Meet Bonaire Le ’09,

Chemical engineering major


Fashion designer

Favorite fabric: Silk. It’s like water cascading down a staircase.

Hometown: Albany, California. It’s a 1.5-square-mile town. It’s really small and dainty but I love it.

Favorite haute couture designer: Christian Dior.

Q: How did you get the name Bonaire?

A: The name Bonaire is basically a changed spelling of the French word bonheur. That basically translates to happiness. The reason why I was given a French name was because my great-great-grandfather on my dad’s side was French. My dad’s from Vietnam.

Q: How long have you been designing?

A: Sophomore year. It was Project Trashion, a spoof on Project Runway. We used clothes from the Eli bin to construct them into a new outfit. I had never designed before that competition. My friends knew I was interested in fashion but I had never done anything about it. Ezra Stiles didn’t have a designer the day before the deadline and if we didn’t have a designer, we would have to forfeit. So I sort of jumped in. I ended up designing a halter hoodie dress, if you can imagine a halter dress with a hood attached to it. After winning the competition, the master asked me if I was interested in designing a fashion show. I made it clear to him that it had been a fluke and he said, well, just think about it. Over the summer, I took my mom’s old sewing machine and old scrap cloth I bought. By the end, I had 17 pieces and I decided to go ahead with the fashion show.

Q: What is fashion to you?

A: People view it as sort of an over-the-top outlet for rich people to spend their money. I view it as living sculpture and living art. Fashion is art in motion.

Q: What inspires you in fashion?

A: My inspiration comes from my interest in fashion and my musical background and my engineering background. Music is about personal interpretation and finding inspiration within an established work. It’s about playing around with structure and ways of thinking. Chemical engineering is about what needs to be done, what needs to be improved. I really approach the fashion show from an engineering standpoint.

Q: What is your metric for deciding what makes a good fashionable piece?

A: There’s a few. There’s a personal metric in terms of pieces I design and what I’m satisfied with. Then there’s a metric of aesthetic experience, in terms of how I view other pieces. I would say that if it evokes some sort of response, be it good or bad, I feel that that’s a successfully designed piece. It provokes you to think or feel something. In terms of how I view my own pieces, it’s very amorphic. I work on a piece until I feel that it can satisfy some part of what I started out to do. The way that I design is pretty organic. It’s not really set in stone. Engineers are trained to know multiple different ways of reaching the end result, different methods of working backwards.

Q: Favorite piece of clothing to wear?

A: I don’t get too many opportunities to wear it, but my dad passed down a blazer he wore in the ’80s that he got from France. It’s a vintage Yves St. Laurent and I just absolutely love it. The cut is amazing and it fits me perfectly. The tailoring is exquisite, which is why I appreciate the high couture market so much more.

Q: What has been your biggest fashion disaster?

A: In high school, I went through an Asian thug phase where I wore oversized jeans and oversized T-shirts. I just got caught up in what everyone was doing. I just look back and laugh at it now. But then again, it was high school.

Q: How has it been designing fashion at Yale?

A: I think Yale takes fashion with a grain of salt, yet it’s sort of serious. If you look at Harvard where they do fashion shows, there’s a lot of fun that goes into it, whereas at Yale, it’s about showcasing talent.

Q: Who has been your harshest critic?

A: My friends. A lot of the comments I hear from them, that’s sort of how I judge the design of my collection, whether it’s successful or not. A lot of my friends come from different backgrounds so it’s interesting to see what they like and what they don’t like. I want to create a collection that speaks to everyone.

Q: What is one piece of clothing or accessory that you think everyone should have?

A: Everyone should own a really nice trench coat, whether it’s foggy or really breezy. It’s just really versatile. Getting the right cut is really important. Guys should have a well-tailored suit. It’s a typical answer but I think a well-tailored suit is what defines someone.

Q: How do you design?

A: For my first fashion show, I stumbled upon all the materials at a Jessica McClintock outlet. My sister wanted to find a cocktail dress. But they also have rolls and rolls of fabric that are discontinued. You can get 20 yards of nice satin for like $5 which is unheard of. This was right before I had decided whether I wanted to do a fashion show in the fall. The way I was designing was I would just unroll enough cloth to wrap the dress form in and I would pin things up, gathering and pinching, and see what was looking right. If I made the wrong cut, I would pull another fabric and start all over again. I basically had unlimited cloth to work with. I could just do whatever I wanted. I definitely ran into a lot of hideous things along the way. That’s how I learned to design.

Q: The best thing you’ve created?

A: The finale dress for the upcoming show is probably the best piece I have ever designed. It embodies a lot of how I have grown as a designer. Since I don’t have any formal training or background in fashion design, a lot of it is just a huge learning process for me. Ten pieces will be made out of paper. It’s really fun to work with, nothing like cloth at all.

Q: Tell me more about your upcoming show.

A: Éhémère. It translates to ephemeral in English. The whole concept of this fashion show is to bring awareness about paper consumption at Yale. A third of the collection will be made out of paper. It is a 30-piece collection. Each piece is made out of a certain kind of paper. One is a problem set. One will be made out of senior essays. It targets different types of paper consumption at Yale. I am sort of honoring sustainability to some extent because it is something I feel passionate about. The second part of my collection is 20 pieces made out of sheer fabric, satin fabric and silk. It sort of resonates with the idea that a lot of things are short-lasting. This collection really speaks to fluidity, movement, a sense of freedom, a sense of enjoyment that comes with the fabric being in motion. Even though those actions are small, our actions are long-lasting.