Fashion & Beauty / An Intellectual Fashion

An Interview with Shaway Yeh

Donatien Grau meets Shawah Yeh: pioneer of global fashion in contemporary China

Modern Weekly Men's Issue A/W13
Modern Weekly Men's Issue A/W13

Taiwanese-born Shaway Yeh has played a crucial role in developing global fashion in contemporary China. A graduate of New York University, she worked in Public Relations for Prada in China, organising the implementation of the brand, before moving to a career in the editorial world. After serving as editor-in-chief of Vogue China, then as Modern Weeky’s editorial director, she now heads the Modern Media Group.

How would you connect fashion to elegance?
Fashion is becoming, elegance is refusal.

What is the role of history and art history in your conception of fashion?
Oxymoron? Fashion is about the moment, a momentary affirmation or resistance to certain cultural and societal milieu, it should not be registered within history. However, you can always use hindsight and recount history through the hubris of fashion; it serves as a palimpsest of a particular time. But we need to keep in mind that fashion can always be an anachronism.

Would you describe fashion as a language and a discourse, as Barthes did it?
I did not read Barthes’s book on fashion. If I aim to describe fashion, then what I produce should be a discourse. But fashion itself? No. Fashion is the inventory of animated and lived objects.

The word "intellectual" was coined in a time of great political distress. Does fashion have a political role? And in which way?
Fashion does have a political role within the fashion industry itself. How it was sourced, designed, manufactured, distributed, consumed and discarded, etc. Outside the industry, the impact of fashion to the public domain is flimsy. What the Princess of Cambridge wears or Miley Cyrus wears is tabloid fodder, nothing political.

"Style is innate, it’s the personal composition of one’s own self and one’s own history"

How would you relate the concept of "fashion" to the one of "style"?
Fashion is an industry, it’s commerce, it’s individual consumption made aesthetically manifest; style is innate, it’s the personal composition of one’s own self and one’s own history.

What does fashion have to do with intellectuality?
Encounter? Maybe. I don’t see fashion, and for that matter, most “things”, as having to do with intellectuality. It’s like writing a letter from the Chambre Syndicale or from the Fortuny archive to Deleuze thanking him for publishing such a wonderful book called “A Thousand Plateaux”.

Modern Weekly is a cultural magazine. How do you see the role of fashion within culture?
Modern Weekly is in fact, for the part I am editing, a mainstream fashion and style magazine. My approach turns it into a publication addressing cultural issues; to make it culturally relevant. The role of fashion within culture is a really huge topic.

You studied in America, worked in Hong Kong, and now are editorial of a leading Chinese publication. What is the role of global fashion in the context of China?
Fashion is a way to learn the possibility of multiple choices, to try to engage with the expression of individuality; fashion or rather luxury business serve to certify social status within the stratified society, it is also a communication tool with outside world. Shopping for fashion is a collective jouissance, which is surrogate for (the lack of) cultural activities or a proper public domain.

In two weeks Donatien will be interviewing the writer Edmund White.