Maternal Instinct

It’s a sense of disorder and surprise that shapes BFA fashion designer Haowei (Kamp) Yan’s senior thesis collection. Various shades of green clash with multicolored sections of muted yellow, pinks and blues, across which Chinese characters splay. An angular panel juts out from behind a dress like a sail, and the front of the dress drops lower than the back. All of his garments are cloaked in plastic. Yet these incongruities carry meaning beyond just textural medley. They embody Yan’s relationship with his mother, and his attempt to make sense of her particular style of communication.

Yan was born in a small city in southern China. He has spent the last eight years in the US, completing high school near Minneapolis, and has used the distance from his mother as an opportunity to observe their relationship more closely.

When he returns home, he explains how he is usually alone in her company, as his dad is away at work. Yan will sit and eat with her in silence, without much direct communication. It is only when Yan sees what food his mother has purchased for him, that he will understand how she is feeling. If there are snacks, Yan knows his mother is pleased with him. If it’s vegetables, she’s not. “When there are vegetables I start looking back at the past few days, to see what I did wrong,” Yan shares. “Because you’re not going to see her mad. She’s always really calm.” 

This idea of inner and outer reality is prevalent throughout his collection. Yan incorporates pictures he took of bell peppers and the snack packaging his mother buys him by transferring them onto plastic vacuum bags. The use of vacuum bags arises from the packaging of the snacks, which are often wrapped in plastic and vacuum sealed to keep them fresh. In Yan’s designs, sometimes the snack packaging motif covers the green of the pepper and other times, it’s reversed. It is a representation of his mother’s ambiguous disposition.

Even the design process is testament to their relationship. The different print panels are sealed with a sealing machine, the same used to package those precious snacks. The plastic sheen echoes the luster of the treats, and also the impassivity he perceives in his mother. “Because of this special story, I want my final collection to be more than just a product,” Yan says. “I want people to know the story, the relationship, and how I arrived at the final result.”

Words: Anna Kritikos

Edits: Josh Walker & Ellie Dietrich

Photography: Danielle Rueda

Model: Tiffany, STARS Management