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Designer Jill Aiko Yee Shares Her '90s Fashion Faux Pas and Why She Hearts DTLA

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We've followed the career of local womenswear designer Jill Aiko Yee since we first admired her street style more than four years ago. From that time to the present, she's been a Young Gun semi-finalist, collaborated with several local artists and fellow designers (we fully admire this girl's complete lack of competitiveness in the often cutthroat fashion biz), and continued to evolve her collection, which is always on our radar for modern, elevated basics that expertly marry creative silhouettes with soft materials.

You could sort of say we've grown up with Yee in a way—at least in terms of her growth as a designer and LA fashion force, so we had to feel the warm-and-fuzzies upon learning she was just tapped to host a fashion event (an open studio and pop-up shop in her DTLA space) during June's Los Angeles Design Festival. With her star continuing to rise, we though it would be a great time to catch up with the Milwaukee native, who's now called LA her home for more than a decade.

We joined Yee near her studio at Juice Served Here/Verve (a fave spot for local fashion girls) to talk about her penchant for eco-friendly commuting, the local design duo she's crushing on, and the unique way she'll be getting her hands "dirty" for fashion during a forthcoming trip to Japan.

What are you drinking?

I'm having an elderberry kefir drink. I actually get this a lot because it's probiotic and it's not coffee and I drink too much coffee as it is. It leaves me feeling awakened but in a refreshed way, not in a jittery sort of coffee way.

Coffee or tea?

Well, I drink coffee every day with some vanilla bean syrup and some half and half! But I also have been doing tulsi tea with Holy Basil, which is an adaptogen. It's supposed to be good for your adrenal system and allows you to reduce your stress level. I try to have that when I can but—overall it's coffee!

Car or bike?

I recently moved from the Arts District up to Lincoln Heights which is up a hill from [my studio], so I bike. I'm a long-time biker; I've biked LA for years and it's so nice to be able to bike to work now because it's a way to get my exercise in without having to go to the gym. And it just kind of wakes me up in the morning.

Favorite neighborhood in LA?

That's so hard! I mean I guess I'm partial to downtown because I've seen the change. I started going to school here in 2002 so I literally saw the change in downtown. I love the fact that I work here and I'm across from the Ace Hotel and A.P.C. and Aesop. I go the Wooden Spoon, Verve, and this little market Om Nom on a regular basis. I also have a lot of friends that I just run into down here. It doesn't fulfill all my needs—I do love hiking Elysian and Runyon—but that's why I like my neighborhood, which is sort of close to it all.

Most exciting trend in fashion right now?

Through my friend Graham Keegan, with whom I've collaborated for a long time, I was introduced to working natural dye—which I love because the crux of my line is having a very hands-on approach. So that's been a cool method I've been very into exploring and now I've been invited by a former professor to go to Japan for a shibori indigo workshop with fellow Otis alumni. For two weeks we'll live in a farmhouse and have traditional meals and do homework assignments. These dye vats are a heritage thing and they're feed and kept alive for decades. I'm so excited to see where they grow the indigo and just live there and learn from the master!

Who would you love to collab with locally?

Well I loved previously working with designer Jessica Comingore, who just launched this amazing lifestyle site called The Elysian Edit that's so beautiful. She highlights home interiors—which is where she started—photography, other artisans, and she does amazing color stories with mood boards. Now we're collaborating again to relaunch the Essential Blouse we created together about a year and a half ago. It's a piece we believe should be in every woman's wardrobe because it goes from day to evening, it's comfortable, and it's flattering.

Beyond that, I have a huge crush on Block Shop textiles. I recently went to [co-designer Lily's] painting show at Gavalak Gallery and my friend introduced me. I adore their textiles and I'd love to make some clothing out of them. I don't know if that's a reality! But maybe someday, especially because I feel like they're such artists. The pieces are beautiful and modern and utilize fair labor.

If you weren't a designer, what would you be doing?

I would do two things: on one hand, I would study business. It totally fascinates me and I've been listening to all these podcasts because I think it's so important to stimulate both my creative and logical sides. I'd also use a lot more time to volunteer. I'm doing this event next month, Glamour Gowns, that provides prom dresses and tuxedos for high school students that can't afford to buy their own. For this particularly event, I'll be there with a sewing machine doing alterations. I'd love to be able to do more things like that.

Most cringe-worthy fashion moment from your past?

Since we just moved, we tried to do the KonMari method. I went through this entire box of clothing from high school which was so amazing. The best rave-wear! I'm talking about wide-legged, corduroy, teal JNCO jeans. That and a long cargo skirt with pockets on the very bottom of the back. I tried on all of it! I have to say, I didn't really get rid of much. I held onto almost all of it! It brought me joy. I'm a designer, I have to.

JUICE | Served Here

833 Spring St., Los Angeles, CA 90048 (213) 455-5991