The 2010 Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) awards for best new designers for menswear, womenswear, and accessories were given to Richard Chai, Jason Wu, and Alexander Wang, respectively—this first time all three awards honored Asian American designers.
Industry analysts did not view their selections as coincidental; rather, the awards merely confirmed the rise of Asian chic. But what explains this trend?
Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu, an assistant professor in New York University’s Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, addresses this in her new book, The Beautiful Generation: Asian Americans and the Cultural Economy of Fashion (Duke University Press).
Part of this development traces back to the late 1990s, when handbag designer Amy Chan opened her first store at 247 Mulberry Street, which was once the home of the Ravenite Social Club and where federal officials arrested John Gotti, Sr. earlier in the decade. Chan was the first of several designers who replaced the area’s old tenements and boarded-up storefronts with new boutiques.
“Over the course of just a few years, they transformed it into the shopping mecca now known as Nolita,” writes Nguyen Tu. “Among those who joined Chan were Anna Kim, Margie Tsai, Elaine Kim, Kazuo Nakano, and Jennifer Wang—second-generation Asian American women who were eager to try their luck in one of the city’s oldest industries: the clothing business.”
Their rise paralleled the fashion world’s embrace of “Asian chic,” when young Asian Americans such as Derek Lam and Wu began to emerge as leading fashion designers—and, Nguyen Tu observes, coincided with a “shift toward a cultural or creative economy.”
“During this time, efforts to financialize culture fostered the creation of a range of new industries, fueled by youthful ingenuity and prioritizing creativity and innovation,” she writes.
In The Beautiful Generation, Nguyen Tu also pays particular attention to how Asian American designers relate to the garment workers who produce their goods and to Asianness as a fashionable commodity. She draws on conversations with design students, fashion curators, and fashion publicists; interviews with Asian American designers who have their own labels; and time spent with those designers in their shops and studios, on their factory visits, and at their fashion shows. The Beautiful Generation links the rise of Asian American designers to historical patterns of immigration, racial formation, and globalized labor, and to familial and family-like connections between designers and garment workers.
Nguyen Tu has co-edited of Alien Encounters: Popular Culture in Asian America, also published by Duke University Press, and TechniColor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life.
Reporters interested in speaking with her should contact James Devitt, NYU’s Office of Public Affairs, at 212.998.6808 or email@example.com. For review copies, contact Laura Sell, Duke University Press, at 919.687.3639 or firstname.lastname@example.org.