Andy Yu

Clothes Connections

By Cindy Clarke | Photography by Nick Starichenko

I love a good play on words, and in this case, the title of this article is spot on when it comes to fashion designer Andy Yu whose clothes never fail to inspire close connections with the people he meets.

“I have met so many interesting people and they keep my creative juices flowing.”

A shared passion for food and fashion and creativity turn chance meetings into fast friendships for Andy.

“I am drawn to people who like to create things and make them happen,” he said, “especially the endless collaborations it brings.” From sharing cooking tips and demonstrating how to make his exquisite hand-made flower dumplings to designing luxury knitwear, timelessly classic, and stand-out fashions from treasured material he finds in vintage stores, to spearheading charitable events that support other creative souls, Andy thrives on creative endeavors that bring joy to others. A philanthropist at heart, he not only believes in giving back, he gives his all to causes he believes in.

“To me giving back is not just writing a check. That’s the easiest thing to do. I donate my time and try to create something more than just the check. For me, to use my dumplings, my art and fashion to connect cultures and really elevate the people we are trying to help is what’s important to me. I put myself out there whenever I can,” he said.

While he has lived a privileged life, he does not take his good fortune for granted. Having grown up traveling to different countries with his family, he is passionate about food and culture. He enjoys meeting new people wherever he goes and is not intimidated by wealth or the lack of it. His grandfather was a Taiwanese congressman and his father a successful businessman, a well-traveled bon vivant whose happiness and joy for life’s experiences became part of Andy’s DNA. Andy is blessed with a congenial spirit, unabashed friendliness and a bounty of artistic talents that inspire others to find joy in what he does.

He moved with his family to Richmond, Virginia, when he was a teenager to help out at the restaurant his uncle had just opened. He had studied art in school in China and knew that he wanted to pursue art for his career. Not surprisingly, his parents advised him that it was difficult to make a good living as an artist so, in deference to their wishes, Andy chose a double major of fashion and graphic design when he enrolled in the city’s Virginia Commonwealth University.

He studied there for three years, but he never graduated from college, the first in his family of high achievers not to do so.

“In my senior year, I accepted an internship in fashion with couture designer George Simonton in New York City and was offered a job with a good salary. I was just twenty years old and started my own women’s wear collection the next year. At that time, I believed that I was going to become a designer like everyone else,” he recalled.

But Andy Yu is not like everyone else. His designs caught the eye of major players in the fashion world, including Mark Mendelson, then the president of Elie Tahari, who ordered 1,000 pieces from him virtually on the spot. They sold well and he was well on his way to becoming one of the industry’s hottest private label stars, soon netting an order for some 200,000 units and breaking all expectations with his new-found success.

His signature style, classically sleek with clean lines and understated contemporary sophistication, debuted in ready-to-wear collections he designed for Magaschoni Cashmere, J Crew Luxury, Michael Kors, and others, selling out quickly at high-profile department stores, including Saks, Barneys New York and Bloomingdales. His talent for delighting women of all ages and sizes with luxury knitwear that not only looked good on them, but made them feel as good as they looked, propelled him into an elite stratosphere of sought after, uber successful designers turned businessmen. He retired at age 42 with the world at his feet and a smile in his heart.

At 50-something today, that smile has become his trademark accessory, defining the second half of his career as a happiness maker.

He recently moved with his family out of New York City into the Westchester County suburbs, where he has found unexpected inspiration in the landscapes he loves and the locals he has come to know. Many of his neighbors are older, and like Andy, they are not content to sit it out after their illustrious careers and are on a mission to do something even more with their lives. They include the royal highness of homemakers Martha Stewart, who at 83 years young has become a true media star with her popular podcasts, streaming cooking shows and influential social media appearances that soar with stars. A five-time Grammy award winner and record industry rock star, Clive Davis, an active supporter of the arts, is emceeing events that rock well into the night with an A list of attendees smitten by his charms. 95-year-old fashion designer Stan Herman, powered through a three-hour book signing event after an intimate Q & A with fashion icon Fern Mallis about his new memoir Uncross Your Legs: A Life in Fashion, 60 years in the making. No matter their age, they are all inspired by aspirations to do more, and Andy feels rightfully right at home with them.

Actively finding new avenues for his passions, Andy is reimagining his life going forward, blending his evolving lifestyle ventures with purpose-driven collaborative missions to support charitable causes. Sustainability is a key driver for his new initiatives, as is recycling, in keeping with Andy’s desire to help protect and preserve Mother Nature for future generations, a mindset that really took root when he and his husband Evan moved to the country with their young sons.

Since leaving New York City, he has launched a private collection of sustainably focused cashmere, 49andrewyu in 2021; hosted a pop-up dumpling fundraising event at a local Bedford restaurant; and has been scouring vintage clothing shops in search of inspiration for his upcycled clothing designs. His reclaimed vintage pieces, refashioned into fabulous finds, have already made their entrance on the red carpet to noted acclaim. The head-turning sequined party dress Martha Stewart wore at the “Prelude to Lunar New Year Gala” festivities at Cipriani’s in New York City, hosted by China Media Group and supported by the Permanent Mission of China to the UN and the Consulate General of China in New York, was an Andy Yu original that sported hundreds of recycled sequins. Andy Yu produced 31 different looks in just 12 days for the models in the evening’s runway fashion show, again using repurposed materials to wow the audience with his cultural creativity.

How did he become invested in recycling? Yu recalls viewing piles of unwanted clothes being wastefully incinerated and was determined to find an alternate solution. He began shopping at secondhand clothing stores, where he says, material treasures abound. Active on social media, he received inquiries and photos of vintage clothing from his followers online, following up with interest and encouragement to give the items new life. He also mentored aspiring young designers for a local “SewSustainable” community fashion show in 2023, established to showcase the designs of 15-20 local adults and fashion students who had been tasked with designing runway-ready outfits made with recycled materials or torn and damaged clothing.

“I have the ability to redesign and recreate clothing to make it new and different. People send me things they find all the time and it makes me happy to know that I have inspired them,” he explained. “I want others to know that you don’t need a lot of money to be creative. I want to show people that someone like me who didn’t finish college can be creative too. All they need to do is look for things they like, perhaps take a class or two and shop at vintage stores, where beautiful things are not dimmed by time. If I can help inspire people to do that, I am doing my part to promote sustainability.”

To keep the goodwill going, Andy is planning to make the arts, most notably cooking and fashion, his equal passions, more accessible to people who are interested in it. He is in the process of transforming a barn on his property into a chefs’ tasting kitchen, where chefs from different cultures can showcase the food of their countries at a private weekend dinner, followed by a cooking demonstration that will be open to young people in the community to learn about cooking wholesome, healthy meals, with all the proceeds going to charity. The kitchen will be equipped with donated appliances and furnishings.

“I want to create a space to help young people with talent develop their skills and meet people and make connections through their community. It’s a win-win for everyone,” he said.

He is also working on a new venture with the godmother of fashion, Fern Mallis, the award-winning creator of New York Fashion Week. Devoted to promoting fashion as an artistic and cultural endeavor around the world, Fern and Andy are putting their heads and hearts together as they brainstorm ideas for a fundraising fashion gala that will celebrate heritage designers like Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Tom Brown and other fashion icons. This event, he believes, will not only redefine red carpet runway events, but is destined to make sustainability a major driver in the fashion industry. Excited to give new life to timeless fashions that truly shaped the industry, Andy looks forward to seeing event attendees dress amazingly using recycled material.

In concert with the gala, he is also establishing a foundation designed to empower more women to make it in the fashion industry with scholarships, training and career help, and will be recognizing women who have made a difference in fashion with a special honor that will be revealed during the gala event. All told, it underscores Andy’s belief in honoring people, past and present, who aspire to create a future filled with promise and passion, for themselves and for the good of others as well.

As Andy told me as our conversation came to a close, “We cannot predict the future but we can plan for it one day at a time. For me, it’s about what I can achieve in one day to make a meaningful difference. I try to find the best solution and the best quality to make the best of every situation and I find happiness every day. Sharing that happiness with others is my secret to living a fabulous life.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *