It’s not everyday you meet the epitome of stylish, sassy and witty. Add a light-up-the-room personality, a resume girls everywhere would envy, a Proenza Schouler bag — and you get the creative powerhouse that is Michelle Yu. She’s a skilled wordsmith, online contributing editor for Flare Magazine, freelance writer and illustrator, and an old man at heart, as chronicled on her blog, When I’m an Old Man.
This woman of many fashionable hats has lived and worked in Toronto, Vancouver and is a frequent flyer to Asia where she is a trend consultant for Jecci 5.
Readers can’t get enough of her blog or her weekly Thursday Flare.com series “The Essentials” where she shares her style picks on keeping things trendy in the office. And we can’t get enough of her - well everything, but particularly her killer illustrations. How does she do that?
Michelle shows us who’s boss today by dishing on her internships, her favorite trend and how she scored an interview in the Conde Nast office in New York.
How did you get your start in fashion?
I’ve loved art and fashion since I was a wee one so it was a career path that didn’t take much thought at all. I had planned to be a fashion designer but I think that was only because it was the only visible option to me at the time—I didn’t realize that there are so many different jobs and sectors of fashion!—I thought that if you wanted to be in fashion, you’d be either a designer or a model. Obviously I know better now.
(L to R: Michelle Yu, Serina and Susu of Chic du Chic)
You interned at Flare Magazine in Toronto - lucky girl! What was that experience like and was it anything like “The Devil Wears Prada”?
When I interned, the team then was totally different—I interned when Lisa Tant was editor-in-chief—and it couldn’t have been farther from “The Devil Wears Prada”. I still remember to this day that on our first day, the assistant fashion editor at the time was showing us, the new batch of fashion interns, around the office and Lisa happened to have walked around the corner and bumped into us. I expected her to keep walking without a greeting as she’s obviously a very busy person, but she stopped with a big smile and welcomed us, saying how much she appreciated our help.
I was floored by her warmth given the cold and judgmental nature of this industry but it just goes to show that no matter how important/busy/established you are, you can still be a kind and respectful person. The rest of the team was great too—very young and very talented. Honestly, so much of it just comes down to common sense paired with hard work. No one likes working for free but as long as you know what you’re working towards, you’ll have a fighting chance. Oh, and to quote The Rock, “know your role”. You’re an intern, not the fashion director.
Who are your style icons?
I’m not sure I have any style icons, but there are people whose style I really enjoy. It changes from time to time but in recent years it’s been Taylor Tomasi Hill. I love how she bounces from look to look but it’s always really well-mixed. I also love seeing the Vogue Paris wolf pack together during fashion week. The uniform is always the same: loose button-down tucked into skinny jeans with sharp heels (all black of course) so it’s not so much the outfit that intrigues me, but there’s just something so powerfully chic about seeing the whole gang of them together.
(Image from Citizen Couture)
You write about up-and-coming people, places and things from all over. What’s been your favorite designer, trend or story to cover so far?
In terms of trends, one of my favourites from the past few seasons has been the sweatshirt trend—I loooooove them and live in them. But try explaining it to non-fashion folk. It’s super fun. Lastly, I always like to mention Obakki wherever I can. It’s a local Vancouver women’s brand founded by Treana Peake, wife of Nickelback guitarist, Ryan Peake.
She is a phenomenally kind and giving person—when I used to work at her Gastown boutique when I was a student, I remember her greeting local homeless guys by name like old friends, which was so refreshing. Now her focus is on the Obakki Foundation, which is her charity that works to build schools and drill wells for clean water in various villages in Africa. She and her husband actually go bushwacking in Africa to oversee her projects! Two millionaires in the bush! What the what?
What’s the coolest fashion experience you’ve ever had?
I’ve had many amazing fashion experiences, but the one that came to mind immediately was the first time I went to New York by myself. I went there to look for a magazine internship—literally hit the pavement and handed out resumes to all the big publications—and I had timed my trip to coincide with the NYFW FW2011, the last to be held at Bryant Park.
I didn’t go to any of the major shows but I did spend a lot of time hovering outside the tents, and I can’t describe the energy in the air, I’d never felt that electricity before. Big name models, designers, stylists and celebrities peppered the vicinity and it was just so exhilarating to be in the thick of it.
Oh! Side story: that same trip, while dropping off my resumes at the shipping docks of the Conde Nast’s and Hachette Filipacchi’s, an editor at Glamour actually wanted to meet me and brought me up to their office at Conde Nast. Conde Nast! We kept in touch for a while after that and she really put a lot of effort into trying to line up a job/internship for me in New York. See! Another example of how lovely the world would be if everyone was just nice to each other and didn’t let their egos and titles get in the way.
If you could give one piece of advice to your 14 year-old self, what would it be
Just chill out and stop wishing for a boyfriend. Also, don’t get that perm.
What is your favorite style pick from the Wantering Tumblr?
I love this jacket! I wear a lot of men’s clothes and this is a great piece to wear with pencil skirts or cropped skinnies. I love me some skinnies.
Your sketches are amazing! What do you love to sketch and why? Do you want to get into design one day?
Thanks! I don’t know why I love it, I just do. It’s just so fun and when I produce a good one, I can stare at it all day—sometimes I see all the places where I could make improvements and other times, I’m like “Daaaaannnnggg” (accompanied by fist-bite).
Like I mentioned, I came from design and there are certainly elements of it that I did enjoy, but in the end I just don’t like enough of it to want to continue pursuing it as a career. Fashion design is not all creative and sketching all the time, there’s a lot of technical stuff behind the scenes that people don’t see. When they hear “fashion design”, they think it’s all pinning stuff on dress forms and sketching elaborate McQueen-esque gowns, but that’s not the case.
What are your big plans for the next 5 years?
Either move to New York and be an illustrator there, or move to a small seaside town where I could wear bow ties and suspenders, smoke handsome pipes, eat croissants and sketch all day.
To check out who Wantering is, come by www.wantering.com.