We had the good fortune of connecting with Claire Yixuan Zhang and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Claire Yixuan, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
Growing up, I’ve always loved creating things with my own hands. Back when I was at school, I would finish up my homework as quickly as possible, so that I could spend hours carving complicated patterns on rubber stamps, or making jewelry out of epoxy resin. At that time my favorite hobby was probably drawing and making pretty dresses, first out of garbage bags and then real fabrics. Also a pretty nerdy academic type who loved reading about history, I naturally got into costume history and historical reconstruction, which allow me to both study and recreate beautiful garments from the past.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am a costume designer, historian, maker and occasional YouTuber (these might change later given that I’m always exploring new things). I was interested in crafts and sewing from a very young age. I had my first fashion show when I was 14 years old, and organized a few more during high school. At one point I realized that I was a lot more interested in looking back into what people wore in the past, than envisioning what they would wear in the future. And so I decided to study costume design in college, rather than fashion design. It was during my costume design training that I gained some more systematic knowledge in costume history as well as experience in sewing. I had long been dreaming about making an 18th century robe à la française, the type of gown worn by Madame de Pompadour in her gorgeous portraits, but never really had the time to do so. During the pandemic, with all my shows cancelled, I finally got myself around to work on this big project. In the first two months of lockdown, I spent about 200 hours on this dress, which was almost entirely hand sewn. Recreating the robe à la française opened up the world of historical reconstruction to me. I then moved on to making all the garments that went under the 18th century gown, including stays (the predecessor of corsets), paniers and hand embroidered stockings. Last October, I started my second project, which was to make an 1876 ball gown, again with all underwear included. I have so far invested hundreds of hours in making the chemise, corset, bustle, and the gown itself is already halfway finished. Meanwhile I started to document my work process and make them into tutorial videos, which I uploaded onto YouTube and bilibili (the Chinese equivalent of YouTube).
Recreating the robe à la française opened up the world of historical reconstruction to me. I then moved on to making all the garments that went under the 18th century gown, including stays (the predecessor of corsets), paniers and hand embroidered stockings. Last September, I started my second project, which was to make an 1876 ball gown, again with all underwear included. I have just recently completely the project, with about 400 hours invested in making the chemise, corset, bustle, and the gown itself. Meanwhile I started to document my work process and make them into tutorial videos, which I uploaded onto YouTube and bilibili (the Chinese equivalent of YouTube).
Attached is an image of the dress, shot at New York Public Library. Photo credit to Xiaoye Du.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
There are so many things to do in New York City! Walking around Central Park, enjoying the view of the High Line, biking on Brooklyn Bridge, seeing Broadway and Off-Broadway shows (hopefully they will reopen soon)… The museums here are worth visiting over and over again. There are the big and world-famous museums like MET, MOMA, and Museum of Natural History, but there are also a ton of smaller museums with a more intimate experience, such as the Frick Collection, Tenement Museum or Merchant’s House Museum. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My parents, for sending me to study costume design in the US and supporting my decision to pursue an artistic career. Without their love and guidance I wouldn’t be where I am today. My best friend Iris, who is never tired of discussing with me random history or construction technique even though she’s thousands of miles away in France. My roommates Ziyi and Gabbie, who have to endure the noise of my sewing machine pretty much every single day but still offer compliments and encouragement when I need them the most. My friend Yezi, who helps me document my dresses by basically doing everything, including hair, makeup and photography.
Other: Etsy shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/SewingBoxStudioNYC?ref=search_shop_redirect
The three Times Square photoshoots are credit to Xiaoye Du