How and why King-Yu Yiu developed his own Workman Overall
What would be the ultimate project when you are a fashion designer and a denim head? It must be a project which incorporates your designing skills and passion for denim, right? Recently, the London-based designer King-Yu Yiu designed his own denim pieces, which has been exclusively made for him…pretty cool right?
King-Yu Yiu got onto our radar a few months after we started on Instagram, as he was showcasing the fading process of a pair of LEE 101Z’s. We were following the process with great interest, and eventually we saw one of the best faded pairs of jeans ever. King-Yu managed to wear his pair for 1338 days straight and without a single wash – pretty insane, right? From there, our common love for denim kept us in touch in the years that followed and led to some interesting interviews in the past.
The moment we heard that King-Yu had developed his own denim pieces, we wanted to know the ins and outs, so we reached out to the guy with the magic legs (and magnificent design skills)…
Robin Denim (RD): Hi King-Yu, how are you doing man? And how’s the corona situation in London right now? Are you still able to work on cool projects?
King-Yu Yiu (King-Yu): Firstly, thank you for your kind words Robin!
All well and keeping safe Robin—likewise I hope. It is always a real pleasure answering your questions to share my current fadings alongside with other works. We are all just trying to play our role in social distancing, hoping to move forward quickly together so we can all beat this madness sooner rather than later; as I’m writing this, it makes our lives slightly easier when this week’s forecast is all going to be nothing but rain. However, I am lucky to have good natural lighting in my studio, where I am able to focus on my projects and garden to walk around (in repetitive circles) to clear some head-space if needed!
RD: Before we will dive into the denim pieces you have developed; can you first share a little bit more about your work? What are you actually doing? And what have been some cool projects you have worked on in the past?
King-Yu: Recently, I have been picking back up my paintbrushes and re-focusing a lot on my paintings, which is what I was specifically trained in. I’ve just installed a three piece set at KINDARE on Connaught Street, London, which is a beautiful atelier and luxury boutique designed and owned by Kinder Aggugini, who in fact is still one of my mentors. He was one of the many kind people to show me the ropes to the world of fashion back in 2007 when I had moved into London swiftly after my BTEC Art and Design Diploma. It’s amazing how time has flown by so incredibly fast. Alongside all of this, I’ve also been preparing a few proposals on potential collaborations which I would love to share with you once they have been approved!
RD: As we already highlighted in the introduction; developing your own denim set must be pretty cool. What drove you to this project and what was the original inspiration?
King-Yu: Yes, I am extremely fortunate to be able to develop my own set. I kept saying “I must do it, I must do it…” and here we are! Ever since collaborating with LEE on the fades, I just thought one day to myself on the train, “…Wouldn’t it be great to fade a pair of King-Yu Yiu’s?” – This was when I was still sporting in my 23oz’s in 2013, so only until now have I been able to catch up with my own promise.
RD: For this project you have teamed up with Crystal Denim, right? How would you like to describe this manufacturer? And why did you choose to work with them?
King-Yu: The first time I visited Crystal Denim was around 2011-12; I was in Hong Kong at the time visiting potential manufactures for myself and just so happens to discover that they are one of the world’s leading environmentally friendly suppliers ranging from sustainable sourcing to chemical management. What impressed me the most was their waste water facilities which recycles and purifies used water – saving an equivalent of 1.70 million tons of fresh water a year. As you know I support ‘Dry Goods’ all day long but it is their ethos and mentality which I very much admire. The scale of their operations are just incredible, especially the years of hard work invested into the company since their humble beginnings, starting out with what I believe with only a few sewing machines and knitting looms back in the mid 70’s. More recently, it has also been named one of the most influential companies for a sustainable future by SDG2000, World Benchmarking Alliance; this shows promising signs for myself that I am collaborating with a company with the right ethos and values. Especially in light of the current global challenges, I personally feel this is a good time to stop, think and change to improve on shaping for a better future, in all aspects of the production process.
RD: How did you approach big topics as sustainability for this special project?
King-Yu: Having to work previously alongside with Vivienne Westwood, sustainability has always been part of her work since I’ve joined. Personally sustainability is more of an emotional attachment linked with the whole concept of “D-I-Y” – a collection Vivienne presented for her Spring / Summer ’09 and on her invite were scribblings of her ideas on suggestions how to decorate clothes yourself. This makes me reminisce with elements of ‘Punk’ where they would customise their own studded leather bikers and safety pinning denim jackets. The whole concept of customisation makes me imagine of going back to basics and only sourcing local ingredients, using what we have around us. This experience and working method has been part of my standard and it is very hard to change after 8 years. To be honest, it couldn’t be more relevant now and wherever we can make the planet a better place, we absolutely should.
RD: The fit of both the jeans and jacket are wider compared to what we generally see coming by these days. What have been your inspiration?
King-Yu: The two denim piece sets are heavily inspired by 1920’s miner’s overalls. Pants were originally cut straight with loose legs but tailored with slight tapering from the knees onwards; featuring a high rise and roomier thigh fit while maintaining a smaller leg opening to achieve a contemporary cut. Although I’m currently a 30” (for the time being…) I’ve instructed to cut a waist size of 33”— mainly inspired by the fact miners used to wear them over their own trousers. I liked the idea of it literally being worn “over-all your clothing underneath” and therefore oversized them for that authentic look. The double pleated denim jacket follows the exact original specifications with a regular box ‘workman’ silhouette. For me, real denim is what it was originally developed for – its manual labour purposes –which meant for me going back to the basics of workwear and you simply cannot beat the classics.
RD: Can you tell us more about the fabric you used? Weight, ingredients, selvedge, etc? Why did you choose this fabric?
King-Yu: The pieces have been constructed using Cone Denim – we have selected a 16.5oz, 3×1 right hand twill, 100% cotton “Galaxy Blue” shade woven on a 30” loom. For a slight change of direction, I thought why not experiment and see how the wear-down develops on a lighter base in comparison to my usual Japanese heavy weight quality bases!
RD: As the pieces were especially made for you, you could go as crazy as you’d like. Did you incorporate any special details? Or did you keep it as clean as possible?
King-Yu: Again, for the start our partnership I decided to keep it clean and quintessential. Moving forward nonetheless, I am already in discussion with the project manager at Crystal Denim to create very small volumes, even 1 out of 1 pieces as extremely special one-off’s. It’s not their usual scale of assignments but I hope to work in a “bespoke” approach. Initially I had another idea of technique application for my first pieces which hopefully I can re-share with you the day when we finally realise the idea! But since it was the first collaboration as a team, I thought it was best to keep it neat but truly well-crafted with utmost attention and care. The pieces have been kept to a minimum of environmental impact, keeping it as a friendly product where possible; i.e. usage of horn buttons, eco yarn threads, bar tacks instead of rivets whilst maintaining 100% metal-free garments and goes without saying of course, wash-free, dry goods only. One particular detail I am very proud of, is carrying the signatures of those who were involved in making this very special piece for me, I truly believe the soul is what makes the garment.
RD: You have been wearing the set for about 4 months now, how’s it holding up? How are the pieces fading in comparison with the LEE 101 jeans you have been wearing before?
King-Yu: Apart from the unusual weeks of isolation, as you can imagine the pieces are not having as much wear ’n’ tear as they usually would on a daily routine. However, during its ‘resting period’, I either put these out directly in the sun to get the fabric dry or aired outdoors to let nature take its course. Either way, I am encouraging to promote as much movement to the indigo as I can! Generally speaking, as I’ve mentioned above with the pants being far baggier in silhouette and cutting, this will take time to fade due to the fabric coverage and also as it is not as “skin-tight” to the body (like the sleeves of denim jacket this is already causing a stronger honeycombs). Still of course, very early days…
RD: In the past you managed to wear a pair of jeans for 1338 straight without a single wash. Are you intending to go beyond this respectable achievement with your own set?
King-Yu: 110% – to go as far as I possibly can just like the previous LEE’s. I also had in mind to collaborate with many great denim repairers too along the way…Let’s just quickly hope for a speedy recovery to the world and people and get back into fading properly firstly!