West Coast fashion designer Jill Aiko Yee grew up in the Midwest (Milwaukee to be precise) focused on two things – becoming a contemporary ballet dancer and leaving town.
After high school she swiftly achieved both these goals when she began to dance professionally; a job which not only took her out of Wisconsin but also gave her the opportunity to travel all over the world. Unfortunately though, Jill soon began to realise that a dancers life wasn’t for her after all. “It was after going to Europe to audition for dance companies there that I realised it wasn’t for me. I just didn’t love being on stage the way others did.”
By her own admission it took her “a while to figure out” what to do after hanging up her dancing shoes but luckily for us she finally realised her passion for fashion design and moved out to California to study at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles.
That was almost ten years ago and she hasn’t looked back since.
What does a typical day for you involve?
I live in Miracle Mile which is a cool artist neighborhood in Los Angeles. I take the Rapid bus downtown every day to my studio space which I share with my friend Claudia Zhao who is an accessories designer. It’s great to be able to work alongside another designer as we are able to share ideas.
The studio also acts as a shop by appointment store, as a lot of people see the designs on my website and want to ‘try before they buy’, so some days we have quite a lot of people hanging out with us, trying on clothes.
After work I like to meet up with friends to get drinks, go to a museum, or cook and have dinner with friends.
How would you describe your style and the women you design for?
My personal style revolves around colour and comfort. It’s important to me to be feminine in a bold, but natural way. One of my favorite things about style is how personal it is to each individual. We are all able to express emotions and character through what we wear. I hope my designs help my customers express their personalities in a unique and meaningful way.
What’s in store for your line in 2012?
Every year fashion companies are frantically designing to keep up with the next season and trend. This doesn’t appeal to me so with both of my labels (Itterations Workwear and Jill Aiko Yee Label) I try to design without being confined to ‘trends’ and listen more to what’s happening with my customers and in social media. When I design, I also keep in mind women like myself and my girlfriends. We shop primarily online, and find inspiration on blogs like Refinery29, Daily Candy, Racked LA, and Because I’m Addicted.
As far as my plans for this year go, I am aiming to build on what each line is about and that is the creative working woman by day (Itterations) and after hours (Jill Aiko Yee Label).
Who or what are your influences?
I get inspiration though architecture, nature, and art shows. I love going on hikes in and around LA and experiencing the outdoors. Also, having gone to Otis for fashion design, I was taught to apply creativity while making products that are also wearable. My favourite project while in school was designing for Isabel Toledo (of Michelle Obama inauguration dress fame). She approaches clothing as sculpture, and believes that every detail of the garment finishing is important. I have embraced that approach ever since meeting her and she has certainly been a big influence on me and my work.
Which contemporary fashion designers do you admire?
I had the amazing opportunity to work for designers Gregory Parkinson (2010 CFDA Award nominee) and Rozae Nichols (2006 LA Fashion Award winner). They both have impeccable personal style, an unparalleled work ethic and an eye for what makes a statement. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to learn from them.
Also before launching my own company, I had the good fortune of working for Illia (owned by John Murrough and Robbie Moray). It was a gift to help them grow the company from just three employees to having a store on Abbott Kinney, and selling in major stores such as Scoop, and Barneys. They taught me the ins and outs of owning a growing company and for that I am so grateful.
What advice would you give to anyone looking to go into fashion design?
I’ve recently had the honor of speaking in schools; advising high schoolers and middle schoolers looking to go into fashion. The advice I always offer is don’t be held back by what others want you to do; get to know who you are, what is most rewarding to you and most importantly don’t be afraid to fail. It is only by finding what is meaningful in our lives that we can find identity.
Who is your style icon?
My style icon is the modern working woman I design for. She is feminine, assertive and expressive.
Jill Aiko Yee Label
When you’re not working where can we find you/ what are you doing?
I’m hanging out with my design group (CLOUDCLOUDny, wrk-shp and OUTLYING), taking in the exhibits at LACMA, going to a potluck with friends, taking a walk in Hancock Park or just riding my bike around town enjoying the city.
In what way does cinema inspire you?
I’ve actually only developed my love of film in the past couple of years so I feel like I am only just getting up to date! The idea of creating a designed world with set, makeup, and costume fascinates me now. I loved the film Coco Before Chanel. She was a woman who made her own destiny, and legacy. A woman that wasn’t afraid of being different.
I also love kooky psychological films such as Being John Malkovitch and I Heart Huckabees.
To see more of Jill’s designs please go to www.jillaikoyee.com
*Please note all images were taken by Rue 7 Creatives. Click HERE for their website*
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