A long overdue trend?
Fashion’s current fever for all things Asian has left me wondering how the continent’s new influence will change catwalks worldwide. Asia is no longer a sleeping giant but an economic powerhouse. According to World Bank data, China is becoming a world superpower, with the second largest economy in 2013. The World Bank data also states that Japan is holding strong in third place while India rounds out the top ten. These numbers appear to have nothing to do with fashion, but fashion – the craft that lives in tension between art and commerce – is affected by the flow of dollars around the globe.
It’s worth noting that during Asia’s economic rise, America’s most celebrated new designers of recent years have been of Asian descent – think Thakoon Panichgul, Philip Lim, Jason Wu, Derek Lam and Alexander Wang. While all five have distinctly different aesthetics, they create pieces coveted by It girls and Michelle Obama alike (remember Wu’s inaugural gown for the first lady?).
Their various heritages are not necessarily prominent in their works, but these men have created a new age in American fashion – one where minorities and new Americans are being celebrated.
It’s a stark opposition to ages past when not being from Europe (or not being Manhattan royalty) put a serious nail in the coffin of your fashion career. In fact, Panichgul’s childhood story – moving from Thailand to Nebraska at age 11 with his family – reads like the stuff of a Bruce Springsteen song.
American fashion seems to finally be accepting the nation’s identity as a cultural melting pot, meaning that a new age of multiculturalism in fashion may not be far behind.
While America has taken on an Asian influence, China has been shirking a European influence – or at least attempting to. After years of China’s nouveaux riches lining their sidewalks to buy European designer brands, the Chinese government has introduced a luxury tax. Bloomberg News reported that Chinese shoppers have been avoiding the tax by going to the source as opposed to spending their dollars at home: “Close to a third of Chinese luxury buyers [were shopping] in Europe in 2013, industry consultant McKinsey & Co. estimates, up from a fifth last year.,”. When you get the itch for Fendi, it seems you just gotta scratch it- even if that scratch means crossing the International Date Line and suffering jet lag.
Meanwhile, China’s first lady, Peng Liyuan, made headlines as a “Style Icon” in 2013. Al Jazeera reported she wore only Chinese labels on the tour she and President Xi Jinping took last year. Was it a move similar to Michelle Obama’s, choosing labels from your own country to be seen as one of the people? Probably. After all, if anyone can afford that luxury tax, it’s her.
Regardless of intentions, Liyuan is showing the world that China has something to offer the fashion community.
And that might be just enough to keep some of those luxury-seekers home.
Will a globally watched fashion week in Beijing be next? Only time will tell. Either way, China has a hand firmly planted on the fashion ladder and seems to have every intention of climbing to the highest rung they can.
Back at home, Toronto Star reporter Karen Von Hahn wrote a piece about Pantone’s colour of 2014: ‘Radiant Orchid’. Hahn claims that the colour’s popularity should not be because of its supposed femininity but because it is “…a distinctly Asian/fusion hue. In this, the Pantone predictors are right on: there is an Asian wave afoot on the fashion front. Whether or not this is a direct play to the emerging buying power in Asian markets, in 2014 the big names in fashion will be of Asian descent…”
It’s tough to argue with Hahn on that point. The cult status of pieces by Thakoon, Lim and Lam, the admission of Wu’s inaugural gown to the Smithsonian, and Wang’s placement at the helm of Balenciaga, mean that these are names with staying power. And as China throws a surprisingly stylish hat into the fashion ring, the Eastern influence on fashion will only grow.
As political power moves east, will fashion’s notorious whiteness finally let in some colour? Will the Asian-American visionaries be able to make room for minorities in the elitist halls of high fashion? It seems that the floodgates need to be opened for fashion as a business to stay afloat. Be it by art or commerce, the inclusion of other ethnicities in fashion is something we’ve waited a long time for. Here’s hoping it’s a trend with staying power.
This article was written and submitted by Morgan Mullin for Round 1 of Modeconnect’s International Fashion Writing Competition. Morgan was invited to take part in Round 2. Read all the published submissions.