Shelley Yu, designer and creator of Kabuki Designs shares the story of overcoming the early struggles of building her own fashion line and the chance inspiration that turned it all around….
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved fashion. Some of my earliest memories are of my mother making beautiful dresses for my sister and I. When I was 10 years old, I decided my dream was to become a fashion designer.
Many years later, Tokyo opened the floodgates for me and I took my first steps in approaching this dream. Some years after that, in April of 2011, Toronto became the birthplace of my line Kabuki Designs (which means Beautiful Clothes in Japanese).
I found my first two years in business to be quite a struggle as I worked to define the Kabuki style. I had brought over my design and pattern-making experience from the markets in Japan, and initially brought the same popular style elements to my own line, but found the Canadian marketplace didn’t seem to quite understand it. It seemed the aesthetics of eastern women and western women were not the same. This I could clearly see, but just couldn’t figure out how to bridge the gap.
“Find a routine daytime job and your life will be easier!”
“Never give up as this is the only career brings you no regret!”
There were always these two conflicting voices in my mind and it was enough to drive me mad. I can honestly say I became afraid of a new season coming because I just didn’t know what to make next.
In March of 2013, my family and I took a trip to Taiwan. On the airplane, I randomly switched the TV channels – I had no interest in any shows – I was annoyed that I hadn’t made progress or had any ideas about the new collections I was to be working on. I turned on the classic movie channel and Audrey Hepburn’s “How to Steal a Million” caught my eye.
When I first saw Audrey’s photo many years ago, I was attracted to her beauty, her elegance, and her intelligence. That’s about the time I started to believe that God is indeed making perfect humans! She at once became my forever idol. While watching the movie, I imagined being her personal stylist – what I would dress her in…?
Then there suddenly an unexpected idea hit mind — why not consider my customers as my idols and style them?
After the vacation, a simple but classic new Kabuki style was born along with 2013FW collections. I named all the pieces after characters played by Audrey Hepburn. And of course, the Audrey dress became the biggest hit among them!
My pattern making master Sensei Kondo, who used to work for Cristobal Balenciaga in Paris, taught me that the first thing to be considered when making a garment is to make sure the person in it feeling cozy. The fabrics and the silhouette must be not only flattering but also comfortable. I must say I’m grateful to have studied human anatomy at the medical university so many years ago – it most certainly helps me in pattern-making, crafting pretty silhouettes that move easily.
Thank you all for supporting and encouraging me and Kabuki through the years!
(This is the first blog I’ve written in English. I want to thank Laura-Jean who helped me with writing and editing!)