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Yang Celebrates "W Day" in Style

Story by
Nancy Joseph

While UW alumni around the globe donned purple on November 4—“W day”—in honor of the University’s 150th birthday, fashion designer Luly Yang took her Husky pride a step further, designing a UW-inspired purple and gold window display for her downtown Seattle studio boutique. 

Luly Yang

“I’m proud to say that I’m a Husky,” says Yang, who earned her BFA in graphic design from the School of Art. “I’m happy to support the school that put me here.”

“Here” refers to Yang’s self-named store in the Fairmont Olympic Hotel, which sells her couture dresses and her bridal collections. Opened in 2000, the business has expanded tremendously in the past decade thanks to Yang’s elegant designs and business acumen. She has been named Best Couture Dress Designer by Seattle Bride Magazine for eight consecutive years and earned a Nellie Cashman Women Business Owner of the Year award in 2007. In 2010, she was selected as one of the Puget Sound Business Journal’s Women of Influence, an award recognizing local women for outstanding business and philanthropic contributions to the community.

Born in Taiwan, Yang’s family moved to Bellevue, Washington when she was ten. From an early age she had an interest in design. At the UW, she studied graphic design, then spent her first ten years working as a graphic designer for local and international architecture firms. But when colleagues invited her to participate in an unusual fashion competition to support a children’s charity, everything changed.

“It was a competition that paired designers with paper companies to create a garment out of paper,” recalls Yang. “I created my first couture garment, The Monarch Dress. It was challenging to drape paper, but exciting. Through that process, I realized I loved and wanted to design around the curves of the human form, utilizing fluid and luxurious textiles.” 

The paper butterfly dress is now in Yang’s archives, but she created a fabric version soon after, which remains one of her signature dresses. “It was the first dress I created,” says Yang, “and The Monarch is still my favorite dress today.” (The dress may make a guest appearance at Yang’s annual fashion show on April 27, 2012, to benefit Seattle Children’s Hospital.) 

Model wearing Luly Yang's "Monarch" dress.

"The Monarch is still my favorite dress today," says Yang of the first dress she created. 

Designing for the body has been… ahem…a perfect fit for Yang, who learned a thing or two about the human form while moonlighting as a certified fitness instructor for 16 years. As a freshman at the UW, she taught her first aerobics class in the basement of Terry Lander Hall, followed by a longer stint as an instructor at the IMA (Intramural Activities Building). “I could run from the School of Art to the IMA in five minutes and change into workout gear in fifteen seconds flat,” she says. 

Yang was still teaching aerobics in her spare time when she made the leap from graphic design to fashion design, opening a tiny studio in downtown Seattle. Although the Emerald City is not known as a fashion mecca, Yang saw that as a plus for her business. “When I opened, there really wasn’t much couture in Seattle,” she says. “I wanted to offer that here, where I believe we have so many women with fabulous taste and their own personal style.”

In 2008, Yang opened a second satellite store at the Fairmont Hotel in Beijing, China. “It’s an amazing city,” she says. “So dynamic and so much growth.” Her headquarters and design and product development remain based in Seattle, but she is considering expanding her collections to other locations in the near future.

With all the projects she’s juggling, Yang still makes time for the UW. She serves on the board of the UW Professional and Continuing Education Program’s certificate in fashion, speaking to the class once per quarter in her old haunt, the School of Art Building. She also was the featured speaker at the School of Art’s graduation ceremony in 2008. And she’s hired numerous UW graduates as interns through the years. “We’re very UW patriotic around here,” she says of her business.

No argument there. Just one look at Yang’s specially designed “W Day” window—with purple gowns, shoes, and décor—sends the message loud and clear: Luly Yang is a dedicated Husky, by design.