Asian in the City

For the past three years, the CFDA Swarovski’s Perry Ellis Award for Womenswear has been awarded to young designers of Asian descent. Derek Lam was the winner in 2005, Doo-Ri Chung took the prize in 2006, and Phillip Lim snagged the top award this year. Mary Ping, Thakoon, and Richard Chai all scooped up the 2005 Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation award for promising young designers as well. New Bill Blass designer Peter Som, who has received numerous CFDA nominations for his own line, commands attention from high-profile celebrities and critics
alike. Apart from their cultural heritage, these designers share a commitment to forward progress and to keeping their fashion
free from the burden of retro inspiration — rather than simply "Asian-American designers," they could be more accurately described
as purveyors of new American classics.

Phillip Lim, who has over ten million dollars in sales for his a/w ’07 collection, most often makes clothes that are neither
difficult to understand nor hard to appreciate, using a magic formula that appeals to both the uptown and downtown sets. In
his current collection, for example, Lim’s gray wool maxi sweater with oversized studs has just enough bite not to frighten
the Park Avenue set, while a younger, hipper downtowner can go conservative without losing any edge. It’s no surprise that
Lim came up under Katayone Adeli, who set the standard in the late ’90s for skinny jeans and useful tops.

Like Lim, Doo-Ri Chung and Mary Ping make clothes that allow women to be comfortable, but just a tad fanciful as well. Chung’s
Resort ’08 collection reveals a winning brand of urbane femininity that draws inspiration from the world at large, not just
bygone fashion eras and icons. One forward-thinking top looks like an inverted tulip, with soft creases on the front splayed
out like a fan, while the back of the shirt comes across the shoulders like a miniature cape. In fact, many of her pieces
are reminiscent of flowers, with jersey and chiffon draping across the body in soft creases and tucks, or with edited fabrics
that give the garments volume and lightness.

And then there’s Alexander Wang, a fashion-school dropout who has launched a winning line at a very young age. Having studied under Derek Lam, Wang’s aesthetic echoes his mentor’s clean luxuriousness while drawing influences from American pop culture. The 23-year-old
Wang’s work references both his boarding-school years and the old-school hip-hop of his ’80s youth. Wang avoids the bright
neons and seersucker blazers of his retro-fetishizing contemporaries; his pieces exhibit subtle changes in fabric and texture,
never straying from an emphasis on construction. His fall ’07 collection, while not particularly edgy, keeps things low-key
with close-to-the-body silhouettes and textural fabrics like metallic yarns and woolen mesh, and suede and sequins placed
against one another. Expect more fabric exercises in Wang’s s/s ’08 collection.

With their wide-ranging aesthetics and influences, all of these designers demonstrate the diversity of their heritage. But
something more cohesive is clearly emerging here, as these savvy designers turn such multicultural sensibilities into popular
brands rooted into a new, modern aesthetic.
-Pearl Kan

Photos:
Derek Lam CFDA-winning a/w ’05
Doo-Ri Chung Resort ’08
Philip Lim a/w ’07-’08
Peter Som a/w ’07-’08
Alexander Wang a/w ’07-’08




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