Xiao Yang, a Chinese model and influencer based in Chengdu, has been wearing prosthetics for nearly 20 years. Although she says it’s become part of her body now, Yang’s prosthetics have left her with a challenging relationship with fashion and dress. “In high school, when I was so eager to dress up, I thought that prosthetics affected my physical beauty,” she told Vogue. “Wearing a prosthetic leg also caused one of my buttocks to deform. I [still] feel unsafe wearing tight pants or tops that are shorter than my butt — as if [I] were exposed. I’ve been wearing straight t-shirts and pants for a long time.”
Lately, however, Yang has begun experimenting more with her fashion choices and has increasingly found herself wanting her prosthetics to reflect her sleek, modern style (by the way, she has a wardrobe full of interesting prints and blazers). Earlier this year in Chengdu, she met Xiaoyu Zhang and Min Li – the two designers behind Chinese jewelry brand YVMIN – and the three of them came up with an idea: What if we considered the sets prosthetics like art worn on people?
“We think it’s completely natural to decorate any part of our body with a prosthetic,” says Zhang. Yang immediately got involved with the idea, which involved turning her prosthetic limb into a bold statement accessory. “This project tells people that wearing a prosthetic is the unchanging truth – but wearing a prosthetic that looks gorgeous is also achievable,” Yang said. “This feels great; Surely there will be more people who need to experience it.” Result? Three different decorative shells can be worn on Yang’s prosthesis, with sweet details like the heart-shaped “knee cap”.
Typically, YVMIN creates delicate, feminine jewelry, such as bow earrings and heart-shaped necklaces. But the design duo saw an opportunity to challenge themselves by teaming up with Yang to create something completely new. “When we saw Xiao sharing his OOTD photos on social media with a strong personal style, we thought it would be a good opportunity,” said Zhang. “We decided to just make the case for the prosthesis, which avoids many technical problems, and also makes it possible to make multiple parts at the same time so that Xiao can wear it on different occasions,” says Zhang.
To create them, the designers had to 3D scan Yang’s limbs and prostheses to create a structure that could be easily mounted on them. The shell is made of nylon and turpentine. “This lightweight material can ensure that the shell will not burden Xiao,” said Zhang. Concealed magnets were also added, so it could easily and securely attach to her prosthetic limb. Then they added various fun decorative elements — a heart-shaped, serrated knee cap that resembles a growing tree — to make them feel like a piece of jewelry. “We used vacuum plating to give plastic and nylon materials a metallic luster,” says Zhang. “We also inlaid jewels, like purple zircon, on it.” Yang’s favorite part of all? Quirky details. “My favorite element is the heart shape on one of the shells,” says Yang. “[The feel of it] isn’t mechanically cold – it can also be cute and romantic.”