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Essentials: INSULaiRE Designer Zkai Yang Zhikai

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Essentials: INSULaiRE Designer Zkai Yang Zhikai

INSULAiRE means “island” or “islander” in French. This fashion brand founded in Paris, France in 2017, regards the island elements that are closely connected with the ocean, landscape, terroir, and vegetation as the source of inspiration. In particular, the high-end branch line “Zhi Zhi” is used as a platform to explore traditional handicrafts, combined with the handmade fabrics of different ethnic groups such as Li and Dong, to independently develop and produce fabrics. Ingeniously turning ethnic elements into design details is a highlight of INSULAiRE, and all this stems from the bond between the designer and his hometown.


The founder and designer Zkai Yang Zhikai grew up in Hainan Island. He was studying for a master’s degree in fashion design at the French Institute of Advanced Fashion (ESMOD), and won the first prize of the French International Young Designers Grand Prix for men’s clothing design with the INSULAiRE first season series. He then interned at Saint Laurent Paris, and in December of that year, he won the Grand Final of the Moda Portugal Competition and the French Regional Award for his graduation project. Today, Zkai has returned to China with INSULAiRE, and continues to combine old traditional craftsmanship with modern clothing technology, connecting the past and the present in clothing, and exploring the relationship between man and nature. This time, Hypebeast invited Zkai to share with you his personal must-have items, behind-the-scenes design stories, and his most iconic masterpieces with brand DNA.

personal essentials

Joseph Joseph Chopping Board


The Joseph Joseph chopping board that has been used for seven years, purchased from BHV in Paris, has been in almost every house I have lived in from Paris-Hainan-Beijing over the years. It used to be used for cutting vegetables, and now it is used for cold cutting dishes. .

Parts of Four Rings Wedding Rings


Parts of Four is my neighbor at 34 Rue Charlot, my first apartment in Paris in 2016. On the left is my girlfriend and I’s school couple rings, and on the right is our current wedding ring.

Aperol Spritz Liqueur


The wine that is always at home, add Prosecco, soda water, orange, perfect.

Li Brocade Bag


During the field investigation, I stayed at the house of my grandmother of the Li nationality for 5 days, and this bag was hanging by my bedside. I have only seen single-sided human-shaped brocade with a typical embrace dialect like this in books and museums. After watching it for several days, I didn’t expect that she actually gave it to me in the end. She said that she made it from the leftovers from her dress when she was young. This bag is very precious to me, and we still talk on the phone.

INSULAiRE Eaglewood Tag/Incense Seat


I designed the hang tag as a scent holder, and the falling scented ashes will reflect the brand’s logo. I also use it at home or when traveling. When the brand was first established, every single product was equipped with Hainan agarwood, but later the cost was too high, and now it is only reserved in the “Zhi Zhi” series.

Create behind-the-scenes stories

Hypebeast: Can you first introduce yourself and the brand to our readers?

Zkai:My name is Zkai. I was born and raised in Hainan Island. I became interested in making clothes when I was in high school. With the support of my parents, I started studying fashion design at the age of 19. From Beijing to Paris, I learned a variety of ways to make clothes, and finally graduated with a master’s degree in ESMOD PARIS, followed by an internship in Saint Laurent Paris. I once thought of continuing to work as a brand designer, but in retrospect it was actually a career I chose to express myself. In the end, I was loyal to myself and desperately founded “INSULAiRE”. Starting with the SS21 series, the brand was officially launched.

I hope to trace the connection between people and people and things through clothing. It seems that the style of “INSULAiRE” cannot be defined. In the series, we can always see words such as “Kuan Shouyi”, “Yellow Rice Flower”, “Mobil”, “Baoyou”, “Genglu Book” and “Fish Chop” which are somewhat distant from modern life. The inspiration given is subtle. Through the selection and application of craftsmanship and silhouette, and the conversion of different people’s use of clothing, I think it will bring the sense of space closer. It seems that if you have a certain piece of clothing, you can touch a certain place or a certain story.

Hypebeast: From the brand name to the design style, the island culture of INSULAiRE is a very distinctive feature of the brand. What made you choose this element as a source of inspiration in the first place?

Zkai:When I was a student, no matter where I went, people would almost always ask me questions like “Are you sure you can swim? Can you fish? You’re not that dark”. In the later Paris period, I need to accurately introduce the islands in southern China. I think it’s a natural thing to feel about hometown coupled with social curiosity.

Hypebeast: Your designs always seem to have a strong connection to the soil you grew up in. Could you share a story with your hometown/family, or a moment that influenced your creation?

Zkai:It is very interesting and what I care about is that every time I go out, my grandmother will pick a few grapefruit leaves and put them in my suitcase. May I be safe. This is the spiritual sustenance of the older generation. So I made grapefruit leaf part of the brand, and it is often seen on our products.

Hypebeast: INSULAiRE integrates local culture very skillfully. For example, the SS22 series starts from the way of life of the Dan family, and designs the silhouette and pattern. Combining traditional culture with fashion design has always been a difficult task, and it is easy to appear The blunt and awkward design, can you share your experience in this regard?

Zkai:Our application of traditional culture will exist in a certain part such as the silhouette, structure, and details of the clothes, and we hope to gain different understandings from the eyes of different customers and discover the stories behind. Let’s also share two of our past single products here.

SS21 Guanshou vest (profile): In the past, people didn’t know how to cut, so they cut a hole in the fabric and put the head in it, hence the name “Guangshou”. On the basis of retaining the original clothing structure, I added more reasonable cutting of the collar pockets, armholes and shoulders, and then designed the side panels originally used for embroidery into two large pockets, which are practical and also on the stomach. No more excess fabric build-up. For me, what I think about the most is what to keep and what to throw away.

AW21 Frog jacket (pattern): The word “frog” appears in the myths of the Li nationality, which means that there are many children, many blessings, and good weather. There are many kinds of frog patterns in Li brocade. From the front, this jacket is actually a frog face, and a frog pattern can be drawn by connecting the buttons as points.

Hypebeast: The interesting use of fabrics and dyes creates a unique vision for INSULAiRE, how do you generally select and combine them during the design process?

Zkai:For some items, I don’t like final design very much. There are often sudden inspirations. Just like fabrics and dyes, there are various characters and attributes. Usually I buy hand fabrics or develop dyes intuitively and match them with details and silhouettes.

Hypebeast: Can you tell us about the inspiration and design highlights of this season’s AW22 collection?

Zkai:Our theme this time is “Mó”, which means “see” in the Hainanese dialect. In the fifth series, we reread “Island”, trying to embody the mystery and healing of nature, as well as the interaction with people. Compared with the previous series, what is interesting is that this time we provide meaningless embroidery and buttons, leaving it to the guests to interpret. In the “Zhi” series, our self-developed and weaved fabrics are called “Ocean Waves”. The weaving method is extracted from the rattan belts of the Li nationality waist loom and woven by hand. Viewing and using from different angles will bring different impressions. Emphasizes interaction.

Hypebeast: INSULAiRE’s high-end branch line “Zhi” is a platform for the brand to explore traditional handicrafts. What have you gained from it so far? Can you use past works as an example?

Zkai:In the past few seasons, the biggest harvest should be “people”. Through the exploration of “confrontation”, I am constantly getting to know the craftsman. The development and weaving of fabrics like AW22 “Zhi” is in charge of a friend I met when I was collecting SS21 fabrics in Dong nationality in Guizhou. At that time, as long as she saw me, she taught me how to spin threads and explain every weaving process, and this experience has also contributed to our current cooperation.

Another example is the hand-woven fabric in SS22’s “Sail Coat”, which I accidentally discovered on Zhiniang’s loom. At that time, this fabric was caused by Zhiniang’s inadvertent replacement of the warp with a sail-like pattern, which attracted to me, so brought it back to the studio for further design. The fabric that changes every 10 cm like this is related to Zhi Niang’s mood and weather that day. It is impossible to reproduce, and I don’t want to reproduce it.

Now I will start a new cooperation with the Li people I met when I was collecting winds in Hainan a few years ago. This kind of interlocking “meeting” is very interesting and meaningful to me, and it also brings a lot to the “Zhi” series and brand. more possibilities.

Hypebeast: You mentioned that you interned at Saint Laurent Paris. What details of this experience particularly impressed you? Or what influence has it brought to your creation?

Zkai:What impressed me most was when the team took me to the basement Archive room at Musée Yves Saint Laurent to prepare for the next collection. Put on white clothes and gloves, enter the constant temperature room, look at various 70s/80s clothes, touch the texture, and take photos to extract elements. When I returned to the studio to combine big theme brainstorms and build inspiration boards, and then later saw the use of elements in various styles, those images have a great influence on me to this day.

Hypebeast: Can you share the work that inspires you the most? (Not limited to design, film, music, literature, etc.)

Zkai: A comedy “Chef” that I’ve watched many times. The food truck, food, music, and the spirit of optimism and never-give-up motivated me. The song “I Like It Like That” (Pete Rodriguez) in the soundtrack has always been on my playlist, and I haven’t had a chance to listen to it with a Cuban sandwich.

Hypebeast: Can you tell me what the brand’s future plans are?

Zkai:In the coming year, many interesting projects are currently being communicated. Of course, the current brand focus is on the expansion of domestic and foreign channels. I also hope to continue to have the opportunity to speak through media platforms and activities, so that more people can learn about our products and stories. . The continuous upgrading of products is also a major direction for us to continue, such as increasing the diversity of products, providing consumers with easy items, and the “Zhi” series will continue to increase in depth. I hope we can appear in different corners of the world and see more “INSULAiRE Islanders” in the future.

Brand representative works

INSULAiRE AW22 Tide Jacket Tide Jacket


Zkai: This collar has been used since the graduation design, and now it will appear on interesting items every quarter. Different from ordinary indigo dyeing, the green of the body is dyed with yellow cypress, turmeric, and gardenia as the base, and then over-dyed in the indigo dyeing vat. Repeated 5-10 times to achieve the effect I want, there are many kinds. The look and feel of the color layers and the hand-carved beef bone buttons are the concept of “similarity and dissimilarity” that I want to express.

INSULAiRE SS22 Moth Shirt


Zkai: This season revolves around the culture of the Dan family. In addition to “more thin roads”, “moths” are also the elements that impressed me. The locals told me that it was a symbol of safe arrival in Hong Kong, so these patterns were used on traditional daily necessities such as cloth backpacks and bags. Now this habit is slowly disappearing. According to my imagination, it should be the mosquitoes attracted by the fishing lights when the boat was about to arrive at the port in the early morning. Seeing the “moth” also means that we are coming home soon.

INSULAiRE AW21 Multi-Layers LuoHuo Overcoat


Zkai: This coat is our modern answer to the traditional silhouette, inspired by the historical, dressy form of women’s tops in the Luohuo dialect of the Li people of Hainan Island. The hem of the coat has three layers, the middle part can be detached and used as a scarf, and the bottom layer can be adjusted to the length of the coat. The layered sense of wearing all the tops in the home at the same time is a reflection of the richness of life for Luohuo dialect, and the name of this dress also commemorates the inspiration and energy they gave.

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