depth.

 

 

Definitely, I just listened to a Mizrahi interview where he talks about the importance of being bored, and even to add to that, not following trends, not getting so sucked into pop culture, the fucking Kardashians. 

It seems like you have a strong interest/collaborative spirit with many underground type houses; Vetements, A Cold Wall, HBA etc. Yet to me it's also mind blowing how HBA can sell a box tee for like $400?!  What's your take on this whole new realm of "street wear" and the "hype beast"?

Definitely, I don't think I believe in the idea of trends. I think the hardest thing for any creative is to be really honest with his/her work, and creating from that genuine place is what will make your work transcend time. Defying the boundaries of the norm (lol) Like we are all on our own path, and I don't really see the idea of competition, yeah in an economic sense, but not in the sense of making your mark. I think that there’s quite a beauty in the Kardashians and a definite appreciation for the way they have garnered a following from such a large population of the world. Performance art??! Haha yeah I used to have a tumblr called norm addict, it was playing on the idea of the irony of the word: both on the beauty in the normalcy of things and also I guess my teenage anxiety of seeking originality. 

 

 

Yeah I've never thought of it like that I guess. The Kardashians seem like they also perpetuate trends though, this "look", this way of being, of doing things. Performance art in the most superficial sense- but yet, they are people, with private lives, thoughts, feelings, seemingly, even though they just seem like robots almost lol

In terms of high price points for streetwear brands, I think it's important to note that isn't that a greater challenge? To be able to sell a piece of item that is deemed as luxurious? It might not be couture and the price doesn’t reflect the fabric, but the graphics are laborious and an insight into the designer's mind. We all would buy a painting for more than 400 but why not on a t-shirt? I think that it’s definitive of a new wave of modern luxury. What's the point of owning a couture piece when you can't wear it vs buying a streetwear item whose price reflects the graphic designers genius?

 

Definitely, it's like in the 90s, it seems like a resurgence of it almost

There's quite a genius to desire, a manipulation of the consumers mind and excelling at that

 

Definitely. Even just tonight I was debating on buying $420 sweat pants lol

And the fact is why should it be seem as not a worthy investment, if you're going to wear it all the time?

 

Yeah, I think it's more of a treasure. especially today in the face of all this "fast fashion", it feels like the only way these couture houses etc. can really win, is through making their product feel like worthy investments by turning them into art.

To what extent do you think fashion is/should be art? I mean even in your styling- I've heard part of the stylist's job is to make people feel good/comfortable but yet the other side is making art, making someone a piece of art

It all comes down to an appreciation. I hate the idea of fashion as frivolous or vain. I will spend a lot of money for a piece because it's an insight into a designer's mind, a part of their brain i can take, wow sounded less morbid in my head. I think that fashion is art, definitely. I think that you can achieve both, it comes down to working with people who are like minded and believe in the overall project. The two definitely come hand in hand.

 

So what changes do you think need to be made in the industry today? There are interesting motifs of gender neutrality, acceptance of sexuality and a fight racism in the world surrounding fashion, how can fashion hold a more definitive role in this scape?

I think that it's the muted subtlety of fashion in addressing these issues and that is its best asset - infiltrating the masses to slowly question the different boundaries that become less defined. It can be done through a motif of a design, representation within the media etc.

 

 

Right, so still being "fashion" while indeed, HAVING an opinion and not just being this vain thing that exists outside of the world's current, pressing issues.

Exactly, and it's not a new thing to artists. It's this challenge of breaking down perceived, defined notions of identity and sexuality subtly and quietly that I find so exciting

 

Yes, while still appealing to the masses or causing the masses to think at least, why do you think society has such a hard time breaking down the latter notions you mentioned?

I think that fashion is large enough to encompass everyone's perception of “fashion”. I just happen to hold fashion as a form of expression that has the power to shift social norms and mores. I think that society in large likes to be comfortable and to feel safe. Nobody likes being challenged as we all have this ingrained notion of fear within us. Which is why when points of difference or a shift in the social landscape occurs, the general public feels uneasy. When the reality is, all of these safety nets of defined notions of beauty, sexuality etc. never existed.

 

AMEN- so what are you yourself afraid of?

I don't think I'm scared of anything, I blame my philosophy class focused on existentialism (http://www.allaboutphilosophy.org/existentialism.htm) when I was 15 and Jean Paul Sartre (http://www.iep.utm.edu/sartre-ex/) for this. But, if I'm not scared, then I'm not excited. As bleak as it sounds, like Steve Jobs said, “Death is the greatest gift to humanity, because it makes everything count, it gives everyone a lightness to be and do what they want.” I think that it's liberating to know that you can achieve what your idols have. I want to live forever; in the sense that my work lives on. It's kinda like when they say you only die when someone says your name for the last time, and I just think I want to affect change for a long time after I die.

 

 

 

Definitely. Death is the only thing that is promised. With that being said, what are you hoping to achieve? What do you want people to remember you for? It seems like there's an over saturation of magazines nowadays

I don't think I know exactly what I want to achieve. I just want to be respected by my idols, and I think in doing that I would have created something worthwhile.

 

Who are these idols you speak of?

People like Nick Knight, figures of influence, Terry Jones and Matthew Williams

 

I think the neat thing about "influence" is the fact that it's meaning is going to be relative to each individual. Especially when people like to talk so much about "inspiration"- I think inspiration is a very personal thing and the latter essentially marks an individual as such.

Do you ever find pop culture to be "inspiring"?

I respect Nick Knight so much for what he has built with Showstudio, empowering youths and still staying so true to his original vision. Jefferson Hack for being revolutionary in challenging the nature of publications. I think I view pop culture almost through a lense of intrigue. specifically, I don't think i can pinpoint anyone in particular, but I think that anyone who is a culture icon should be appreciated in terms of how they've conquered that hollywood dream. It's just not mine.

 

It seems like a blend of Nick and Jefferson is the epitome of what you are hoping to achieve/be known for. It's interesting that you mention the empowerment of youth, being a young person in this day and age is vastly different than in decades before. We have access, we have the internet, we can learn how to do things on our own with ease- can you speak more to this theme of youth empowerment? And what are your thoughts on social media?

I think that there's no better time in history than to be able to just get out and achieve what we want.

We all have the ability to exhibit our work to people all over the world. I think that social media is for the most part a good way of connecting with likeminded people around the world, and as a young creative, booking jobs from around the world. I do, however, think that it breeds a form of insecurity and social anxiety. The amount of times I've heard people talk about the anxiety and pressure they feel to post something 'good'- I think it's good that I'm really apathetic to it. You really have to live like your social media accounts can be deleted at any second. But I also think that social media and the ease of communication has bred a sense of impatience, but not in the best way. It pushes, young creatives in particular, to not want to put in the humbling work and to focus on the progress rather than the final product.

 

It's all about where you want to end up, you want to take a photo at the finish line without even being on the course

Yeah, and it encompasses the need to create for an audience and not for curiosity

-Or even create for oneself, out of a need for expression and to affect change

Exactly

 

What is the best advice anyone has given you? 

Probably my father, he lives by "always be the underdog"

 

What does "always be the underdog" mean to you?

It means to never have an ego, to work tirelessly and stay humble.

The fact is, as much as I value artistic pursuit and innovation, if you have a big ego or are just rude, then I don't really want to work with you-

Your art doesn't cancel out your integrity and character, and I probably don't want to be a part of that.

 

I think that's exactly what the "problem" is with pop culture, and when social media messes with people's minds, in the sense where it all becomes a thing of self validation and sharing/posting photos for the approval of others. Ego is such a funny thing.

So with your whole collaboration with ACW (A Cold Wall) and getting to have that on a platform like Vogue and such, how do you stay humble? Where has self doubt manifested most in your career thus far?

I think even though I'm starting out I see my work in the long term. I am in no way creating the work I want to create yet. I live by the phrase 'work hard until your idols become your competitors' and I think until I get there, we'll see. Maybe I'll be a narcissist. Joking haha, but I guess art is still a luxury and even though I mentioned figures in art, there are so many figures in history that have led revolutionary changes and stayed humble, so what makes me different?

 

I think staying humble is what really allows people to continue to grow, once you become content and proud, your spark fizzles.

What is missing in your current work that makes you say that you're not yet creating the work you want to create yet? And does being a revolutionary simply mean doing something differently?

Well, styling to me is all about problem solving.

The thing is, I don't have access to designers who I respect, so it's all about working around that.

However, it did lead me to think, why not contact graduate designers at my university and form a community through that? Why not pull one-off pieces that have never been shot and through that build a community? Horizontal integration, always, I guess I should have been clearer, I was thinking about individuals like Gandhi making change where there is no alternative or the luxury of articulating that through art.

 

So the creation of the community you mentioned above, can you talk about that dynamic a bit? It's always funny when collaboration seems like such a concept

Yeah it's such an organic process as soon as you start a conversation with like minded individuals. Basically, through pulling from designers around my age, we all just naturally connected, and with the realisation of mutual friends, organically kept working together

 

What were those conversations centred around? And what does your daily schedule look like with such a wide variety of things on your plate?

Anything really, mutual artists we admire, gigs we are going to on the weekend etc. I normally try to get out and go to the library and from there work on pulling for shoots, go to meetings for upcoming projects, and try to make it to class, emphasis to class

 

Haha, I mean law must really make your brain work in such an interesting way with everything else going on, it really seems like a necessary thing almost for the two to be so united.

What is your favourite piece in your closet and why?

I'm pretty detached to everything, like I'm constantly rotating my closet and few things have lasted, but I guess, Issey Miyake pleats I steal from my mum and just a big white t shirt. oh, and my Balenciaga derby boots I wear when I go out, which has destroyed them haha

 

LAST ONE- what else are you interested in?

What do u do in your spare time lol sorry, oh god you're going to kill me, and why the move to London? DONE DONE DONE

I'm definitely the type of person that gets stressed when I don't have anything on my plate, so I normally overplan and then dig myself into a hole of stress. I am that friend that is always busy but will randomly show up at my friends art show or gig. But I guess what makes me rejuvenated is researching people's careers, watching commencement speeches, every video on showstudio

I can't wait to get old, I feel like being 20 and young is a bit overrated.

Like the whole idea of being reckless for recklessness sake. It also lends to this notion of peaking when you are young, and it's probably the same people that hit a mid life crisis.

I can't wait for my work to get better and wiser lol. Well, I just got a 2 year working visa in the UK and London has the basis for all the publications I want to contribute to, so that. So I'm moving in 3 weeks, but I haven't told my parents haha so THATS BREAKING NEWS. And I'm differing university too haha. Just going back to being on the team at A Cold Wall, and I have some other projects there and just continuing to scare myself- I lied before; I am scared.