It's actually a pretty funny story how Yvonne and I turned out to be friends. We were in the same community service youth group, and we absolutely hated each other. Life has a weird way of forcing you to find the good in people, because we unexpectedly ended up becoming co-presidents, and then English teachers in Taiwan for a summer together. Now, we're both students at Parsons. I can't even express in words how much I appreciate her. In this feature, we talk about the roots behind her headstrong personality and the double standards when it comes to the fashion industry.
STEPH: Do you think your passion of being a feminist is related to your passion for fashion, business, etc?
YVONNE: At its core, regardless of what my goals are, a lot of it has to do with being self reliant. Creative director at Barneys, or head PR of Dior… Those positions I won’t have to fall back on family, a boy -- I can count on myself. Stability is very important to me. I like to think that counting on myself, I won’t be vulnerable in the future.
STEPH: Building off of that, were you always brought up with this headstrong mentality in your household, or was it something gradual?
YVONNE: Both because I remember when I was little, I would get into arguments with my parents. A lot of times I was just being stubborn and I would not back down, even if I was completely wrong! Then I learned through middle school when I was really shy and quiet. My parents had just gotten divorced and I internalized that. I was like, "Okay so... Instead of letting this eat me alive, there’s a way to grow from this." I guess being independent from the get go, it’s taught me to be the way I am now. I haven’t wasted any time to get to where I am in my life because it started from when I was young.
"Now, I can talk to a stranger on the train, I don’t really care. I can talk to anybody. It takes a lot of getting out of your shell, but it also has to do with having someone push you out of your shell first, because you don’t just get over your fear of speaking in public overnight. Family was that push for me to get to where I am today."
STEPH: Was there ever a specific time in your life when you realized that you were passionate about whatever you do now? Or a specific time when you realized you needed woman’s rights?
YVONNE: My parents are very different people. My dad is very of the moment, but my mom is always ten steps ahead. She was always the head of the household. She’s so tough up here, that when the divorce happened, I understood why it was better for them to go separate ways because it made more sense logistically, financially, and emotionally. There’s a reason why some women are just better off on their own doing their own thing versus having to be reliant on other people.
Who I am as a person, I think my mom has a lot to do with it. I see how she thinks and how she handles problems. I would never tell this to her face, but she is by far the fastest thinker I’ve ever seen in my entire life -- it scares me! (laughs) I hope I can be like that too because I swear she has the mind for successful business and entrepreneurship.
STEPH: Do you think you've had to push yourself to become this type of person you are today, or it was natural for you?
YVONNE: I’ve noticed throughout my years, in the various friend groups that I’ve been a part of, people turn to me almost like a natural habit and go, “What should we do? Where should we go eat?” But I don’t think that its really affected the way I think because that’s just how I carry myself. In terms of feminism, I think a lot of it has to do with less convincing yourself, “I’m a feminist and I can do this,” but more of “I shouldn’t have to convince myself because I know I already can.”
STEPH: Why do you think it’s important to be so career driven? What is it that you think, “I really don’t need a guy in my life right now?"
YVONNE: If I had to choose between family, love, or career, 100% I would choose career because that will never let you down. It’s human nature to be emotional and vulnerable towards others, but I don’t like how feelings can get in the way of a business deal. I don’t want that to impact what I want to do for the rest of my life, but people will let you down and disappoint you. Work hard play hard, work is always first. I don’t really see that as a necessity. I won’t need you in order to feel ok for myself. There will always be somebody else. You’re not my lifeline here!
"Relationships are like two vines growing towards the sun in different directions but are still wrapped around the same fence. So it’s ok if you want to do different things, maybe it’s not meant to be, and down the road you’ll get back together again. But you have to focus on what you want to do. You can’t let someone else influence your life decisions. You need to learn how to grow and build yourself before you can build and appreciate somebody else."
STEPH: You already said in the fashion/PR industry there’s already a lot of women so you don’t experience much discrimination. But what about just solely being a woman?
YVONNE: Being a girl in and out of nightlife, you always see bouncers saying, “Deal with the ladies first, handle the guys afterwards.” When you’re in the moment, it’s awesome. But if you think about it... Ladies first because we’re precious and up here? Are you saying we don’t have the capabilities to do what a man can do? At the club, guys will be looking and realize I have a ring, so they stay away. I wear one because it avoids a lot of encounters that I would have to face if I didn’t. They’ll try and dance with me and I’ll wave my finger like, “Sorry! I’m not interested.” I shouldn't have to deal with that. It’s disgusting and it's a part of the culture these days.
STEPH: Growing up loving art and design, going into business; were your parents always supportive, or they wanted you to pick something more stable?
YVONNE: It took a long time -- not because they didn’t let me, but because one was all for it, the other one not so much. My mom used to be a fine artist when she was younger. I saw her pieces and she was good. Because she’s always had that appreciation, she enrolled my brother and I into art school. She saw that school wasn’t our strongest area and we both had quit our instruments, so we tried art and hit the ground running. As you know, art isn’t cheap, it’s the most expensive extracurricular there is. You run out of materials and you need new ones.
My dad was seeing how much money was going into us and didn’t understand why we weren’t pursuing law or medicine. But because my mom is always thinking ahead, she would go, “Quiet down. Let them do their thing.” And then he saw results like my brother getting into Parsons with all this money and myself getting awards. Then he was like, "Alright. Maybe I should back off a little bit." I wouldn’t say it came from proving myself, but staying with the passion long enough for him to understand why I wanted to pursue something as opposed to something else.
"My name doesn’t necessarily have to hold up a significant weight, but I want what I’m a part of to mean something to a degree. Right now, I have things I want to do and people I want to meet. My path in the future will hopefully be entrepreneurship because I want to get to a point where I don’t have to report to anybody else. Other people are reporting to me. I want to explore all my creative outlets and aspirations."
STEPH: In the fashion industry, do you see that behind the scenes is not as glamorous as it seems; it’s more sexist or racist… In your experience or other experiences that you’ve heard of?
YVONNE: A lot of times, my head director and I only come in contact through emails approving whether this model or this celebrity can wear our brand (Loewe). We have a list of VIPs in our database: Approved or not approved. Emma Stone is allowed to wear our brand. Whatever she wants, we give her. But someone like Kim Kardashian isn't allowed to wear Loewe since she's controversial and has done nude photoshoots. All the power to you if you’re confident in your body like that, but when it comes to press, it’s either good or bad.
Even if it’s a post on Instagram or social media, that in itself can determine whether you are allowed to wear Loewe. It's very important on who is wearing our brand otherwise it's horrible PR for us. It’s hard to understand if you don’t know the levels of celebrities. That’s the whole thing with fashion. No one is going to know if you’re wearing Forever 21 since it's so common. But when it comes to luxury brands, there’s no other dress like it. So you better believe that whoever is going to wear it has to be approved by us, before they hit the runway.
STEPH: Do you think that’s a double standard? Even after you put it on the runway, there’s like worst/best dressed. You’re literally being watched every step… No matter what, there will be people with polarizing opinions and constant critique.
YVONNE: Yes. If you look at all the red carpet pictures from a recap of an event like the Oscars, all the guys are wearing the same thing. How much variation can there be with the same suit? Whereas with a woman there’s a pantsuit, skirt, ball gown… There is so much more variation for what people are seeing. So guy wise, the only discrepancy would be what kind of shoes you’re wearing or your hair.
If you are a girl, you have a glam team doing hair and makeup. Everything is planned months in advance to produce a final look. Because of that, when people are looking at fashion, you are always going to see what dress and brand female celebrities wear. For a lot of industries, that is how it’s run. For example, the MET gala. Designers will specifically buy the tables and seats for the celebrities to wear their brand because that’s how they make money. A lot times, it's mostly women who are getting offers to come to this or that.
"The fashion industry is geared towards women and that’s what makes it seem 'feminine.' I totally understand that, because what else are we looking at here? We’re always looking at women. It's really harsh because people are constantly watching and judging you. A lot of it has to do with how you present yourself."
STEPH: Any advice?
YVONNE: To all the guys, if you’re into fashion...That’s not something I would easily dismiss. The way men break into fashion is by thinking differently. By being different and standing out, that’s what’s going to get you places.
To the girls that are our age, don’t you ever let a guy tell you can’t do this or you can’t do that. We’re in our early 20s. Do not let anyone else intervene with your decision making because you will never know what could have been or would have been if you rely on someone else to keep the wheels turning.
To the little girls out there, when people ask you what you want to do in life… It’s easier to find your calling and focus on what you like to do. If you like to write, keep writing. Maybe you’ll be a writer for The New York Times. If you like photography, keep taking photos. Maybe you’ll be a famous photographer for a world model company or major fashion publication. You never know.