Creative Journeys: Q&A Interview with Fashion Designer Ly-Ling Vilaysane

AWARD-WINNING Swiss designer Ly-Ling Vilaysane established her fashion brand “aéthérée” in 2006. At her St Gallen atelier she creates timeless, modern clothes for everyday wear with an emphasis on quality materials and attention to detail. In this Q&A interview she shares with us what’s important to her in life.

Ly-Ling, please describe your path to becoming a fashion designer.

I wanted to become a fashion designer since I was 7 years old. It always fascinated me how thoughts can be made tangible. You have an idea and suddenly you hold the idea in your hands and then you can wear it and make people happy. After graduation I wasn’t sure if I should study architecture, but then I chose fashion and don’t regret it for a second. Being a fashion designer means being free. I’m free to express myself through my work. I’m allowed to do what I like every day and I can choose who I want to work with. In addition, I can express my personal development through my clothes.

fashion swiss aetheree
The “Volpone Parka” – aéthérée January 2018 collection.
How have you developed as a fashion designer?

After secondary school in Appenzell I attended Textile-HTL Dornbirn in the clothing technology/fashion design branch. Afterwards I went to ESMOD, a private fashion school in Paris. I didn’t finish (my studies) there because after two years I got a job offer from David Szeto as a fashion assistant. After two years with David I founded my fashion label aéthérée with Adrien Escaravage.

“I want to create extraordinary clothes that radiate something you can feel.”

Is there someone, in any given field, from whom you draw inspiration, and why?

I admire my parents because they gave me and my brother so much never-ending love. [Ly-Ling was born in 1980 in Canton Appenzell to Chinese parents.] They came as refugees to Switzerland [from Laos] and really started from zero. Life was certainly not easy for them then. But no matter how difficult it was, I never heard them moan about anything. They have always seen the opportunities, not the problems. And I believe that this is also the reason why today they have built something bigger than have many other Swiss who were in a much better situation when starting out.

My parents have shown me that everything is possible and that you can do anything. And they also showed me what hard work and discipline mean. They always let us do what we wanted and always tried to do their best to support us as much as possible. My brother and I never had to experience what they had to go through in the refugee camp. We don’t know what it’s like to be hungry and in need because they gave us a life full of abundance and for that I am infinitely grateful. (For more about who inspires Ly-Ling, please see below.)

Whom in the fashion industry do you admire?  

I love Rei Kawakubo, Junya Watanabe, Yoji Yamamoto, Dries Van Noten, Karl Lagerfeld, and Martin Margiela. Generally, I also find Chanel very interesting.

Swiss fashion
The “Coco Blouse”: the modal/polyamid blend feels beautifully soft on the skin, from September 2017.
From where do you draw inspiration for your designs (for e.g. from nature, movies, architecture, your own imagination)?

I don’t know exactly where my ideas came from, but they suddenly appear. Then they take hold of me and take over. Maybe it’s just my thoughts and what I experience in everyday life that inspires me. When a new design is finished in my head, I fully commit to it and work through all the features I want for the garment.

What kind of person do you create your clothes for?

I make clothes for people [both men and women] who appreciate beautiful things. People who want timeless clothes with unique details, a great cut and fit, and who love good quality fabric.

“Real things are really valuable only when they are used in everyday life.”

What do you want your designs to be known for? What differentiates them from other brands?

I want people to know that I make my clothes with a great deal of love and that I put a lot of thought into their function and design. For me a garment from aéthérée is a living thing. I work a lot on details, the fit or function because that’s very important to me. Clothes should not only be beautiful but also functional and comfortable. You have to feel good in them, because then you’re so much more beautiful.

swiss fashion
The multi-purpose “Sari Hose”, July 2017.
How do you integrate ethical issues (sustainability, fair trade, etc.) into your work, if at all?

I use a lot of natural materials from England, Germany, Italy, Austria and Switzerland. I love their traditional fabrics. I also use ‘cutoffs’ from Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Sonja Rykiel, and so on. And my clothes can always be repaired. It takes a great deal for me to tell a customer that they have to dispose of a piece of clothing because you can very often repair it. With timeless clothes, technically speaking, this is never a problem.

aéthérée is the Old French word for ethereal and stands for the soul that gives life to the physical form

When you lack creative inspiration, motivation or energy what helps get you back on track again?

When things aren’t flowing, I do things that just have to be done, such as bookkeeping or packing or I’ll take a break and rest. Then the ideas come back by themselves.

Do you have an inspirational “mantra” or routine that guides you in work or life?

What leads me in life is mainly my gut feeling. I meditate every morning, which gives me the energy and the peace I need to develop myself in life.

swiss fashion
The “Zip Dress”, from March 2017 sports a shoulder zip that can be worn open or closed.
How do you balance your work and your home life?

I just try to do what I think is right and important in the moment. I find that I’m getting better at it, so I hope that soon it will not be an issue.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a fashion designer but is afraid to try?

Listen closely to your heart and if you’re still not 100 percent sure then let it go.

Aetheree mademoiselle dress
Eye-catching smocking adorns the waistline of the “Mademoiselle” dress, Ly-Ling’s favourite design, from the aéthérée 2016 collection.
Where can people see and purchase your clothes; are you participating at special events in the coming year?

You can find my clothes at my boutique in St Gallen every Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and also by appointment. I’ll also be participating at the following fairs and events in upcoming months: Blickfang Basel International Design Fair from 4 – 6 May; at the Chloschter Crafts Fair at the Kapuzinerkloster in Soloturn on 26 – 27 May; at the in&out Swiss Design Fair in Aarau, 26 – 28 October; at Blickfang Zürich, 23 – 25 November; and at Designschenken in Lucerne from 30 November to 2 December. 

aéthérée Boutique
Bahnhofstrasse 15
(Entrance at rear, 1st floor)
CH-9000 St.Gallen
Tel.: +41 (0)71 535 52 79
aéthérée on Instagram and Facebook

Helpful links:
HTL Dornbirn – Clothing Technology Department
ESMOD International Fashion Institute
David Szeto
Rei Kawakubo
Junya Watanabe
Yoji Yamamoto
Dries Van Noten
Martin Margiela

Continued from above:
Is there someone, in any given field, from whom you draw inspiration, and why?

Michael Jackson: Michael Jackson is for me one of the most talented people who ever lived, but what impressed me most was his intention. He really wanted to do something positive and he used his talent to spread more love and peace and to change the world positively. Even as a ten-year-old, I translated his lyrics with a dictionary and his music and dance style inspired me. Everything he did was just perfectly thought out and therefore timeless. His dance steps, his voice, his lyrics, his videos and his vision are simply unearthly to me.

Marie Curie: She had the courage to live her talent at a time when women had no voice. She was a fighter and got what she wanted and all from being herself. I still observe women today being oppressed and made small and how much they lack the courage to be themselves and to live their greatness. When I think of women like Marie Curie, they give me the strength to be even more myself, because only then can the world feel that all human beings are valuable and important.

Elon Musk: Elon Musk is one of the first people who really managed to decentralize power away from the “big ones”. He’s been more innovative as a private company than NASA. He’s achieved things that were thought impossible and is living something that will supplant the old world. He’s released his patents for Tesla because he wants a lot more electric cars. I find that extremely courageous and it shows that people should stop working against and rather for each other.

I also admire Mahatma Gandhi, Warren Buffet, Niki Lauda, Gabrielle Bonheur (“Coco Chanel”), Simone de Beauvoir, and many more. I find people in general very interesting because everyone has a different view of the world and that really inspires me. 

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