26 April 2010

the day after the night of

So the panel was great! I was so honored to be there; I've never been more scared to speak at anything in my life (speaking at Teen Vogue's Fashion University in October was more like a big girl talk to me, everyone was so nice and adorable). But all my nerves kind of calmed down once I answered the first question (afterwards my nerves had a seizure and died when I spoke to everyone personally... so honored. Thank you for your kind words! So much.)

Columbia kids -- can I call them/you kids when you're older than me? Probably not BUT I'M AN OLD LADY I GET TO OK -- brought up some amazing questions, of which I will not reiterate completely (you should have gone!) but there were some questions I'll elaborate on only because there just wasn't enough time to do so last night.

  • Why is there a dearth of Asian American designers like Yohji , Rei, Issey? Why aren't they succeeding? Are they?*
Well, Yohji, Rei, Issey, Hanae Mori in her heyday -- they aren't Asian American designers in the first place anyway. They're all Japanese, born and bred. In every interview they've done that I have read they've consistently said they don't want to even be considered "Asian Designers", simply designers. In fact, none of them even show in their home fashion weeks -- they all show at Paris Fashion Week and that is one of biggest reasons they've all done so well; Paris FW is home plate. You show in Paris and you'll be known everywhere (not really that simple, but that's the gist).

picture by refinery29.com of A.Wang' designs. Can you tell he's Asian by his designs? No. You can just tell it's good design.

I don't think there's a 'dearth' of asian designers, and Phillip Lim agrees with me... you can't even really put a number on how many asian designers there should be, there is no quota to fill. There is no mission statement that says there needs to be 10 very successful Caucasian designers, 10 asian, etc etc. If you're a good designer you are a good designer. You have something different to offer regardless of your ethnic background. Yeah, your cultural background influences your designs but only as much as you let it, really. Asian Designers don't have a magic gene that makes their designs more awesome than non asian designers and vice versa. They're simply good at what they do and they happen to be Asian.

I don't think Asian American designers aren't succeeding as well as their Caucasian peers (but can you name five African American or Hispanic designers that are really successful? Five or ten. If you can, list them in your comments please.).

I think if anything, they're doing quite well for themselves actually, more than others, considering the state of fashion right now. A lot of great designers have fallen -- both great old houses and new upstarts that had some great potential. But designers like Alexander Wang, Mr. AsianObama (I mean Jason Wu, hahaha I'm so funnyyyyyy not really), Phillip Lim -- they're all very prominent in the fashion industry and that doesn't seem to be changing. They're kicking butt and taking names.

good design isn't guaranteed by your ethnicity. 3.1 Phillip Lim Resort

They're actually doing better than Asia based designers right now too. No Korean designer has really ever made it big worldwide. Even Japanese designers, while they do well editorial wise and the Japanese fashion economy is one of the strongest in the world (though it's been noted that recently Japanese teens are spending less), Japanese designers are only available in Japan for the most part. There is no globalization. I think their lack of success can be blamed on any number of things...lack of government funding, lack of community, the image fashion designers have in other countries... lack of marketability and identity to people outside their culture... I don't know. South Korea, I love it so much, but it's got some huge huge problems not just the way the fashion industry is run there but suicide rate, body image (i mean 75%+ Koreans have or want plastic surgery? WHY?)... so many damn problems I feel like worrying about fashion is the least of their problems.

So yeah. Rambled, but Asian American designers have it good, methinks. I should probably get back to class now (I wrote this in AP Literature... woops)

*i didn't write down the question so I'm just rephrasing what I can remember, if I changed the question, sorry!

Anyway, this whole thing was just my opinion on the subject. Take it as it is.


Noel said...

I completely agree with this post, Arabelle -- actually, the point of the panel last night was to show that Asian Americans are successful in the industry because of their talent and not because of their label as an "Asian American designer." I feel like some of the audience members missed the point.

...I also feel like some of them were asking fairly long questions that were disguised "I want to impress you and get an internship" questions hahaha.

jae said...

I am an older lady [23 yo] who attended the panel last night and was very impressed by the organizer and the event itself. I applaud your bravado as a 17 year old, to speak in front of this large audience. My one critique of the event is perhaps they should have taken questions in advance and filtered them. I was not at all impressed by the extended self-masturbatory questions as they did not contribute to a productive dialogue.

In any case, I think the distinction here to be made is between the "Asian" designers and the "Asian American" designers. The two groups face different obstacles and obviously will have different aesthetics according to the vastly different markets in which they thrive.

The references to "avant-garde" was extremely sophomoric and gratuitous, imo.

The most valuable point was the emphasis to have different interests outside of fashion, because it really is an industry of convergence between many different interests.

PS. the word is dearth.

Arabelle said...

yeah, the event wasn't perfect and if you do organize this next time Noel I think you'll know what changes to make, but I do think it was fun nonetheless.

some of the questions WERE 'self masturbatory' but I'm not exactly surprised given the venue and the people on the panel? a lot of the people figure this was their one chance to talk to Joe and Lim et all and wanted to impress them. It may have backfired but you can't blame them for trying.

Who referenced the avant garde designers? Was it the guy that asked this question...? I don't know. I can be faulted for that too hahaha. I think he probably had a good intention.

Different strokes for different folks.

Arabelle said...

also: you aren't 'an older lady'!

Massiel said...

in terms of Hispanic designers (I'm not considering this Hispanic-American, btw):

Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera, Agatha Ruiz de la Prada. Balenciaga is a Spanish fashion house, as I'm sure you know.

So yeah. You're right. There are slightly more well-known Hispanic designers than there are African (or African-American), but neither are well represented.

I like celebrating diversity, but there's a line between celebrating diversity and patting someone on the head for having gotten successful while suffering through such handicaps like race. Which I'm not suggesting the panel did (I wasn't able to attend), but that happens a lot. "Congratulations for achieving success as an Asian-American." Why not just congratulations on your success?

I'm not sure why I'm rambling on, but those are my two cents.

Noel said...

Massiel, the point of the panel discussion was that race is NOT a handicap in being successful. When I was planning it, the goal was to present a panel of the top figures in the fashion industry -- and show that they are defined by their talent, not by their race. I don't know about you, but when I look at the list of speakers, I think, "Wow what a great crop of people in the fashion industry" and not "Look at all the Asians."
Also, I don't think any of us need to pat the likes of Phillip Lim and Joe Zee on the head haha.

Fatima* said...

great post! made me wish I could have attended this event. It sounded interesting.

K.M. said...

gutted i missed this, living in the uk and all. looks like it was really interesting! i think with this kind of thing there's always a danger that the audience will miss the point of the discussion, although it's strange that people would jump right in with a question about why asian designers aren't succeeding. How can we even judge success, just by sales? Marketability? Fashion is so much more than this. i agree with jae about distinguishing between asian and asian american designers for the sake of this discussion, but it's important to make sure a designer's background or personal life doesn't dictate how it's approached, received, and praised. as arabelle says, a good designer is a good designer.

HAL said...

awesome post. how stupid that it would be assumed good design is guaranteed by your ethnicity. how is it evident that these designers are asian? it's just evident their designs kick ass, as you said.


Massiel said...


I'm sorry my comment sounded like I was talking about the panel. I was simply agreeing with your first comment to Arabelle's post, though it turned into a ramble. I should've made that clearer; my "congratulations for achieving success as an Asian-American" comment was meant to be only an example (and could have substituted any race/culture/sexuality/gender/etc. in place of Asian-American).

Angela said...

Last night was such a great event. Great job Noel.

It was so great, as a Korean, to see such influential and successful Asian Americans up there on the panel.

Arabelle! I am so honored to have been in the audience with you on the panel. You are such a knowledgeable young ladY! (Well, you're only 2 years younger than me, but still!)

I hope that you continue succeeding and keep spitting all your thoughts out online!!!

Artful Informant said...

You are amazing!

Jesica Kulesz said...

Beautiful photos!!! very very!!!



Greetings and thanks!

Raxel design said...

Thumbs up!


dennison# said...

im so sad i missed out on this event, it sounded amazing.i live in australia and was hoping there might be a video or transcript available?? Would you have any idea arabelle??

Chris said...


100% on point and accurate...Due to the limited time and, who can forget, somewhat abrupt way I had to go about asking the question, it seems to have led to a perceived misconception of the actual context that was my intent to convey. In no way possible was I stating that there exists a “Dearth” of Asian Americans, or Native Asians, in the fashion industry; rather, why hasn't the unique, diverse, and influential styles of the Asian market, for lack of better phrase, become more mainstream in American culture? From the arrangement of the question “Why do you think there is a dearth of Asian American fashion in the US?,” which accurately would have been “Asian instead of Asian American”, and with the mention of Alexander Wang and from the panel in and of itself, we obviously can see that there is not a dearth of Asians or Asian Americans in the fashion industry. The question was intended to open a dialogue similar to this one. I can presume that due to the nature and timing it may have come across incorrectly.

chris said...

Massiel and Noel,

I do agree that congratulations on your success at any level is due to one regardless of his/her race. But why is it that when minorities proverbially "make it" we have to choose between our race and our talent?
Yes, as Noel states, this panel and all of the minorities that have achieved success should be respected for their talent. Although, in stating that, we do not want to be labeled a Asian (or any race) designer, rather than just a designer, leaves one to wonder if one has to remove himself /herself from his/her race to be accepted in the first place and if so, is the use of the terminology "Asian (or any race) designer,” just a tool to underrate that persons innate ability to create the same caliber of product on the same level as their Caucasian counter parts. (As if that person of particular talent is the exception not the rule) Just a thought

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Cherie said...

I agree- I don't really care, a good designer is just a good designer.

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JULIA said...

A really interesting post. And Ihave to say, I 100% agree with it.

Linda said...

Dude. It breaks my heart that no Korean designers have made it big because I find Korean street fashion to be the most appealing out of all of the Asian street fashion styles. With South Korea being a growing nation in the Asian music industry (... and StarCraft...? Lol.) and with the Korean wave, I can't imagine why fashion is so slow compared to other arts.

Now I want to go blog about it.

hannah said...

love the philip lim collection!

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AM said...

I'd really like more Japanese and Korean designers in the international scene too but yeah you're right, that's not the way how the world works haha. But I think it's not really because they have "so many problems" that fashion is the least of their worries (the SK government is actually trying to remarket and repackage their country, especially Seoul as a fashion capital and a design capital and whateverelse capital)... I think it's because their domestic market is strong enough to support their own. And this is a fact for Japan at least, that alot of local designers don't seek to go international anymore because they already do well in the domestic market.I guess going international isn't also a concern for everybody. But nonetheless it does remain, that ethnicity is and should be no barrier to success (in the fashion industry.)

Cheers for joining the panel though, I admire your courage and passion!

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