Name: Sui Yao
Places where you’ve lived and worked: Shanghai, Singapore, London
- Design director, TBWA Media Arts Lab, 2022-present
- Art director, Uniqlo Greater China, 2018-2021
- APAC arts & graphic lead, WeWork, 2016-2018
- Designer/art director, W+K Shanghai, 2013-2016
1. How did you end up being a creative?
I was always the creative, weird kid in school. Being creatively driven was a part of my DNA. Growing up, I was fascinated by art—but given my rebellious nature—I did not want to follow in my mother’s footsteps and become an artist. So, I chose to study visual communication—a more pragmatic form of beauty practice—and to discover the fun of being a designer, a creative, and work on art projects with underlying design thinking.
2. What’s your favourite piece of work in your portfolio?
I got the opportunity to create the Christmas installation for Hermès Maison Shanghai. Hermès is one of the most elite brands in the world. Fans long to be part of this exclusive club. Christmas is the perfect occasion to fulfil that wish—to create an installation that aligns with the brand aesthetic, yet be democratic: a Hermès Christmas tree that celebrates, not only the wealthy, but the fans as well.
As a new take on the iconic Christmas tree, I designed an interactive installation and a multi-sensory experience the “Tree of Dreams”. Dreams can have any forms, they can be colourful, free, and undefinable. I decided to use bubble as the metaphor for the dream, the tree-like centrepiece surrounded by the ribbon, made dreams from the Hermes box come to life. The project tested many aspects of my ability. It was a dream come true, to create a Christmas tree.
3. What’s your favourite piece of work created by someone else?
All-time favourite? It’s a tricky one. There’s a video of Black Swan choreographer Benjamin Millepied capturing the freeform movement of rising dance star Lil Buck in a YouTube short. Set to an electric guitar rendition of Bach’s 1741 ‘Aria’, the choreographer catches Lil Buck dancing on a random street in downtown Los Angeles. Lil Buck’s movement is free, yet highly controlled. It matches with classical piano to bring out the immersive impact. It touches my heart and opens my imagination to dancing.
4. Who’s on your dream dinner guest list (alive or dead)?
I want to host a dinner party to bring together icons like Louise Bourgeois, Cindy Sherman, Lin Huiyin, Sanna Marin, Joan Didion, Simone de Beauvoir, Ayn Rand, Yoko Ono, and Ruth Ginsburg to discuss the future of humankind.
5. What career did you think you’d have when you were a kid?
Fashion designer. Back in school, I was the kid who read Vogue in maths class, drew sketches in geology.
6. Do you work best under pressure, or when things are calm?
Both pressure and calm are valuable, and I will not reach my best without either of them. Let me rephrase, I work best when I can find my peace under pressure.
7. What’s your favorite music / film / TV show / book / other of the past year, and why?
I recently read, “On Freedom: Four Songs of Care and Constraint,” by Maggie Nelson. The author discusses “freedom” through art, race, gender, drugs, and climate, giving very bold and insightful takes on how “freedom” has been weaponized, and used as an excuse for whatever action one may desire in this era. It put many social issues around the world into perspective.
8. What advice would you give to 10-year-old you, if you could?
I want to tell my younger self to take a deep breath. It’s okay to feel lost, there will be times you will drown in people’s comments and opinions, but don’t worry you will find your voice soon. All the feelings you carry during the process are valuable assets. They will guide you, be your armour, and help you identify the authentic voice.
9. What food can you not live without? What food would you be happy to never taste again?
I can’t live without chocolate! It’s powerful and addictive—my “magic sugar.” I am more than happy not to have liquorice ever again.
10. What’s your guilty pleasure?
I can non-stop marathon on “Sex and the City” series. (Who can’t?)
11. Tell us about your tattoo(s).
I got my first tattoo as a gift for my 18th birthday. I was an emo teenager, so I drew this red goldfish and wished I could have seven seconds of memory, like a goldfish. It turns out emo is not my nature—and a goldfish has a much longer memory.