Sunday, May 12, 2013

Chinese American Designers: an Exhibition

Front Row: Chinese American Designers
by our Guest Writer: Gigi K.

Jason Wu: Photo Courtesy of David Shankbone
New York City’s Chinatown is the largest and also one of the oldest enclaves of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere. Located in the borough of Manhattan, it borders the Lower East Side to the east and Little Italy to its north. And that is just Manhattan, there are other seven Chinatown neighborhoods
in New York City; if we consider the New York Metropolitan Area, it holds the largest ethnic Chinese population outside of Asia.

Designers like Vera Wang, Phillip Lim, Derek Lam, Alexander Wang, among others; have helped through their shared cultural heritage in the construction of a Chinese American fashion identity, which celebrates, collaborates, and displays the best of both worlds, and yet has truly an American sense of style.

It is no coincidence then, that Chinese American Designers are making it big in the Fashion World. And it
is no coincidence either that they chose New York as their home base.

This is precisely the objective of Front Row, the ongoing exhibition at the Museum of Chinese in
America. This exhibition guest-curated by fellow Chinese American designer Mary Ping features the
unique visions of sixteen Chinese American designers and their own unique relationships with New York City.
The story of those designers that emerged in the 1980s, Vera Wang, Anna Sui, Vivienne Tam, and
Yeohlee Teng, is told to me as I walk and appreciate each unique design from a close up look, and then as I step away and grasp the overall social and cultural context, in which they were created. They were the emerging designers of the time, those that helped transform New York City from a garment district into a fashion capital that now hosts one of the biggest bi-yearly events of the global fashion scene, the New York Fashion Week.
Stories such as Anna Sui’s, which started her brand with just $300, as she told Newsweek “it was not a good business plan” she said “ I always had to do extra design jobs just to keep my company going for the first ten years” and now her brand is not just based on apparel, shoes and bags but a it sells a whole range of cosmetics and perfumes, and there is even an Anna Sui Barbie doll!
Vera Wang Dress: Photo Museum of Chinese in America

The exhibit also took me through personal reflections and inspired me as I was exposed to so many
different, yet congruent artistic visions. The origins of designers such as Phillip Lim, Derek Lam, and
Jason Wu, the development of their signature styles and their embracing of their own entrepreneurial

Jason Wu who was born in Taipei, Taiwan, moved as a boy to Canada and later studied at the Parsons
New School of Design in New York. He launched his prêt-a porter line with his own savings, and with only 27 years old was already dressing the First Lady Michelle Obama for the first Obama Presidential Inauguration in 2009, and we know how it went on from then.

Be prepared to see lots of red, and black and white on this fashion retrospective, that celebrates those Chinese American Designers that through their own diverse aesthetics have helped transform not only the New York Fashion scene, but the fashion scene around the globe.

Front Row is a perfect mix of cultural heritage and modern style, and is ongoing until the 29th of September at the Museum of Chinese in America at 215 Centre Street, New York City.

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