Samuel Guì Yang and Erik Litzen met on the renowned Central Saint Martins MA course. Now, as partners in life and business, they are creating contemporary womenswear inspired by traditional Chinese dress
- Who is it? Samuel Guì Yang is a womenswear brand based between London and Shanghai, via Stockholm
- Why do I want it? Flattering, contemporary silhouettes inspired by traditional Chinese dress that you’ll want to wear again and again
- Where can I find it? Online and in-store at Browns Fashion and at Farfetch and Machine-A
Who is it? Samuel Guì Yang and Erik Litzén met across the pattern-cutting table at Central Saint Martins, after they had both enrolled on the school’s renowned MA Fashion course. Forming a close bond over shared creative interests, the two designers are now partners in life and business at the helm of Samuel Guì Yang – a womenswear label based between London and Shanghai, via Stockholm. “Central Saint Martins was like a boot camp, so we really supported each other and gave each other advice throughout,” explains Litzén over a three-way call with Yang, and CEO of the label, Caroline Wåglund.
After graduating in 2015, Yang set up his own namesake design studio, while Litzén took on a role at JW Anderson. “But I was always there in the background in Sammy’s studio on weekends and evenings – you know how it is at the beginning of a relationship,” he says with a laugh. Two years later, Litzen joined the brand full time as co-creative director. “2016 was the first year I started to show in my work in Shanghai, Milan and Paris,” says Yang. “So Erik joining a year later in 2017 made complete sense.” And Wåglund, who had previously worked with Litzén at Acne Studios in Stockholm, came on board as CEO in 2018, heading up the production side of Samuel Guì Yang.
Why do I want it? Yang and Litzén are both meticulously technical designers, albeit exploring slightly different avenues in their own work. The former is focused on creative pattern cutting and draping, the latter on sharp, menswear-inspired tailoring. Together, they have created a roster of flattering patterns with shapes specific to the Samuel Guì Yang brand – patterns that, much like Christian Dior’s New Look, celebrate a sculptural, hourglass silhouette. The pair have also looked to the pages of Chinese fashion history, too, taking the cheongsam dress (a style popularised in the 1920s by the women of China’s social elite), as a starting point for the clothes they make. “We absolutely want to celebrate and explore a Chinese femininity in the brand,” continues Yang. “For example, the qipao, or cheongsam, dress can be seen as a cliched ‘symbol’ of Chinese fashion. But really, the cut of this dress was revolutionary. It was symbolic of a newfound freedom for the Chinese woman, alongside the introduction of the corset and the bra – and this, from the beginning, was a huge source of inspiration to us.”
With Yang hailing from Shenzhen in China and Litzén from Stockholm in Sweden – and both of them finding each other when living in London – Samuel Guì Yang blends aesthetic principles from all three locations. “It’s interesting because a Swedish design approach is quite pragmatic, whereas Sammy’s culture can be more romantic,” says Litzén. “There are different powers at work ... ” “And it has taken us quite a few years to nail this down!” interjects Yang, laughing. “We really want to build from within Chinese culture without it becoming a costume. And over time, we found that the pieces that resonate with our Chinese customers have codes of both east and west.” The pieces that Yang is referring to are the ‘Lee Jacket’, a mandarin jacket with a curvy, cinched waist, the ‘Min Shirt’, a cotton-wrap blouson, and the ‘Lady Dress’, with structured sleeves that fall just at the elbow.
The brand produces two main collections a year, produced in China and London as sustainably as possible. The fabrics used by the brand are, suitably, location specific: for garments crafted in the UK, there are wools, tweeds, mohair, hemp and linen, and for the clothes produced in China, delicate silks, and hi-tech fibres, such as recycled nylon and polyesters. “We try and be as sustainable as possible,” says Wåglund. “It’s quite hard as a smaller brand, but it’s all about making the best choices we can in our situation.”
The label’s approach to sustainability is refreshingly holistic – and it is here that Yang and Litzén’s roster of dressmaking patterns come into play once more. “We use the same silhouettes and patterns over and over because we don’t want our customer thinking that just because it’s one season old doesn’t mean it’s valid anymore,” say the pair. “We want what we do to remain classic.” And certainly, Samuel Guì Yang is producing the kinds of clothes that you’ll want to hang in your wardrobe and revisit again and again.