Inside the Slightly Surreal World of Yii Ooi

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There was a time when the Malaysian-born, Taiwan-based art director and stylist Yii Ooi had a very different vision for his future. “Before coming to fashion, I was in law,” he reveals one evening over Zoom from his apartment in Taipei. “I did the pre-law thing for like two years, but I didn’t dive into that because it was just too boring.”

To scroll through Ooi’s Instagram page (where his bio provocatively reads “Define Ugly”) is to discover a highly saturated, somewhat fantastical world that is anything but boring. In one shot, set against a blood red background, two lithe, shirtless figures stand amid a cluster of sunflowers like farmers at the end of the world; in another, the Taiwanese singer-songwriter ØZI defies gravity, traversing a rocky cliff face at 90 degrees. It’s little wonder that Ooi, 23, draws creative inspiration from the Surrealists; in all of his imagery, whether for Elle Taiwan, Wonderland, or a musician like Shi Shi, a kind of cockeyed loveliness is the order of the day.

“I was always attracted to beautiful stuff,” Ooi recalls. “I didn’t really know much about fashion when I was young, but I liked to make stuff and I liked to get dressed up.” Interesting silhouettes and shades, along with “imperfections and deconstructed details,” are the keystones of his wardrobe now: Ooi counts Virgil Abloh, Alexander McQueen, Rei Kawakubo, and the jeweler Alan Crocetti among his favorite designers. “I have a uniform—boxy, slim-cut tops and loose, straight-cut pants on a daily basis—but when I’m out with different people, I’m pretty adventurous in the colors and shapes,” he says. “You can see hints of that in my work!” Indeed, Ooi hopes that the scenes he conjures on set hit the sweet spot between out-and-out fantasy and something more restrained. “It’s kind of easy to go extreme or really minimalist, but it’s hard to get the balance in between,” he says.

For Ooi, as for countless others, the flurry of lockdowns triggered by the coronavirus pandemic created both a major headache and, as time went on, the chance to work on things that might never have occurred to him otherwise. After travel constraints turned a quick visit to Taipei into a much longer stay, he worked with Poyen Chen, Edward Tseng, Mark Chang, and the model Jolie Chang on Vogue Taiwan’s historic May 2020 cover story, executed entirely with computer-generated imagery. Ooi counts the project and its accompanying editorial among his proudest achievements, not least because of its spontaneity. “I basically knew nothing about CGI a year ago—I just found it interesting,” he says. “COVID was quite severe during that time, so due to the restrictions, we did a fully CGI-ed cover. We didn’t know that no one had done that before.” More recently, he’s been studying NFTs to determine what opportunities might exist for him in that space.

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