Spotlight: Yishu & Shui-Mo
Posted by Jared Flood on
Michele Wang used our designers’ outing to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to dive into a special exhibit entitled Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China. Today she tells us about the inspiration she found in that show, which led her to create Shui-mo and Yishu for our BT Winter 15 collection. As a first generation Chinese-American, I was extremely moved and proud to see the creative expression coming out of China, a country I have strong ties to, yet know very little about. All of the pieces in Ink Art were inspired by traditional ink paintings, calligraphy, and the abstract simplicity of the brushstroke. The exhibition was composed of four sections that reflected those origins: The Written Word, Landscapes, Abstraction, and Beyond the Brush. It was exhilarating to see the range of styles all within these categories. The sheer size of some of the pieces was breathtaking; a "scroll" by Yang Yongliang was yards and yards long and only after taking a close look did I realize it was printed and not painted. Absolutely stunning. As I thought about translating what I loved about the ink art into knitwear, I was very much drawn to the simplicity of the brushstroke. When I was younger, my mother took lessons in traditional ink wash painting. I remember her simple bamboo brush, the wetting of the ink blocks, and the very simple, thin paper. I was transfixed watching the ink flow into the water and form clouds. The act of the brushstroke on the paper takes great skill and control. It is a beautiful technique to watch and the stark simplicity really resonated with me. I wanted to express both those ideas in my two pieces for our Met story: Shui-mo is about the running of the ink into the water and Yishu is about the simplicity of the black ink stroke. In designing Yishu, I wanted to incorporate another idea from Asia. I have always been intrigued with cultural references in fashion. In Western women's fashion, the bust and neck area have generally been shown off with plunging necklines to reveal deep cleavage, while the legs have been covered with long layers of cloth. In Eastern women's fashion, it is the opposite. The bust and neck area have traditionally been covered with a high neckline, like the mandarin collar, while the legs were exposed with very long slits up the sides of dresses. The Japanese geishas toyed with this idea and dropped the back of their kimono necklines, teasing men with just the tiniest glimpse of their necks. Yishu’s robe-like form and unusual construction—the fronts are knit side to side and extend over the shoulders to join with the back—nod to that allure by showing off the nape of the neck and upper back. With Shui-mo, I wanted to capture the sense of the ink flowing into the water—shui-mo means ink wash painting or watercolor in Chinese. We normally see ombre or dip-dyed color effects applied horizontally. I thought it would be interesting to take the gradient vertical by knitting the front pieces from side to side, so that the inky dark of the back could flow into the paleness of the fronts. The whole cardigan is knit with two strands of Loft held together, and the colors shift one strand at a time for a marled, smooth blend across the gradient. The fronts are knitted in stockinette with minimal edge treatment, so they curl like scrolls of paper when worn open. Designing for this collection opened up so many fresh possibilities. Given the history of knitted garments, we’re so often turning to Northern Europe for inspiration. I will never tire of Aran-style cables, but I really enjoyed this opportunity to create something with roots in my own heritage.