NAGNATA was recently involved with I-Manifest’s charity event supporting their NGO Micro-School program in collaboration with Yan Yan Chan X Kiehl’s. Inspired by the beauty of nature Kiehl’s, I-Manifest and Yan Yan joined forces to create The School Of Sustainable Beauty; a special project brought to life under the creative direction of Yan Yan.
The School Of Sustainable Beauty is a part of the I-Manifest series of Micro-Schools that uses creativity to empower culturally diverse youth to find their passion and live their purpose, while developing career pathways for them into the creative industries. Over three days, Yan Yan worked alongside students to create an ethereal, multi-disciplinary body of work inspired by nature and the unique natural ingredients signature to Kiehl’s products. Her vision was to strip back, and focus on traditional mediums with the use of analogue film & collaging by hand.
Yan Yan styled pieces from our NAGNATA knitwear collection with Ellery silks and directed and modeled in the original shoot before re-working the images into collage works with the teenagers. The students finished artworks were shown at a beautiful organic lunch held at Hom Yoga in Darlinghurt and attended by a plethora of inspiring women entrepreneurs and sustainable focused brands.
We caught up with Yan Yan to find out more about her experience working on the project and to delve into her world of creativity…
Yan Yan can you tell us about your artistic background and how you came to merge fashion and art in your collage works?
I was never really good at studying, so was always looking for another outlet. I went to art school every Thursday afternoon, and every other afternoon I was dancing. I picked up photography and film in Year 10 and had always done Visual Arts in school, so I was constantly visually stimulated and I vibed off that. I created a blog in that same year and put all of my photography and collage experiments on there, it was a Tumblr back then. We use to develop photos in the dark room, and I’d draw, paint and write over those photos. I quickly became obsessed with the Arts, film and fashion world.. at that time it was unattainable from the inside of the class room, it felt so far away, I think that’s why I was initially so fascinated with it.
I started working in the fashion industry from the age of 15, just interning, assisting anywhere I could. I originally thought a career in photography.. then styling.. then fashion PR, I interned in a lot of PR firms, and eventually moved to New York. I came back when I was 20 and got back into blogging, more on the documental side of things - I still love just plain imagery, but once in a while, creatively - it’s so fun to incorporate mix media, I feel like it adds that extra element, and meaning. Art and fashion co-exist, so I think it just happens naturally.
How do you approach your collaborations when first aligning with a new brand or project, in terms of inspiration, styling and art mediums to work with?
It really depends what the brand is, I work differently with everyone. I mostly stick to photography because there’s so much you can portray in a photo, but I’ve been working a lot on the production and events side of things. I don’t try to over plan, I just wait and see what the client initially wants from me, and work from there. It’s important for me to meet the client as well, especially when it’s a smaller client. I like starting fresh on things, having a clear mind and finding inspiration from not just online - but through print. I plan, but like to keep things kind of loose, I think it’s more fun that way creatively. I feel like I also get very fixated and obsessed on things if I stare or think about them for too long. I prefer to work spontaneously when it comes to creating a body of work.
For the I-Manifest Micro-School program x Kiehls School Of Sustainable Beauty collaboration you worked alongside youth to create a multi-disciplinary body of work inspired by nature and the natural ingredients signature to Kiehl’s products. Your vision was to ‘strip back and focus on traditional mediums with the use of analogue film and collaging by hand’. Can you tell us more about the experience of working with this group of teens, were there any challenges and how did they respond the project?
The current youth in school really intrigues me. I graduated school in 2012, and I feel like I only just missed the line where social media and technology was so integral in teenage life and school. I like that our generation was introduced to social media and the digital world a little later, so we still got to enjoy life without it. I remember spending weekends hanging out with my friends and we'd all be socialising together, and even if we weren't necessarily talking, we'd still be engaged.. now I see kids hanging out at cafes and they're all on their phones. It's scary.
Before we started the project, I asked all the students on what they wanted to do after school, and a lot of them mentioned graphic design and animation work — mostly to do with digital, so it was fun to take them out of their comfort zone, and work with their hands. A lot of them were quiet hesitant at first, especially with the whole; once you cut or paint something, there’s no control Z or undo button, there’s no going back! Haha. I think enabling them to experience that making mistakes and pushing them to just go along with their initial instinct was really fun to see. By the end of the class, there was a beautiful mess in every corner of their work space, they were completely in the zone. That was really inspiring to see and they were creating really cool art.
You are back to back with projects, do you have time for a personal art practice outside of your collage work that is just for you?
I am, but I also use my collaborations as personal practices. For me, a lot of the projects I do are love projects. Love projects I create with friends of mine, which I think is why certain brands are attracted to our aesthetic and our direction in work, because they’re personal.
In what ways is your creative work an expression or extension of you?
All of my works are very personal, and they all stem from elements of my life, or things that I am drawn to.
Your work requires you to create constantly, what other practices or rituals do you integrate into your life to help you stay focused and connected to yourself, so creativity keeps flowing?
Down time. I’m big on down time, relaxing, exercising, cooking, reading, perusing bookstores, collecting things.. and just switching off. I’m also lucky enough to incorporate travelling into my lifestyle as much as I can. That’s important to me, experiencing new things and new places. Even if it’s just a weekend trip down south. It helps.
Lastly, you mentioned the I-Manifest x Kiehls collaboration was unique as you had the opportunity to integrate sustainability and create something of substance with these teenagers, who’ve grown up with a heavy social media presence, so you encouraged them to create more than just ‘pretty pictures for social media’. The event you hosted with I-Manifest reflected this depth as there was an undeniable positive purpose and energy to the day. We were inspired to be amongst the other women entrepreneurs and brands that came together to share our visions for a sustainable the future, alongside the focus on youth and creative arts.
As someone with a strong social media presence is this something you come back to in your own work? How do you balance the social responsibility of your influence in the digital realm, while maintaining the integrity in your work? And how did you approach this project
I think my encouragement was more towards creating work that have meaning in general, in regards to growing up with a heavy social media presence, I think it’s something thats quite relevant to not just students who are in school now, but even as adults who work in any industry, not just the creative. We are so use to seeing these perfectly curated lives and lifestyles that are projected online, and people forget that there’s an actual distinct line between something that’s created and stylised for a certain “look” (ie. editorial or art) and something that’s natural, and it’s something that is definitely blurred and askew, especially in the “influencer” world, everything is heavily “pretty”. But, you see it more and more with fashion aligning with art, people are looking towards expressionism outside of just making money, and creating things that just look nice. It’s about creating something that has a deeper meaning behind it, what it stands for, and what it’s relevant in today’s society. It’s about the connection between a viewer or consumer with whoever is creating that work. The work on my blog and social media are all a personal reflection of who I am and what I’m doing — it’s more of a platform for me to show my work, rather than as an “influencer” figure. It’s more personal then that. I started posting my work online as a form of documentation, and a portfolio of what I do, so in terms of integrity I’ve always carried that through all my works, and I am wary of distinguishing a difference between what is work, and what is personal to my viewers. They have the discretion to know.
For this project in particular, it was really a learning process. I didn’t work on this project to deem myself as a pro“sustainable” figure, or to make a bold statement.. because that would be a lie. And I’ll be honest, I still have the tendency and approach to easily disposable things such as money, clothes and food, and often don’t pay attention to where my clothes are made, because it’s the way we’ve been brought up. It’s the fast fashion revolution generation, and we’ve integrated this approach in life. So I really wanted to educate myself and actually try and understand the process that goes behind creating a sustainable approach to life, and to start a conversation, and be more aware of it.
So it was an amazing way of doing so, to actually collaborate with brands who 100% commit themselves with that ethos, and not just through their work, but through their way of living, and that’s what really resonated with me. You see all these fast fashion brands who have such an inkling on being sustainable so they create a micro project where they create a line that’s marketed as “ethically and sustainably made”, and that’s sort of it. They don’t really go into the process of explaining the process, and that’s what lacks. The consumer doesn’t understand either, so they still prefer to purchase things that are cheaper and of less quality, which continues to drive fast fashion.
Yan Yan thank you for taking the time to talk with us and congratulations on curating such a beautiful and meaningful event alongside I-Manifest and Kiehl’s. We loved being involved in the project and look forward to future collaborations with the micro-school program.
Credits for imagery and artworks _ Original photography of Yan Yan Chan by Darren Luk @everylastsecond. Clothing Ellery and NAGNATA. Featured collage works by I-Manifest micro-school students Gergory Vasta, Amanda Caliao, Richard, Nhu Dinh and Ella Lister. Film photography by NAGNATA. The event was held at Hom Yoga in Darlinghurst.