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A young designer builds her repertoire by adding coordinating lingerie to her line of softly tailored dresses.
Dressed in a fragile silk chiffon top and a tiered chiffon slip, Jean Yu has an almost ethereal presence. But her will to succeed is anything but. She spent a year and $200,000 renovating a 433-square-foot space, and last December opened her dream boutique, filled with the softly feminine lingerie and dresses she designs. Called 37=1, the store is named for its address, 37 Crosby Street. Airy and spacious, it has spare, Mod furnishings and club-like lighting. Panties and dresses alike appear to float in the air, suspended by nearly invisible fishing wire.
“I could have bought a house for everything I’ve spent on this project,” says Yu, a transplanted Californian who studied at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology and apprenticed with Ronaldus Shamask in Manhattan in the early Nineties. Yu spent six years designing a line of young, contemporary sportswear that did not bear her name, just a blank neon-red vinyl label, which was sold at stores like Barneys, Neiman Marcus and Louis, Boston.
But her interest in clothing the fashion-obsessed kids she calls “trendoids” was short-lived; her private label stint ended in 2000. “The novelty wore off,” she explains. “Now, it’s a matter of wanting better things, less perhaps in quantity but more in quality. I have an obsession — everything has to be beautiful inside and out. That’s why it didn’t work with sportswear. It was about the price, not the quality.”
She added that she left the sportswear business because “I hated it. It was so mechanical. It was like having to turn out everything on a conveyor belt every season.”
A good deal of Yu’s business now is generated by custom orders from an upscale clientele, fulfilled with the help of eight contracted sewers. Custom-designed dresses take two to four weeks for delivery, while lingerie requires about half that time. And Yu is no stranger to the bridal biz: She’s frequently commissioned to create a wedding gown and matching trousseau, working closely with the client to perfect a fabric choice, dainty trim or barely discernible seam.
“I’m really not a lingerie designer, so I don’t apply traditional lingerie techniques,” says Yu, who designs her eponymous line out of a basement studio. “I don’t like bulkiness of construction or elastics that are too tight, and all of those silly bows. At one time, I didn’t even like wearing panties, so I made the kind of panties I would wear.”
Yu’s best-selling low-rise panties of silk or Swiss cotton voile — one of her favorite fabrics, which she also uses for dresses — have a gently tailored, architectural look. They feature handcrafted French seams and in back, a keyhole cutout edged in imported grosgrain. The palette typically runs to “makeup shades” like blush pinks, a range of nude tones, such as a “cameo” peach and cafe au lait, and smoky grays and blacks.
Panties retail from $228 to $280; bras, from $138 to $190, and garter belts, $188 to $328. What she describes as “proper slips” of silk charmeuse, chiffon or georgette, retail from $318 to $720, while layered sheer chiffon gowns are $1,120 to $1,980. She also does made-to-order ankle-length robes that resemble smoking jackets in layered chiffon-on-chiffon, chiffon-on-charmeuse and chiffon-on-georgette. These run from $1,580 to $2,200.
“I’m getting older,” says 33-year-old Yu. “I don’t care about trends anymore. My designs are very womanly — for the woman who has seen everything.”