Rem Koolhaas and Neil Barrett Envision the Future

August 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

The highlights from Neil Barrett’s S/S 12 menswear show took form in a series of looks printed with a black and white herringbone pattern. The prints had a surreal quality, leading viewers to think the items were constructed from a herringbone twill weave when in fact they were merely white lines inked onto black cotton. The herringbone effect also evoked a dreaminess in the way the herringbone pattern unraveled. As your eyes moved toward the hems, the disciplined lines of the faux weave became long and wayward, crisscrossing and bouncing around like strings from a web spun by a drunken spider.

Barrett’s unraveling herringbone print recalls the exterior of Rem Koolhass and Ole Sheeren’s recently completed CCTV building in Beijing, the headquarters for China Central Television. Long, intersecting beams glide across the surface of the structure, exposing how much support it needs and where. Unlike the aggressive filters in Chinese media, these beams evoke honesty in how they reveal the skeleton of the building like an x-ray. The beams also create an interesting visual texture, recalling a new take on monochrome plaid or a distorted version of Burberry’s signature check.

For the last decade, China has served as the world’s central incubator for experimental architecture. The 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics alone produced a handful of iconic works, most notably Swiss duo Herzog & de Meuron’s monumental Beijing National Stadium, which recalls a giant rubber band ball or sculptural bird’s nest. In Guangzhou, Iraq-born architect Zaha Hadid recently completed construction on a new opera house with rigid angles and an ultra white exterior that recall a melting glacier. But amidst the hullabaloo around architecture in China up to this point, the CCTV building has drawn the most fanfare. In a jubilant review in the The New York Times, architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff hailed the CCTV building as possibly “the greatest work of architecture built in this century” and went further to say that it positions Beijing as “the city of the future.”

The CCTV building gives China a new identity of power and innovation to project to the rest of the world. And in a similar vein, Barrett’s surrealist herringbone bone pattern gives a new aesthetic identity to the brand. Like China, Barrett has positioned himself as a force to watch.

An All-Asian Fashion Ad to Commend

August 4, 2011 § 2 Comments

Fei Fei Sun, Shu Pei, Lui Wen, Ming Xi, and Xiao Wen Ju for Lane Crawford F/W 11

Asians are definitely having a fashion moment. V Magazine released their “Asian Issue” this past May, Givenchy staged a couture presentation for S/S 11 using only Asian models, and American Vogue published an all-Asian model editorial this past December, declaring that they’re “redefining traditional concepts of beauty.” These happenings often fall under the label of “diversifying fashion,” but they carry an insincerity as Asians consistently fail to book non-Asian themed photoshoots and runway events. Where were the Asian models in Givenchy’s latest couture show, for example? Or on the cover of Vogue?

Yesterday Hong-Kong retailer Lane Crawford released their F/W 11 ad campaign featuring a cast of exclusively Chinese models, but unlike other all-Asian campaigns or editorials, this is a breath of fresh air. It applies the for-us, by-us concept to Chinese fashion, and shows a Chinese company supporting some of the best Chinese modeling talent working today: Fei Fei Sun, Shu Pei, Lui Wen, Ming Xi, and Xiao Wen Ju.

Ballerina Tan Yuan Yuan for Lane Crawford S/S 08 (via girlspic.blogbus.com)

Film producer Fu Jia for Lane Crawford S/S 08 (via girlspic.blogbus.com)

This isn’t Lane Crawford’s first ad to feature Asians or Asian Americans. For their S/S 08 campaign titled, “The Innovators,” they photographed a number of prominent Chinese and Chinese American faces in Chinese arts and culture: ballerina Tan Yuan Yuan, actress Maggie Cheung, film producer Fu Jia, artist Terrence Koh, and model Du Juan, amongst others.

Too often Asian fashion companies use Western models in their promotions, which, as we suggested in a previous post, results from the pressure placed on these companies to cater to privileged whiteness in the global fashion market. I initially discovered Lane Crawford’s latest ad in the news section of New York Magazine. I hope one day, an ad campaign for an Asian company featuring all-Asian models won’t be worthy as news, or even celebration. It will just seem right.

The Limits of Globalizing Fashion

July 25, 2011 § 1 Comment

Last week, in a post titled “Fashion is a Melting Pot,” Italian Vogue Editor Franca Sozzani praised the increasingly globalized nature of fashion, alluding to the growing number of non-Western designers participating and gaining respect in the Western sphere. To her, these designers have amassed international attention by incorporating elements of traditional dress from their home countries into a “contemporary” aesthetic. She writes:

“New fashion designers from emerging countries are proposing a new fashion inspired by their country’s tradition, considered not as ethnic element any longer, but as part of a historical know-how, re-adjusted to contemporary silhouettes and therefore wearable in all cities of the world… It’s not the folklore that is exported, yet the culture, the local craftsmanship, the colors and the mood.” [sic] 

There’s no doubt that more non-Western designers and designers with non-Western backgrounds are entering fashion. In the U.S., for example, some of the most celebrated emerging designers are either first or second-generation Asian Americans, like Alexander Wang (China), Doo-Ri Chung, (Korea), Thakoon Panichgul (Thailand), and Prabal Gurung (Nepal). For the past decade, Asian Americans have dominated the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) awards, highlighting the pivotal role they have had in shaping American fashion. Furthermore, outside the U.S., increasing numbers of non-Western designers are showing their collections at internationally recognized and media-heavy fashion weeks in Milan and Paris. South Korean brands Songzio and Juun J, for example, show their collections in Paris every year and General Idea, designed by Seoul-based Bumsuk Choi, shows in New York.

(from left to right) Wang, Doo.Ri, Thakoon, and Gurung

But amidst increasing numbers of non-Western designers in fashion, the caveat that limits how “global” fashion can become is the expectation that these designers cater to Western design tastes. When describing how fashion will continue to globalize, Sozzani wrote, “The new generations will keep getting here (New York, Paris, or Milan) from different countries and many of them are already studying in Italy, Great Britain, or America.” When talking about non-Western designers, Sozzani equates studying in Italy, Great Britain, or America as progress – steps toward success. While this may be true given the weight and the high caliber of designs schools in these countries, Sozzani elucidates a common practice among fashion people to place more value on studying and working in the West opposed to elsewhere.

The result of placing more value on the West pushes the globalization of fashion in many ways. For one, people wanting to succeed in international fashion feel pressured to study fashion abroad. At Parsons, arguably the most respected design school in the country, 32% of the undergraduate population comes from outside the U.S., mostly from China, India, Korea, Canada, and Mexico. In many cases, only very wealthy international students have the opportunity to study abroad in light of poor exchange rates, expensive airfare, and many colleges’ lack of financial aid for international students. These are very real financial limits for middle-to-lower class designers in the non-West. Furthermore, increased pressure for non-Western design students to study abroad devalues design education outside the Western world, removes talent from the local design scene, and prevents or slows the growth of fashion capitals outside the West.

Another result of constructing a Western-centric fashion industry is increased pressure on non-Western designers to abandon their own artistic autonomy and to replicate designs that already flourish in Western fashion. Last year, I attended Korean-based General Idea’s menswear show at New York Fashion Week. The first half of the collection was a parade of pieced shirts and newsboy looks that struck a striking resemblence to the work of Japanese designer Junya Watanabe, who has been showing his collections in Paris since the 80s. By contrast, the second half of the General Idea show had splotches of paint and large handwritten words scrawled across head-to-toe looks (including bags) á la Stephen Sprouse. The artistic reference was crass in light of Louis Vuitton’s collaboration with Stephen Sprouse in 2008, which resulted in a line of classic Louis leather bags covered in bright, painted-effect “Louis Vuitton” text. But one has to wonder why a designer who often copies Western trends is one of the only Korean designers who shows at New York Fashion Week. One interpretation is that his aesthetic, though unoriginal, was in line with what the Western design world wants to see.

If fashion wants the globalization process to become more egalitarian, it needs to give more weight to non-Western designers and design schools in the international fashion market. One way to do this is by more actively and thoroughly covering fashion weeks that take place outside New York, Paris, London, and Milan. This would grant local talent more access to buyers, editors, and the general public, thereby increasing their potential growth and making the current, very costly trend of showing in Europe or the U.S. obsolete.

(from left to right) Kawakubo, Yamamoto, and Watanabe

Non-Western designers with international clout also have a responsibility to increase the profile of their home countries. Japanese designers like Rei Kawakubo of Commes des Garcons, Yohji Yamamoto, and Junya Watanabe, for example, have been showing their collections in Paris for almost 3 decades with much critical and commercial success. They’ve become staples for major buyers and editors in the European fashion circuit. Suppose if these designers staged a collective revolt and showed in Tokyo instead of Paris every season. Editors and buyers would be forced to pay more attention to Tokyo as a fashion capital, thus allowing otehr Japanese designers more international exposure.

According to Sozzani, mixing a designer’s culture with that of others “must be true to one’s own history, otherwise, it is just an exercise in style, and ends up being too ethnical [sic] or too generic.” I agree, but what Sozzani doesn’t acknowledge is that in this “globalized” fashion industry, where non-Western designers work around Western expectations, non-Western designers must incorporate a large part of Western history into the telling of their own design stories. It is only this way that their histories will be heard.

I’m in a Korean Fashion Magazine!

July 22, 2011 § 2 Comments

The June issue of Cracker Your Wardrobe

Who knew I’d reach stardom this early in my fashion career?

Korean street style magazine Cracker Your Wardrobe (crazy name, I know) included yours truly in their June issue as part of a spread on people who own lots of glasses. I have 10, so I definitely fit the bill. Unfortunately, I left most of my collection under my bed in New York, but I’ve successfully goaded my boyfriend and co-writer Alex into buying a few pairs here in Seoul, so I borrowed some of his for the shoot. Problem solved!

The text in the picture I took is small and in Korean, so you probably can’t read it, but it explains the nicknames of each pair of glasses (which I made up – I don’t name my clothes), their price (don’t look too closely), and their overall “style.”

My spread in Cracker

I was also unexpectedly featured in the “Special Thanks” section. Apparently, the editor who came to my house to shoot the spread, Damee Kim, was impressed with my persistence to communicate with her in Korean and wanted to show her appreciation.

As you might deduce from my cartoonish spread and the cover featuring twins that resemble brunette versions of Napoleon Dynamite, the magazine is pretty zany. I’m grateful, though, that the care-free spirit of Cracker led my first experience in a fashion magazine to be lots of fun. Much thanks to Chang, my friend and Editor-in-Chief, as well as Editor Damee Kim and her photography crew for their kindness and patience with my limited Korean skills.

Japanese Models Absent From Armani’s Japanese-Inspired Couture Show

July 6, 2011 § 4 Comments

Although Japan was on Armani’s mind in the process of designing his latest couture collection, it certainly wasn’t when he was casting models. Out of the 44 looks that came down Armani’s mirrored runway yesterday, none of them were modeled by a Japanese person, or even a person of color. This white-out casting isn’t out of the ordinary in fashion shows, but it’s surprising in the context of the Armani’s Japanese theme, which produced dresses and pant suits adorned with cherry blossom prints and accessorized with oragami-inspired headpieces and obi-like belts. You would think Armani would have at least cast Japanese model Tao Okamoto, who was at Chanel yesterday.

Looks from Armani Prive

Armani should have taken advice from Ralph Lauren, who for his China-inspired F/W 11 collection cast new and old Chinese models throughout the show: Sui He, Lela Rose, Jing Ma, Ming Xi, Liu Wen, and Lily Zhi. While the show celebrated various aspects of Chinese culture, it also propelled a sizable group of Chinese models forward, giving them a modeling opportunity most often reserved for the standard ring of European and white American models, which includes Karlie Kloss, Freja Beha Erichsen, Abbey Lee, etc.

Rose, He, and Ma at Ralph Lauren's F/W 11 show

Although creating collections inspired by non-Western cultures makes me uncomfortable, I would prefer that when it happens that casting for the runway show reflects a wider appreciation of beauty from the cultures they are referencing. The Armani show clearly showed appreciation for the beauty of Japan’s art, flora, and history, but it would have been nice to see an appreciation for the beauty of Japanese people as well.

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