Debussy, Renoir, and Hokusai: REIMAGINED Dead Stock at the Hand of Yun Qu | EDGE Talks to Yun Qu

When I was designing the collection, I found some particular fabric that was inspired by Katsushika Hokusai. To be honest, I just wanted to use those beautiful fabrics in this collection, that’s all haha!

– Yun Qu

Haha! is right. Deadstock fabric that looks so good; mastery of textiles; Debussy, Renoir, and Hokusai; storytelling; innovative composition; seasonless, quality hand-made construction; and artistic vision, all are a recipe for design excellence. We check all the boxes for Yun Qu. Driven by concept and storytelling, Chinese-born, New York based Yun Qu, designer of Videmus Omnia, taps into innovative and non-conventional composition methods of design, inspired by music, fine art, and culture.

Classical music is her calling card, her go-to for inspiration, and we learn how she composes her own body of work inspired by music. She says, “I studied classical music, and I especially liked how the composers in the classical period wrote the pieces. Each piece composes a story in a way people can hear through music. I wanted to do the same with my brand. Each piece that I designed was inspired by certain music pieces, and I want to use design to express myself and to tell different stories too.”

Never a fan of ready-to-wear, her recent collection, Claire De Lune 2023 Editorial, inspired by French composer Claude Debussy, French Impressionist painter, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Japanese painter and printmaker, Katsushika Hokusai, blends fine dressmaking, haute couture techniques, with artistic practicality, offering a hybrid of quality custom-made construction and accessibility – calling it Ready-Couture.

Most of us did not live through the times when fashion was largely a designer-centered, custom-made business – hence the origination of the French term and practice, haute couture. By the end of the 20th century, new technologies and mass manufacturing led to the rise of the current industry as we know it today – FAST, MASSIVE, EXCESSIVE, and more of THE SAME. The designer-led, creative component has become less important. But, an elite group of contemporary designers are championing a movement of slowing fashion down by approaching fashion as an anthropological, cultural, and ecological practice.

Yun Qu is part of that group.

Polimoda director Massimiliano Giornetti was quoted on Lidewij Edelkoort’s op-ed for the Business of Fashion that such a system and practice should be the industry’s foundation. He commented, “fashion design needs to rediscover the drive towards renewal, starting from research and knowledge of techniques, materials and fabrics that inspire innovation with an anthropological and cultural approach.”

Qu marches to her own beat in every way, with a “drive towards renewal”, creating a body of work with a knack for the avant-garde, drawing inspiration from what she calls “the past historical figure’s wit”.

Claire De Lune 2023 Editorial, courtesy of Yun Qu | Photographer @rchau.photo MUA/Hair @zully.nyc Model: @kamilagareeva

Rhonda P. Hill: Yun, you moved to the States when you were 16 years old. Tell us about your background and interest in music. It obviously has a big influence on how and what you create.

Yun Qu: Before I moved to the states, I was studying music in China since I was five years old. I always wanted to be a musician. I studied piano, guitar, drums, composition, and music production back in China. I joined a rock band and sang a lot of punk and rock songs back then. I actually wanted to study music in the States instead of fashion. After two years of going to high school in the States, I decided to go to a fashion school.

RPH: Interesting that you switched your studies from music to fashion. Your fashion school of choice was FIT and, yet, you received a broader educational experience by attending prestigious institutes in Europe.

YQ: Yes, I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology, and during the same time, I applied for its international exchange programs so I got the chance to study in Italy for two years. One year in Polimoda in Florence and another year to study in Politecnico di Milano.

RPH: After you finished your schooling, how did you start in the industry?

YQ: After I graduated back in 2016, I started the brand Videmus Omnia with a friend who is also a fashion designer. After a year she left the company, and I had to start over again. It was very hard for me to do everything myself, especially if you don’t have much knowledge of business and marketing. I decided to go back to school in 2017 and got my master’s in fashion marketing and management at LIM college. After that, I went back to continue working on my brand. After a whole year of preparing the collection, I finally launched my first couture collection in 2018.

RPH: I commend you on getting educated on the business side. It is what most designers struggle with. What were some challenges in developing Videmus Omnia?

YQ: It was very hard to start a company as a foreigner, especially in the fashion industry, and I was only 24 years old. In order to promote my brand, I had to reach out to a lot of people and spend a lot of time, energy, and funding on public relations. I remembered I was stressing out a lot at that time, crying every night while I was sewing the samples. After a few years in the industry, I started to know more people, and work with more companies. I’m sure compared to a lot of brands; my brand definitely moves quite slowly. I prefer taking my time to do research and study new techniques and develop a collection that will make me feel content as a designer instead of trying to rush and make multiple collections based on the industry standards.

I rely heavily on the sense of hearing to provide me inspiration instead of sense of sight.

RPH: I like your approach to fashion. I like that you are not caught up in the fast moving, low-quality, trend-driven commodity business that it is, which squashes creativity and taxes our resources.  What is your design philosophy or practice?

Claire De Lune 2023 Editorial, courtesy of Yun Qu | Photographer @rchau.photo MUA/Hair @zully.nyc Models: @kendallkiland @kamilagareeva

YQ: My brand focuses on creating innovative, unconventional fashion while taking cues from modern art and music pioneers. It aims to design timeless wearable art garments with deconstructed silhouettes, infused with luxurious and intricate textiles. Because of my music background, music has influenced my life since I was very young. I studied classical music, and I especially liked how the composers in the classical period wrote the pieces. Each piece composes a story in a way people can hear through music. I wanted to do the same with my brand. Each piece that I designed was inspired by certain music pieces, and I want to use design to express myself and to tell different stories too.

RPH: How did you come about the brand name, Videmus Omnia?

YQ: Videmus Omnia originated from Latin. It means We See Everything. I grew up reading detective novels and was very much into mysterious ideas and things. I was watching an episode a couple of years ago about a secret group. It inspired me to name my brand Videmus Omnia.

RPH: Haute couture and luxury details are important elements in your collections, yet you have a sense of artistic practicality and affordability. It appears that you are positioning your brand to blend the principles of haute couture with the accessibility of ready-to-wear. You call it Ready-Couture. What’s your story here?

YQ: I studied some haute couture techniques back in school, and I continue learning more couture techniques from the seamstress and pattern maker I’m working with. I was never a fan of ready-to-wear, to be honest. I released haute couture and ready-to-wear collections. I decided to release a collection that integrates both in one collection and makes the collection more affordable for the customers while making the collection less luxurious and intricate like my past haute couture collections.

RPH: Let’s talk about storytelling and how important it is for you to be inspired, to envision what to compose. Speaking of composition, your new collection, Claire De Lune 2023 Editorial, was inspired by the French Impressionist painter, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and French composer Claude Debussy. Claire De Lune is one of my favorite pieces from Debussy. With music and fine art being the backdrop of your work, what is the story behind building this collection?

YQ: It’s very hard for me to describe how I design with precise vocabulary. I decided to design a collection inspired by impressionism because I was listening to Claire De Lune by Debussy one night. I could see different dresses and attire in my mind, or my brain, I would say, then I simply drew what I saw in my head onto the paper. I rely heavily on the sense of hearing to provide me inspiration instead of sense of sight. Then after I finished all my designs, I started to do more research about the impressionist painters and used Renoir as my inspiration for the textile. I also did a lot of research on garment construction during the impressionism period and readjusted some of my designs.

RPH: Yun, your creative approach is impressive and I can imagine how your sense of hearing was the driving factor in designing. Color and textiles are the basis of any well-thought-out collection. You mentioned that Claire De Lune was handmade in your studio. I applaud you in your anti-fast-fashion stance and small production design principles, with your use of deadstock materials, giving overstocked, surplus a new life – no waste. What materials did you use for this collection, what unique technique or technology was used, and for color, what was it about the Japanese Edo period that inspired color for Claire De Lune?

Claire De Lune 2023 Editorial, courtesy of Yun Qu | Photographer: Bochun Cheng @ bochun.c; Make Up Artist / Hair: Liana Qin @lianaqin_muartist; Model: Vannah @vannahmodel

YQ: When I was designing the collection, I found some particular fabric that was inspired by Katsushika Hokusai. To be honest, I just wanted to use those beautiful fabrics in this collection that’s all, haha!

RPH: The exaggerated puff sleeves are like a signature in this collection. Please share your creative intent on the sleeves.

Claire De Lune 2023 Editorial, courtesy of Yun Qu | Photographer: Bochun Cheng @ bochun.c; Make Up Artist / Hair: Liana Qin @lianaqin_muartist; Model: Vannah @vannahmodel

YQ: About the sleeves; I’ve always liked crazy sleeves so I’ve incorporated exaggerated sleeves in all of my collections. I studied sleeve construction from the baroque period a couple of years ago and I really liked how they were constructed. So, I decided to use the baroque sleeves as references and I have to design some crazy sleeves in each collection just for my own taste.

Claire De Lune 2023 Editorial, courtesy of Yun Qu | Photographer: Bochun Cheng @ bochun.c; Make Up Artist / Hair: Liana Qin @lianaqin_muartist; Model: Vannah @vannahmodel

RPH: I like the crazy! Handbags are my weakness and the handbags are amazing! They complete the look. Tell us about the design inspiration for these.

Claire De Lune 2023 Editorial, courtesy of Yun Qu | Photographer: Bochun Cheng @ bochun.c; Make Up Artist / Hair: Liana Qin @lianaqin_muartist; Model: Vannah @vannahmodel

YQ: I’ve always loved handbags. For me, they are the key to completing my everyday look. I went to school and studied fashion design which was exclusively just to learn how to make clothes. However, I’ve always wanted to design handbags. The design process of the bags is quite similar to clothes. Because I don’t use any fur or leather in my designs, so I decided to make handbags that are made of tapestry, brocade, and silk materials. The inspiration for the bags was just similar to the clothes. I listened to a piece of music by Debussy, looked at Renoir’s paintings, and drew what I saw in my head. It didn’t take me much time to design the bags, but it did take a lot of time to figure out how to construct the bags together without breaking my sewing machine.

RPH: What reads as success to you?  To some, it may be the satisfaction of an artistic outcome, commercial success, or the connection one’s work has on those who experience it. How do you determine success, accomplishment, or content with your work?

Claire De Lune 2023 Editorial, courtesy of Yun Qu | Photographer @rchau.photo MUA/Hair @zully.nyc Models: @kendallkiland @kamilagareeva

YQ: I do agree it is the satisfaction of an artistic outcome. I tend to immerse myself in my own world when I start designing each collection, and I feel content when I finally finish each design perfectly. But what makes me happier is when I see customers who are also content and happy when they wear my designs. The accomplishment that I feel when I complete a collection can’t make me as happy as when I see the satisfied and cheerful faces of customers.

RPH: You are part of a new generation of designers who design fashion as an art and purpose, while protecting earth’s resources. Most art expresses the zeitgeist of the times, what is it about your designs that are relevant and important in today’s times, why should your work matter?

Claire De Lune 2023 Editorial, courtesy of Yun Qu | Photographer: Bochun Cheng @ bochun.c; Make Up Artist / Hair: Liana Qin @lianaqin_muartist; Model: Vannah @vannahmodel 

YQ: I’m not sure how to answer this question. I don’t think I live in the current time. I grew up reading English literature, studying classical piano as well as analyzing the old masters’ composition works such as Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, and Haydn. I don’t listen to much pop music, or use a lot of social media. I would say I learned a lot from the past historical figure’s wit and I much prefer living and working according to my own pace. So, to answer this question, I would hope that people today would appreciate the well-constructed designs with intricate textiles or the use of natural fabric especially silk, designed in a particular style that can be avant-garde and punk in a classical way.

Congratulations, Yun Qu!  “Please don’t stop the music” – keep letting it be a part of your work.

More about Yun Qu – go to Videmus Omnia

The work of Yun Qu will be exhibited at Parallax Art Center, Portland, Oregon, 23 October 2023 – 26 January 2024.

Feature photo: Claire De Lune 2023 Editorial, courtesy of Yun Qu | Photographer: Bochun Cheng @ bochun.c; Make Up Artist / Hair: Liana Qin @lianaqin_muartist; Model: Vannah @vannahmodel 

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Rhonda P. Hill

Founder, Publishing Editor