Young, successful Asian American designers like Jason Wu, Phillip Lim, and Thakoon Panichgul inevitably deal with being compared and lumped together, and with the expectation that their Asian heritage would result in some common aesthetic…”Asian” or otherwise.
Jason Wu, who designed one of First Lady Obama’s inauguration ball gowns and has a line out for Target, acknowledges that — despite what people may presume — the most well-known young Asian American designers haven’t until very recently incorporated Asian symbolism and/or stereotypes into their collections.
This overt “Asian trend” has been exhibited mainly (as it has like, every other year ad naseum) by white designers like Ralph Lauren (whose early 2011 runway show included “China Girl” in its soundtrack) and Louis Vitton:
Ralph Lauren photo: Fernanda Calfat/Getty Images
Louis Vitton photo: Imaxtree
In his fall 2012 show, Jason Wu made an intentional decision to showcase Chinese-influence designs: “I suppose this hasn’t really been done before—an Asian designer tapping into the Asian side. Usually, culturally, we stay away from it … I feel like I’m at a place where I’m maturing not just as a designer, but as a person, to embark on inspirations that hit close to home…I almost wanted to poke fun at it a little bit by interpreting it through stereotypes … but also by incorporating all of that in a way that is elegant and powerful at the same time.”
Props to Wu for recognizing the stereotypical and often offensive imagery typically seen in “Asian-inspired” fashion. But even if his new designs are intended to be subversive, will this message even register with the fashion world and its consumers, especially operating within the larger Yelloxploitation trend? Could Wu be dismissed as jumping on the Asian bandwagon (altho, fashion’s endless ethnic exploitation could hardly be called a trend) or even worse — validate the “Asian” pigeonhole people try to stick him in? (Phillip Lim also created a cheongsam-influenced collection in 2010)? What does it mean to step into a culturally-loaded space that you have both actively avoided and feel a need to claim, especially after seeing dominant culture co-opt it? Can change happen in this way, or is it just further legitimizing popular stereotypes? BUT IS IT ART, DARLING?? GAAAAAAAA.
Like Chinese character tattoos and Buddhism, “Asian” fashion may just be another thing white people ruined for the rest of us.