Orson Li Yu - Butch, Handsome, and Pretty Talented, Too

Perhaps when Chow Yuen Fatt was younger and had not yet met John Woo, he might have looked something like this. Orson Li Yu is from Johor but looks pretty much every inch a Hong Kong heart throb. In real life though, he is a young, up-coming Malaysian designer who showed his first collection at the MODA Fashion Show earlier this year. The refreshing thing about him is that he has absolutely no airs about him; he preens a little but so self-deprecatingly that you can't help but forgive him. He works hard, and has so much creative energy, he directs it into several vocations. He designs, he models, and he is also a much sought after stylist and make-up artist in the fashion industry.

Only 21, he doesn't worry about preserving an enigmatic air about himself and cheerfully accepts assignments which help to further his career in any one of three ways. One day the magazine was out shooting Orson's whimsical clothes on location; on another we watched him do make-up for a cover shoot, then rush off to a fitting for a television commercial. How did he get from Johor to KL? Why and when did he move here?

"You know, I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth. My father is a teacher. When I get work, I never turn it down. A person has to make a living to get where his dreams take him. A job opportunity is a job opportunity, I can't let it go to waste," Orson said. Then he thought for a little while and laughed, "Maybe that's how I sometimes ended up as one of the Boy Toys at the Boom Boom Room." He shakes is head in mock self-castigation.

"A family friend ran a bridal house and I started hanging around there when I was 14. I started by helping them when they changed their window displays. You know, the typical bridal house style...well, I made suggestions here and there. By the time I was 16, I was in charge of their window dressing and their floral arrangements! The lady boss herself also took me under her wing, and taught me how to do make-up as well as hair. At first, I was only allowed to watch customers being made-up, so in order to put theory into practice I used to go home and practise on myself!

"Then through this same lady boss I got work in a bridal house in Kuala Lumpur. By that time I had finished my SPM. My parents were very open-minded about everything I did. My father is not like your typical conservative Chinese man, in fact, we have great conversations and he has been very encouraging in my designing. He is a retired history teacher and used to chat with me about fashion periods, like the roaring twenties, the charleston thirties, and so on. That has actually helped me see fashion's chronological developments in the 20th Century.

"After my SPM I enrolled in a design school but had to work to support myself. I used the skills I had learned and free-lanced as a make-up artist and stylist. Then my bottom got itchy so I decided to give modelling a try."

In fact, Orson's modelling is the most established of his maverick careers. Watch out for him in the new Giordano television commercials, the same one he had to rush off to the other day.

"Unfortunately, my part-time work sort of grew out of hand, which didn't leave me very much time for design classes. My studies suffered, and I never finished. I hope to, though, someday," he said.

Orson's first collection is naturally influenced by his bizarre association at such an early age with bridal houses. It is almost entirely in white satin, beaded, sequinned, feathered, crinolined, tulled and beribboned. And perhaps the child in one who started working so young is what dictated the teddy bear motif in this collection. Note the teddy bear knapsack, the teddy bear stilettos, and teddy near bouffant skirt. After getting to know Orson a little more, you'd find like quite the teddy bear himself.

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