Eastern Trading Company: The Influence of Asian Designers

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

 What makes the fashion industry is its melting pot of cultures and nations, coming together to create these wonderful things we call clothing for our economic and sartorial consumption. It is a reflection of our own culture, I believe. We are a nation of diversity and a culmination of multi-cultures and generations. We as people influence each other constantly. So, it is no wonder that Asian designers are, in my opinion, the current driving force of influence in fashion today. This influence has been on a continual flux throughout the years but has reached a new apex in the past few. Don't mistake me, there have always been Asian designers in America, it is just that they now command a strong and much deserved presence on the International scene.

Coming of age in the 90s, I was treated to the fashion exuberance of Anna Sui, who for me broke the mold when it came to being ethnic and being successful in the fashion business. I was inspired by her efforts and loved her cool urbane "goth girl" chic, both in her personal style and in the great clothes she presented on the runway. Still working successfully today, Anna Sui continues to grow and push the envelope, and paved the way for the new kids on the block. Also like Anna, Vivienne Tam also set the stage. I remember going to the Vivienne Tam store in SoHo in 1995 and loving the shop and its expressive pops of color and  "Tam Dynasty" chic. She continues to influence others today as well. Her use of color and texture is indicative of this, and is one of the few major designers who is not afraid to use these tools to shape and evolve her collections, making them the hallmark of her design aesthetic. The Queen of the Wedding Dress, Vera Wang, solidified her influential place in the industry by working up through the ranks, starting in editorial work and then creating her own design business, focusing on gowns. Her designs became the epitome of specialty dressing, and you couldn't throw a stone at any wedding without hitting a Vera Wang dress. Today, she continues to dominate and influence the industry.

The NKOTB ("New Kids on the Block")--Alexander Wang, Phillip Lim, Jason Wu, Prabal Gurung, and Thakoon--have been setting the fashion stage on fire with each successive season they present. It is this new garde that are sending waves of influence rippling through the industry.
Thakoon, for example, was featured in "The September Issue", and we can see evidently here that he is a new industry darling and being shaped as such by the major players of it (namely Anna Wintour). His use of simple and definitive shapes means he knows instinctively how to create design that is new and defining, yet classic.
Not needing so much of a helping hand is Alexander Wang, who's signature New Urban look (skinny pant, slouchy top, fitted leather jacket) has become fashion standard and is worn by EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE. His new Spring/Summer 2011 Collection is so far my favorite of all shown during Fashion Week. It is fresh and minimal and is forward-thinking. He wanted to change the uniform he created and move it into a new arena, and I think he hit his mark perfectly. Aside from that, what Wang does in his design aesthetic is create futuristic yet classic shapes that really know how to blend with the body, rooted in American sportswear. His aesthetic is European, American, Asian: its Global.
Jason Wu has the distinguish of being a favorite of First Lady Michelle Obama. Having scored such an important (and prominent) client, he has solidified himself to the annals of American history, and contiunes to put Asian designers on the forefront. Mrs. Obama has worn Jason Wu time and again, and I'm sure its because he designs with an American woman in mind. Using color and fantastic draping, Wu creates designs that celebrate the woman.
New darling Prabal Gurung has come up in the ranks at an exponential pace. Also a favorite of Mrs. Obama, Gurung injects new uses of fabric and cut in his design aesthetic. Not afraid to experiment, Gurung does it with classicism and panache that lends his clothing to always be wearable and of-the moment.
Phillip Lim also is leaving an indelible mark on the fashion industry. His design aesthetic is fresh and clean and yet still directional, and very wearable. His Los Angeles store is a feast for the eyes and the sartorial haven as expected. His FNO  party last week was THE event to attend in Los Angeles, peppered with celebrities and Los Angeles style makers alike.

This influence can also be seen and felt by other Asian style makers in the business. ELLE Magazine's Creative Director, Joe Zee, has made that magazine into a true fashion source rival for Vogue, by injecting the magazine which much needed style and a fresh take on its design and presentation. Some of the best editorials in the past few years has come from ELLE. Not surprising since Mr. Zee brings a fashion stylist's detailed eye into the mix. And for me, ELLE has become the new Harper's Bazaar, or at least on par with the re-inventive Liz Tilberis years of that magazine. Two of my favorite fashion bloggers, Susie Bubble, and Jak & Jil's Tommy Ton, are also making their mark on the Asian influence game. Known for their individual style and irreverent viewpoint of fashion, these two bloggers sending ripples across the blogosphere with their mere mention of like (or dislike) of the sartorial persuasion, and their supremely self-indulgent fashion obsessions.

Influence is exactly what it is, influence. It is is the gasoline that fuels the creative machine. It drives us, as a people, and as creative beings forward. Influence not merely suggests but states itself into our thinking and shapes us to venture into new territory. Without it, I'm not sure if we would move forward.
I'm happy that influence has taken on an Asian shape. The new commercial market of mega-populated China is opening up this influence to a new generation as well. I'm sure this is only the beginning. And I can't wait for more.
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