The Fabric Man
Yang’s career spans 35 years, and his successes in that time are a combination of skill and serendipity. His work may be consumer-driven, but he has never forgotten, as he says, that “art is a visual poem.”
His first fabric collection was inspired by his Chinese heritage. Design ideas come from his travel photographs, museum visits and design reference books. Patterns are drawn over and over until the scale, placement and repetition of design details is pleasing. Some fabrics have as many as 26 colors.
“Jay is known for his creativeness and how he puts color in fabric,” says Bob Leibowitz, the director of sales for Bennettsville Printing & Finishing and a longtime friend. “If they had Oscars in home furnishing, Jay would get one.”
Yang always loved to paint and draw and had trained as a fine artist and a high school art teacher when a scholarship to the Masters in Fine Arts program at the University of Pennsylvania brought him to America. After Penn, Jay moved to New York City, where he searched for a teaching job while living in Willem de Kooning’s last Manhattan studio, he says.
When jobs proved to be scarce, a friend steered him to a textile company, where he began painting fabric patterns to earn a living. There he discovered his own designs were marketable, and it wasn’t long before his boss made him a business partner.
Soon, perhaps because his fabrics looked high-end yet remained affordable, people started to notice. In 1985, the Fashion Institute of Technology gave him a retrospective. He met fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy at an industry event, which led to a successful collaboration for home textiles
Aside from his design instincts about what the public wants, Yang has been a great study of the management personalities and characteristics of the mills he has worked with. He understands which manufacturers can give him the quality look he desires.
Today, he works to please himself. “I’m not pushing to do more,” he says, pausing. “Just better.”