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Maternal Instinct

by Art U News

By Anna Kritikos

B.F.A. fashion design student Haowei (Kamp) Yan. Photo by Danielle Rueda.

It’s a sense of disorder and surprise that shapes B.F.A. fashion design student Haowei (Kamp) Yan’s senior thesis collection. Various shades of green clash with multicolored sections of muted yellows, 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.

Born in a small city in southern China, Yan has spent the last eight years in the U.S. He completed high school near Minneapolis, using the distance from his mother as an opportunity to observe their relationship more closely. 

Yan explained that when he returns home, he is usually alone in her company, as his dad is away at work. He 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 shared. “Because you’re not going to see her mad. She’s always really calm.”  

This idea of inner and outer reality is prevalent throughout the Academy of Art University School of Fashion student’s collection. Yan incorporates pictures he took of bell peppers and the snack packaging his mother bought 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 a 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 said. “I want people to know the story, the relationship, and how I arrived at the final result.”

The illustrated lineup of Yan’s senior thesis collection. Image courtesy of the designer.

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