Sunday, April 28, 2013

Chinese Designers: THEN and NOW

Dresses (Left to Right) by Vivienne Tam (Fall 2007), Zang Toi (Spring 1991) and Peter Som (Fall 2010)

Strutting down the runways of fashion's greatest catwalks is the handiwork of some notable Chinese-American designers. Long since the birth of the Qipao and the Cheongsam, Jason Wu, Anna Sui, Derek Lam, Phillip Lim and Vera Wang make their mark in fashion, paying homage to their Asian heritage through haute couture. Opening April 26 at the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) are two exhibits featuring Chinese fashion, past and present.

Vera Wang's Cardinal Red Gown (Spring 2013)

With a focus on modern day fashion, Front Row: Chinese American Designers curated by Mary Ping showcases 16 of New York's most established Chinese American designers and parallels their progression to the emergence of NY as a fashion capital in the 80s. The growth of NYC's Chinatown and an increase in overseas manufacturing became a catalyst for creativity, with each artist conceptualizing his or her view of the East meets West aesthetic. Iconic pieces by 80's designers Vivienne Tam, Anna Sui and Yeohlee Teng are intermingled with pieces by contemporary Chinese-American designers like Phillip Lim and Peter Som. Video narratives and personal reflections accompany the collection of garments, giving guests a first-hand look into each designer's interpretation of social and cultural forces.  

Anna Sui babydoll sketch /Anna Sui babydoll dress Spring 2007

Known best for her wedding and special event garb, Vera Wang is represented by her Spring 2013 red cardinal dress. The inspiration for the billowing gown comes from the chinese words "beautiful dream" (mèi mèng) and the red multi-tiered organza personifies an outpouring of romance and love. My favorite outfit on display, Anna Sui's metallic ensemble embraces youth with a rocker chic vibe. Starting out with loose change, bold ideas and friends' encouragement, Sui built a successful brand combining punk style, classic colors and ethnic references. Opening Ceremony's Carol Lim and Humberto Leon stumbled onto a new concept after a 2002 trip to Hong Kong. 10 years later, OC is as much a community and a social hub as a network of successful stores. In 2012, the pair became the creative directors of Kenzo, bringing back Kenzo Takada's penchant for fusing bold colors, Parisian chic and Japanese street style. Stop by the MOCA exhibit (free on Thursdays!) to see the full selection of objets d'art and hear what the designers have to say. 

Shanghai Glamour exhibit introduction

Shanghai Glamour: New Women 1910's - 40's, curated by Mei Mei Rado, explores the unique aesthetic of Shanghai ladies in the early 20th century and their ability to use fashion in creating a personal identity. The qipao, or mandarin dress, surfaced in 1920's Shanghai and was a symbol of social status. Made popular by women of high society, the cut and fit of the garment has evolved from a loose dress with bell sleeves to a high-necked, form-fitting silhouette. In contemporary times, qipao are used in weddings and also as uniforms for schools, waitresses and stewardesses. The medal bearers during the 2008 Olympics wore qipao and cheongsam as well.

Four of the 15 Qipao and Cheongsam showcased in the exhibit

Included in the display are 12 Qipao and Cheongsam on loan from the China National Silk Museum and 3 additional pieces from private collections. This is the first time the historic garments have been displayed in the US. To complement the clothes are a collection of shoes, accessories and vintage posters that capture the essence of Shanghai and femininity during that era.


  1. This is really interesting. I wish I could be there.

    1. Thank you! Hope I was able to give you a glimpse!


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