“Hello. I live in New York City. I was raised in Hong Kong under Colonial British rule.”
Such is the straightforward manner in which New York-based designer Carolyn Yim introduces herself. It’s a telling string of words, one that paints a picture of subtle rebellion — a quick and pointed qualification of home. Not simply Hong Kong; Hong Kong under Colonial British rule. A home governed by foreign powers…a culture infiltrated. And perhaps growing up under the rule of outsiders is one of the elements of Yim’s life that has inspired her to look to the subversive in her work, to draw from famous figures who moved against the grain.
Yim is a third generation knitwear designer and producer. After graduating from Columbia University, where she studied engineering and literature, Yim followed in the family tradition and founded a women’s knitwear business, which she named PLY-KNITS. The company uses recycled or deadstock yarn to create its timeless pieces, and Yim gravitates towards gentle materials like vintage cashmeres, merinos, and silks of varying thickness, sourcing these soft fabrics from family mills scattered across the globe. The apparel is then created in her family’s factory.
Yim’s interests are professedly piqued by “how women of characters across cinema, literature, and art have dressed throughout time — women with innate decorum, who are inimitably their own.” This is perhaps never more apparent than in her Play It As It Lays collection, launched earlier this year. According to AnotherMag, Yim perused archives of female artists — painters, photographers, writers, filmmakers, and even philosophers — to examine how they dressed. She discovered a common aesthetic of staples: a simple white shirt and great sweater.
In creating the line, Yim decided to focus on three women in particular: Alice Coltrane, Margeurite Duras, and Joan Didion. She then set out to recreate iconic pieces she saw them wearing in photographs. “Their style reveals character,” the designer explained. “Their clothing does not overshadow their personality.”
The three women featured here represent a collective canon of varied, groundbreaking work. Coltrane was an American jazz musician and composer, and, later in life, a swamini — that is, an ascetic or yogi initiated into a monastic religious order. Marqeurite Duras’s work spanned a multitude of mediums; she worked as a novelist, playwright, screenwriter, essayist, and experimental filmmaker. Joan Didion, the only member of this ad hoc trio still living, is an American journalist, novelist, screenwriter, and memoirist. Together these women represent an exciting sampling of iconic female artists of the twentieth century.
The result is a small collection of sleek, streamlined pieces that harken an age of angular androgyny, when a European, understated elegance was very much in vogue. The photographs are as integral to Yim’s vision as the pieces themselves, showcasing the garments in an evocative, avant-garde context. Birds and flowers, the hidden and the visible, light and shadows; a duality throughout these photographs perhaps emphasizes the friction between the public and private lives of these radical women, and the tension that exists between aesthetic and function. Just as the knitwear pays homage to these women, the iconic garments upon which they are based once paid homage to their notable wearers — never upstaging, but simply serving and accentuating.
Click through the gallery above for some of our favorites.
Photos via PLY-KNITS.