Designer Jessie Wong from Yu Mei.
Jessie Wong founded her leather goods brand Yu Mei in late 2012 and made her debut at New Zealand Fashion Week 2016 last week to rave reviews. Jessie has always had an eye for design and developed Yu Mei to create leather bags and accessories that are functional yet luxurious and understated.
We caught up with Jessie to find out more about her latest collection, what inspires her and what you would never catch her wearing!
Tell us about your latest collection?
Our AW17 collection ‘Fine China’ was inspired by my sourcing trip over to Hong Kong earlier this year. I was over there looking for hardware suppliers but on the way was intrigued by the hot smokey markets. I’ve been there before but it’s always a bizarre sight, the ultimate in luxury – high end designer handbags are completely appropriated and placed into the context of Asian markets where the hawkers yell and barter with you to sell something that is so stolen. The city itself is an assault to the senses and the markets are surrounded by tall crowded buildings that have been painted bright colours years ago, weathered down in the humidity but still display hints of opulence of bygone decades. I loved it. Fine China is a reaction to the fake luxe bag phenomenon, it takes the colours, chaos and vibrance of Hong Kong full circle and distills it back into the high end, handcrafted materials from which they originated. Yu Mei bags are all about a balance between simplicity and complexity – a presentation of understated luxury.
What made you become a designer?
I’ve had an instinctive interest in design ever since I can remember. I was 11 when I started to sew and realised quickly that’s what I wanted to do with my life. I’ve had a drive to create something that is my own – a platform for me to express my ideas, fashion just happened to be my medium.
What inspires you?
I never know what inspiration is going to take grip next, but thus far it’s people and experiences. Each Yu Mei bag is named after someone close to me who had a need or quirk that I’ve interpreted into a bag, for example our top seller was inspired by my friend Laura Braid, who was a dedicated patron of the Uni library and forever carrying her laptop, sunnies case and extra jerseys to combat the Dunedin cold. She needed something simple that was a little more luxe than your average tote, and so the Braidy Bag was born. I’m also inspired by incredible women of strength and humour – Leandra Medine, Lena Dunham, Emily Weiss, Lorde – to name a few.
Yu Mei’s AW17 collection ‘Fine China’
Describe your personal style and how it influences your products and brand?
My personal style is all about keeping it simple and quality. I stick to a good pair of pants, shirt or t-shirt & boots or sneakers – and lots of gold jewels. My style probably reflects my brand – at the end of the day they both come from me. The common denominator here would definitely be their gold – gold foil and hardware on the bags and gold jewellery on me!
What is your all-time favourite purchase?
Mmmm too many – but one jacket that has never failed me is my Rag and Bone green Harris tweed biker with leather sleeves. I’m wearing it right now and I know my PR manager/good friend Courtney has been courting it forever.
What wardrobe item should every woman invest in?
A Yu Mei bag, no woman or man should be without one.
Do you have a style rule you always obey?
Less is more.
Yu Mei’s AW17 collection ‘Fine China’
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
There have been a few but definitely when I got my first stockist Slick Willy’s in Dunedin, and our last collection launch at Good as Gold – that was the first time Adrian and I had done a huge project together. So many people showed up and I didn’t have to rent a crowd. Also 5 seconds of fame on Paul Henry, I’m a fan so that was a buzz.
What can’t you live without?
My friends and family.
Finish this sentence – You would never catch me wearing…
Diamantes, not big on those.