Text & Photography: Lanre Adetola
For some models in Spirit Fashion Show, they'll be in the most fantastical statement pieces of their daily lives on April 8th, the day of the show. For second time Spirit Fashion Show model Bernice Yu however, that is a topic of debate. Her daily dress is rife with the extraordinary, the ornate, but most importantly the DIY. We sat down with her to see what experiences, ideologies, and visuals motivate her eccentric style.
"I'm from the suburbs north of Pittsburgh...it makes a difference, living in the suburbs vs the city. Generally I consider myself from Pittsburgh, but I know people who aren't from Pittsburgh or the Pittsburgh area, but who know Shadyside/Squirrel hill/Oakland better than I do. Also I grew up in suburbs that were very predominantly white, which definitely had an impact on me."
Bernice explains her upbringing and how her interactions impacted her perception of her own culture. As a daughter of two Chinese immigrant parents, constructing and coming to terms with her identity was not always easy.
"When I was growing up basically all of my friends were white. That plus the fact that 99% of the media I consumed starred/featured white people, I grew up with a really weird and uncomfortable relationship with my ethnicity... There was pressure from my family to sort of embrace/maintain my heritage, but all the pressures from outside my home were pushing me to assimilate and sort of "be more white".
But in the end, Bernice states her arrival to where she is sartorially "is actually very influenced by gender."
"I definitely felt very insecure about my outward gender appearance because I was assigned female at birth, and am cisgender, but I have vivid memories of being at the hairdressers for a haircut (dictated by my mother), being turned around to face the mirror to see the final result, and literally bursting into tears because I 'looked like a boy'."
...and perhaps her sister.
"I idolized my older sister for a large part of my childhood, and so once I got to the age where I was dressing myself, I started to really mimic the way my sister dressed. But my sister, when I was in middle school, was sort of consumed by the misguided notion that traditionally feminine things were less than, or frivolous, or unimportant. So in a "I'm not like other girls" kind of way, my sister vocally dismissed fashion, makeup, etc. So I dressed very unremarkably, 'tomboy'ishly."
With time however Bernice would discover she "was definitely drawn to fashion and beauty and makeup and things regarding 'aesthetics'." In just a summer she would teach herself makeup via YouTube tutorials and begin the journey of "unlearn[ing] the sexist, misogynist behaviors that basically trivialized/demonized femininity.", the journey of "self-expression through how [she] presents [her] physical body."
"I definitely followed a lot of fashion blogs...mostly high-fashion, haute couture, avant-garde fashion blogs. But I'm also very influenced by like, Asian wholesale fashion and "art hoe" fashion and sort of minimalist fashion... So sometimes I want to wear ornate otherworldly totally excessive pieces, but I'm also very comfortable in like, a black turtleneck", she says as she describes her early influences.
How would she describe the Bernice Yu aesthetic?
"Definitely feminine. Usually deliberate..and I guess just like, trend-conscious. Words like 'silhouette' and 'statement' come to mind, too. Because one thing I'm always very conscious of is the silhouette of an ensemble, and also what kind of statement I want to make/if I want to make a statement/if that statement is one of subtlety or not...I just kind of wear what I want and what I like"
Did we mention Bernice made the headpiece and earrings pictured above? Thirfting and DIY are staple elements of her wardrobe.. For her, fashion is almost an artist journey of curating and creating, as the clothes worn in the photos were all thrifted by her as well.
"I used to shop online a lot and go to stores like forever 21 and h&m, and while I still shop online occasionally, I rarely shop at fast fashion places anymore, storefront or online."
"I also rarely buy jewelry anymore; if i see something i like in a (non-thrift) store, i'll take a picture of it with my phone so I have the picture as inspiration for a future DIY. I do that with clothes, too...especially expensive clothes"
"For me, thrifting/DIYing is a combination of 'yay cheap things' + 'yay reuse/recycling' + 'yay more ethical consumption'."