The Wall Street Journal featured a great article on the rise of Asian American designers at Fashion Week. Acceptance of other careers besides the traditional doctor, lawyer, etc., is taking place in the community! Great article! Such talent behind Asian designers!
Read the entire article below by Ray A. Smith:
In "The September Issue," the recent documentary film on Vogue, the designer with the most screen time is Thakoon Panichgul, a 34-year-old American who was born in Thailand.
He is just one of a growing number of young Asian-American fashion designers who command growing clout in the fashion world. Jason Wu, a 26-year-old of Taiwanese descent, skyrocketed to fame after the First Lady wore his dress to Inaugural Night balls. Gap has tapped Asian-American designer labels Doo.Ri, Phillip Lim and Alexander Wang, as well as Mr. Panichgul, to design collections over the past three years. At New York Fashion Week, which begins today, 25 Asian-American fashion designers plan to hold shows or presentations, nearly double the number five years ago, according to the Fashion Calendar, an industry newsletter that lists fashion shows and events.
To explain the sharp increase in their numbers, many young Asian-American designers point to a cultural shift within their communities that has liberated them from traditional career expectations.
Asian-Americans in their 20s and 30s were part of an immigration boom. The passage of the Immigration Act of 1965 effectively ended policies that put quotas on the numbers and origins of Asians allowed in the country. Once they arrived, the children of this wave of Asian immigrants generally didn’t feel as much parental pressure as previous generations to excel in more-traditional fields such as business or science—in part because the previous wave of immigrants had proven themselves in those fields.
"I lucked out. A lot of my cousins, God bless them, they are doctors, in science or in business," says 38-year-old fashion designer Peter Som, who is of Chinese descent.
Today’s Asian-American designers also say relatives their own age who weren’t born in America faced more traditional career expectations. Jason Wu notes that his older brother, who chose to study business, had more years of schooling in Taiwan than he did.
A New American Dream
"These Asian-American parents look around and realize the American dream can be realized in other ways," says Frank H. Wu, author of the book "Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White," published in 2001. "They also realize their children are assimilated and don’t face all the barriers that they might have faced when they first came here."
Of course, some Asian-American designers had parents who were adamant in their expectations of traditional success. Phillip Lim, the 36-year-old Thailand-born designer who started a women’s fashion line in 2005, didn’t tell his parents before he switched majors in college from business to home economics and fashion merchandising.
He says his mother and father, a seamstress and a professional poker player, respectively, expressed disappointment. "They said, ‘We worked so hard. We brought you here. Why would you do that? No one looks up at us, we are the lowest class.’?The whole guilt trip," says Mr. Lim, whose first men’s fashion presentation will be tomorrow. "But that wasn’t going to stop me from doing what I wanted to do."
Similarly, Mr. Panichgul ended up getting a business degree from Boston University to please his mother, who wanted him to pursue "more lucrative jobs like business or law or being a doctor." He didn’t tell her that he wanted to be a fashion designer until he launched his line in 2004. He had, unbeknownst to her, quit his job as a writer for Harper’s Bazaar to work on setting up the line. "She couldn’t stop it after that," he says. "It’s a rebelling. Our generation kind of went the opposite direction of what our parents wanted us to do."
A Relaxation of Pressure
In some cases, designers say it was enough for their parents if just some of their children pursued traditional paths. Richard Chai’s sister is a business executive. Korea-born Doo-Ri Chung, whose line is Doo.Ri, says her brother is an investment banker.
Indeed, business success in the family could be helpful. Ms. Chung’s brother has helped her with money, as well as business plans. Jason Wu started his label in 2006 with money from his family.
Asia’s reputation as a clothing-manufacturing hub plays a smaller role in the rise of Asian-American designers than some might think. With a few exceptions, these designers didn’t come from families that worked in textiles or clothing manufacturing.
Today’s Asian-American designers don’t wear their "otherness" on their sleeves as did the wave of Japanese designers like Issey Miyake and Yohji Yamamoto, who took the fashion world by storm in the ’80s with avant-garde designs. Many young Asian-American designers’ clothes, such as Jason Wu’s blend of modernity with the intricacy of couture and Phillip Lim’s modern takes on classic looks, are generally aimed at a broad mainstream audience.
"We are all so different with so many different backgrounds," says Derek Lam, 43, one of the few Asian-American star designers whose family was involved in the clothing-manufacturing business. Though he grew up around that, he went to college to study English and says his decision to become a fashion designer stemmed more from his desire to do something artistic than from roots in the family business.
One factor helped ease the way: In many Asian families, the fine arts have long been encouraged as a disciplined hobby for children. With the mainstream success of Asian classical musicians, architects and filmmakers, the arts have become an increasingly viable career choice. Fashion has come to be seen as a legitimate extension of the arts, especially because of design’s emphasis on drawing and sketching.
Some designers say their parents were supportive of their choice to study fashion design so long as they went to what they considered the best schools for that field and excelled at their studies.
"Their attitude was if you want to do art or fashion, be at the best school," says designer Richard Chai, who grew up in New Jersey and attended Parsons the New School for Design.
Many of his peers, too, took summer classes at Parsons and the Fashion Institute of Technology while still in junior-high and high school, and then went on to apprentice under famous fashion designers, giving them skills and boldface names in their portfolio. Mr. Chai worked as a sketcher for Lanvin, a designer for DKNY and a design director for Marc Jacobs. Mr. Som worked under Michael Kors and Calvin Klein. Mr. Wu interned for Narciso Rodriguez. Ms. Chung worked under Geoffrey Beene.
Fashion schools have witnessed an influx of Asian-American students. Between 1998 and 2008, Parsons says, Asian-Americans were its fastest-growing ethnic group, more than tripling in number. At Parsons, "there were tons of Asians when I was there," says Mr. Som.
By contrast, Anna Sui, who launched her line in 1981, making her part of an earlier generation of Asian-American designers, says, "when I went to [Parsons], maybe there was one other Asian student, in the year before me."
Simon Collins, dean of fashion at Parsons, says the school didn’t have to do any special outreach to Asian-Americans. "We didn’t have problems finding Asian-American students," he says.
‘Talent and Work Ethic’
Joanne Arbuckle, dean of the school of art and design at the Fashion Institute of Technology, says that while she doesn’t like to generalize, she finds that students of Asian descent "come to the table with two things: talent and work ethic."
Ms. Arbuckle says that during her 10 years of teaching in the fashion-design department, she found the drive of Asian students "noticeable." She also said some had strong math and engineering backgrounds, "which is a tremendous benefit to being a designer." Those students viewed design almost like solving a problem, she says: "It’s right or it’s wrong and they never gave up until it was really right."
Though Asian-American designers want to be looked at more for their individual work than for their common background, a number of them do admit to a sense of pride. Says veteran designer Vera Wang, "It is kind of a wonderful phenomenon."