A young Asian woman with long, blunt-banged hair sits on the other side of the computer screen in what looks like the back of a dressing room. The deep violet of her dyed hair seem to stick to the thick amoxicillin pink walls behind her.
She tells me she’s just wrapped up a photoshoot for a friend’s project, and as if on cue, said friend, a guy with round, wiry frames, pops his head into the screen. “This is my best friend, Tom,” she says. A google search later reveals him as Tom Galle, artist and winner of numerous Cannes Lions.
The conversation is so down-to-earth that I almost forget I’m skyping with John Yuyi, an up-and-coming Taiwanese model, photographer and designer based in New York City. Her work has been featured in publications like TIME Magazine, NYLON Japan, VICE China, GINZA magazine, i-D and Vogue China, among others.
Earlier this year, the Taipei native and her work reached new heights when she became the first Taiwanese designer to ever work with GUCCI. Yuyi was handpicked by the Florentine fashion powerhouse because of her unique work with temporary tattoos, which combines the peel-off ink with elements of social media (think profile pictures, follower count and social media icons).
A former intern of Jason Wu, Yuyi began her now-iconic work with temporary tattoos with a small personal project back in 2015 called FACE POST. The project featured Yuyi and a fellow model, Joanne Baba, with photos of themselves temporarily tattooed onto their bodies and faces.
“In the beginning, FACE POST was just for fun. The concept was all about my daily life as an artwork installation,” Yuyi says. “What if I put these social media posts on our faces and bodies and ‘posted’ them again? It’s like a cycle, and I found that quite interesting.”
FACE POST bolstered Yuyi’s career and granted her ownership of a distinct medium of design.
Encouraged by the growing global interest in her work, Yuyi then went on to extend FACE POST into a series that now contains sequels called FACE POST 2, SKIN ON SKIN, Yuka’s Snapchat and Norwegian Wood ノルウェイの森. The series extends the use of temporary tattoos onto an array of unconventional canvases, ranging from slabs of raw pork belly to the blemish-free faces of her modelesque friends.
When GUCCI approached Yuyi in March, she was dumbfounded: “When I first received their email, I was so shocked and happy. It was a confidential project with GUCCI, so I had to hide all my excitement,” she says. “It went very smoothly. When the results were out, the audience reacted very well, so I really appreciate this collaboration.”
In this collaboration—a post on GUCCI’s instagram—Yuyi is again the canvas for her temporary tattoos. This time, she’s adorned with certain tags like watch and hiss and some of GUCCI’s heritage items, which also cling taut to her wrists like a second skin.
Through the manipulation of this medium, Yuyi not only creates something aesthetic and interesting, but she also literalizes a social phenomenon. By reinterpreting an online profile into an epidermal one, Yuyi gives digital an organic surrogate. And by connecting audiences with the face behind her posts, Yuyi invokes cyclical messages of accountability, vulnerability and authenticity.
It’s how Yuyi helped GUCCI create one of its most viral posts, which has since garnered over 210,000 likes — wildly surpassing the number of likes on GUCCI’s former posts as well as on those that came after.
Outside her projects, Yuyi also takes time to reflect on her home country and her new creative home, New York City. “Taiwan is just like my mom, you always fight with her and always not feel satisfied with her but you still love her,” she says. “If you stay in Taiwan, you can get those opportunities, but if you want to do creative collaborations, it’s limited. That’s the big difference between Taiwan and New York.”
She hopes her journey can help inspire others: “I’m just trying to send this message now that even if you’re born and raised in Taiwan, you can still have these international thoughts and opportunities.”
Despite the success of her original FACE POST series and her GUCCI campaign, Yuyi says she doesn’t have her eyes set on big names or big brands. She says, “I just want to have fun collaborations with people I admire.”
Since her collaboration with GUCCI, Yuyi has continued exploring the themes related to social media. In her most recent collaboration with Japanese-British model and singer-songwriter, Rina Sawayama, her trademark tattoos make yet another appearance, bringing them into the realm of video and music.
(Feature photo of Joanne Baba in FACE POST, courtesy of John Yuyi)
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