Yuanyuan is the Founder and Owner of YYO, an exclusive agency for top photographic talent – both Chinese and international – that provides brand analysis, visual positioning, creative concepts, art direction, media placement and public relations. YYO works with all of the top publications you can name (Elle, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar…), from the creative planning all the way through to post-production.
YYO was the creative partner for last weekend’s Photofairs Shanghai, so we caught up with Yuanyuan to chat about this year’s iteration – but also about her own career, life and story.
From her hometown in Henan province to London and back to China, Yuanyuan’s experience is quite a tale in the world of fashion. We met Yuanyuan at her studio on Huangpi Road to talk more.
How did you move from student to photographer to business owner? And what is your advice to those thinking of starting their own creative business or brand in China?
I think it was the childhood influence from my parents. I grew up in Zhengzhou, Henan province, with parents who were always interested in the outsideworld, in travel, in fashion and lifestyle. I remember we had so many magazines at home; my mum was reading ELLE magazine 30 years ago, and my father always took our family to travel abroad during Chinese New Year.
My parents sent me to drawing class when I was 8-years-old; I always proud to be the ‘problem art student’ until high-school. After failing twice atthe final exams to get into the Central Art Academy, I went to Wuhan Textile University and studied in Fashion and Design. In 1999, my parents sent me to study in UK at the London College of Fashion.
My first paid job was working at Selfridge’s in London for an vintage concept store – meanwhile as a fashion student, I worked many internships during my studies from film festival to night club promoter and more. My best internship was in Alexander McQueen’s shows at London Fashion Week from 2001 to 2004, and the best moments of my student life were at the 2003 AW show in Paris.
Returning to China, I worked in Dior Couture for a very short time, and Liquid PR as my first full time job for almost three years. Then, I started my own business in Fashion Photography by the end of 2007.
Thinking back, I never planned to became an entrepreneur. Actually, I just realised that after ten years I ended up there. To advise anyone just graduating: if you are an art student and know nothing about business and are not interested in HR, then do not open your own business, unless you have a business partner, period.
The KOLs I like are the natural ones. Not the ones that have the big follower numbers, but those that are naturally in the community. They might not make extravagant posts on their Weibo, but they are throughout the community, naturally influencing.
Nowadays, the Millennials lives are so much better. I think that this is relevant to the e-commerce platforms. It means that the previous generations got rich ‘overnight’, so they love service, to have someone paying attention to them and treating themin a special way. But the Millennials have grown up in a much richer atmosphere anyway, so they aren’t so bothered about personal ‘service’ in a shop. They are OK with ordering online and receiving it at home. More important is that time is the luxury in this fast growing country.
What do you see as the Chinese style? With Chinese fashion designers now coming through, what designers do you like and is there Chinese background in their work?
I once met an Indian man at an Enterepeneur Organisation’s Global University in Hyderabad – and someone had asked him about his clothes. He was wearing a t-shirt and jeans, and they had expected him to arrive looking like some Indian Prince or something, asking “what’s Indian about your style?”, and his answer was “me.”
I think that contemporary Chinese designers are very often educated overseas, in London a lot, and around the world. So they gather all of their influences individually. I don’t think that they have to identify every item as ‘Chinese’ – as they are the Chinese part of the design already! Personally speaking, my favourite Chinese designers are those such as Miss Min, Feng Chen Wang, Samuel Gui Yang and Sankuanz.
How is Shanghai Fashion Week doing compared to the western weeks?
At Shanghai Fashion Week, the passion and energy is still here. Of course, the western fashion weeks still have the big names, the quality and the experience. But because it’s been going for so long, some people give you the impression that they see it as a routine, there’s not that same buzz.
Shanghai Fashion Week is more youthful, enthusiastic and entrepreneurial. I am very proud of Shanghai Fashion Week and of the work that we have done for them – especially as it has only been going for a short time. The impressive part is the rapid improvement of the infrastructure, that the giants such as Tmall are involved and consumers can ‘see now buy now’ instantly from the show being live-streamed and tapping right through to buying the items.
I believe Shanghai is going to be the new generation of fashion capital in the world.
How else are you involved in the industry these days?
We launched the YYO Foundation, to support young talent. It’s done with Shanghai Fashion Week, and we are launching an upcoming online portfolio website RAWFISH.cn, to gather young talent into one area to help with exposure and collaborations.
After 5 years, PFS is steadily establishing itself in China and has an Asia-wide reputation. With 80% China/Asia based galleries, that’s a great progression.
This year, there were a couple of top international galleries that did not attend, however this gave the local galleries an opportunity to shine. This was our first participation in the event and we are still learning. But the positivity and energy of the event is very promising and it will certainly continue to rise – especially as the audnece was notably made up of younger collectors and younger talents, which we are keen to support.
I’m into personality, not about only where someone studied or grew up. It’s similar to why the younger generation like smaller niche brands. They have one point that is special. When you really have one clear speciality, that’s fashion.
An excerpt from YYO’s professional portfolio: