September 4, 2010

Asian Designers in America

I was interviewing an old boss last week in Toronto, a well-known Filipino-Canadian designer who's been around for over a decade, and in our conversation we talked a little about the prevalence of  Asian-American fashion designers today compared to when he started designing. This hasn't been a phenomenon so much in Canada, but were were both astounded and proud to see so many Asian designers succeeding in a real way, and having a presence in the media.

In today's New York Times, there is a story about this very trend, entitled "Asian-Americans Climb Fashion Ladder." It's an interesting read, although perhaps in retrospect a little too similar to this WSJ article on the same topic from 2009.

[There is] an important demographic shift on Seventh Avenue. At the Fashion Week that begins here on Thursday, many of the most promising new designers are of Asian descent...names that are increasingly likely to represent the future of fashion. [...] The rise of Asian designers in America has actually come in several smaller waves, including one that marked the emergence of Anna Sui and Vera Wang in the 1980s. In the last few years, however, as a new generation of designers has asserted itself in New York, Asian-Americans have been at the forefront. In 1995, there were only about 10 Asian-American members of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Today there are at least 35. 

Eric Wilson writes that there are two possible explanations for this shift:

First:

Major design schools around the world have seen an influx of Asian-American and Asian-born students since the 1990s, partly through their own recruitment efforts in countries with rapidly developing fashion industries, like South Korea and Japan, and partly because of changing attitudes in those countries about fashion careers.

And secondly:
This has happened largely for the same reason that the New York fashion industry, through the ’80s, was populated most visibly by designers of Jewish heritage, like Calvin Klein, Ms. Karan, Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs and Mr. Kors. Throughout the 20th century, generations of Jewish immigrants had created a thriving garment district in New York, first as laborers, then as factory owners, manufacturers, retailers and, eventually, as designers. Many of today’s Asian-American designers say they experienced a similar evolution from the factory to the catwalk, since some of their parents and grandparents were once involved in the production of clothes. 

These are both compelling agreements, but regardless of the reasons and rationales, having worked with numerous Korean and Chinese owned (and staffed) factories in downtown Toronto and midtown New York, and studied fashion design alongside a plethora of Asian students (born in North American and abroad) at Ryerson University, it's exciting to see that the face of the industry at large is starting to reflect the ethnic makeup of the behind the scenes population in some small way! Now if only there were more females in the mix...

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