“I believe a lot in this comeback: the vest is going to be the key wardrobe piece in the future,” said Yali’s founder Pia Zanardi.
Looking at her own style, it’s easy to believe her. The young designer has a natural talent for combining vintage and new pieces, colors and delivering nonchalant looks that play with her brand’s key items. Her everyday uniform dressing includes a gray crewneck sweater layered with one of Yali’s cropped vests in bright colors (often yellow) and styled with flared jeans and a rustic clogs-and-socks combo.
New versions of her cropped vest, to be worn over a hoodie or cocktail dress as well as longer options for both men and women, were included in the fall 2023 collection, which marked a return to the roots for Zanardi, as she also refocused her attention on the day-to-night jackets she made a name for herself with.
Born and raised in the Italian countryside, Zanardi lived for two years in China, where she studied Mandarin, and during that period she fell in love with the country’s craftsmanship and textile heritage. Aiming to combine Chinese garment culture with a color and aesthetic sensibility rooted in her Italian origins, after moving to New York after college she decided to establish her own brand offering a new take on vintage Chinese jacket designs, tweaked in colors and fit. Ever since, Zanardi has steadily enlarged the assortment to include silk wrap dresses and refined pajama sets. But now her focus is back on her first fashion love.
“Jackets are the items we started with and we have to reiterate, also because the brand is young and it’s important not to do too much. I want the image of Yali to be univocal and easily readable,” Zanardi said. “These years taught me not to overdo, to focus on one thing and be sure about it. In the past, feeling unsure about my product pushed me to expand categories,” she added candidly.
Hence the latest collection layered jackets and vests, reinterpreting them in a sportier quilted version in addition to the signature fluid velvet one; crafted from new materials, such as corduroy and cashmere blends, as well as rendered in new colors.
Ranging from sophisticated burgundy and forest green to more vibrant pops of red or combinations of yellow and green or pink and orange, the color palette was inspired by the library and vinyl record collection of Zanardi’s grandfather. She deep-dived into his belongings and got inspired by book spines and covers, including an old lilac-and-yellow silk cover-up of Giacomo Puccini’s “Turandot” opera.
“My own creative language is working on color blocks that give rhythm to each piece,” she said about her fascination with the objects she unearthed in the studio.
The approach also goes back to her childhood, when she suffered from dyslexia and was treated with textile and color therapy, which turned out to inform her design process.
Now based between New York City and Milan, Zanardi and her work have been further influenced by spending time also in New Zealand and London, as well as inspirations ranging from Giotto to the directors Federico Fellini and Wong- Kar-wai.
Yet for fall she looked at her hometown Parma, in Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, to ingrain one of her longtime inspirations into the collection. She styled her pieces with vintage separates hailing from the archives of Filippo Alpi, a Parma-based designer who rose to prominence in the ‘80s.
“His designs have always been in my family’s wardrobe and I’ve been wearing them since ever. I often stop by his store in Parma and one day I told my idea of styling my collection with some of his pieces to his daughter, who eventually agreed,” Zanardi recalled.
Business-wise, Yali can count on the support of the 247 showroom as a commercial partner, too, which is helping the young brand build its distribution network to flank to its own e-commerce. The latter performs especially well with U.S. clients, noted Zanardi, who stressed that she owes the market “a lot because everything started from there.”
In addition to fine-tuning distribution, which the founder wants to keep selective to preserve the brand’s authenticity, collaborations with the art world are up next on the Yali agenda.