By  on October 19, 2010

Back in May, a three-alarm fire tore through the top floors of 37 Crosby Street in Manhattan. Jean Yu, whose studio and 37=1 boutique are located on the ground floor, had to close up shop. Remarkably, the incident has turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

“The timing worked out, because I could take on projects and do other things,” says Yu, who has yet to reopen. “It led to a burst of energy for me.”

Indeed, not only was she free to collaborate with Rag & Bone and Proenza Schouler for their recent runway shows, but she’s also launching a collection of basics this spring, called 180 by Jean Yu. “It’s the opposite of what I do, really,” explains the designer, best known for her ultrafragile and meticulously crafted lingerie and separates.

And at first glance, this new collection of skinny tanks, oversize T-shirts and tube dresses appears quite similar. Shapes are clean; there are no prints or embellishments anywhere, and everything remains stripped down and spare. Even the triangle bra here is a close echo of her signature foundation piece. That 180, then? It’s about one word: ease. “The collection is easy-to-wear, easy-to-buy and easy-to-care,” explains Yu, adding that, in keeping with the low-maintenance vibe, she cuts the entire collection from durable materials such as rayon jersey, stretch silk chiffon and leather. Prices range from $36 for a bandeau bra to $144 wholesale for the leather dress. So far, Barneys New York, Ikram in Chicago, Ron Herman in L.A. and Dover Street Market in London have picked up the collection.

This isn’t the first time Yu has attempted to spin off a second line. Five years ago she started Milk and Honey, a short-lived collection of lower-priced cotton underpinnings. And just last year, she launched Matters of Leisure, a capsule lineup of robes, inspired by and tailored like a man’s smoking jacket.

In fact, the origins of 180 partly stem from the suitcase logo for Matters of Leisure, the distribution for which the designer now intends to shift to the hotel market.

“It got me thinking about clothes that would work in the confines of travel,” she says. “I thought, ‘What goes well in a suitcase, what travels well and what packs well?’”

The fire gave her license to become a globe-trotter in her own life and work, including for 180, which is produced in India. “It made me realize how physically tied I am to the operations here,” Yu continues, “how dependent I am to all these bulky things.”

Going forward, Yu plans to stick with the basic premise at the heart of 180 by Jean Yu — “alphabets for the wardrobe,” she says. Lingerie will naturally play a part, but the designer emphasizes that this is fully a ready-to-wear collection.

“It still has the refined construction, but I’m doing it in a way that’s more sporty and easy,” says Yu, highlighting the inverted, topstitched neon piping on a simple gray tank as a case in point. “I’m an item designer,” she adds. “The thing about fashion is that it changes too much and unnecessarily. This is about continuity.”

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