TAIPEI, Taiwan — Asia, where I was brought up and where I am proud to come from, is embracing the concept that “Western culture is the mainstream” and that everything we do should follow the European or American style. However, after visiting, working and living in various Western countries, I eventually understood that the Oriental culture with its charm, mystery and history is appealing and admired by all my European friends.
“Asians think that Western countries are exotic and beautiful, and interestingly enough, Europeans have the same concept of the Far East. Just look at the exhibition ‘China: Through the looking Glass’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the United States; a clear proof of the West’s attraction to Asian culture,” explains Chiaoling Lin, deputy editor-in-chief of WE PEOPLE, WestEast Magazine
During a conversation, Chiaoling talks confidently about the fashion of Asian culture and shares her views, based on her vast experience in Asia, on how and why the Asian culture is so attractive to the rest of the world.
A Special DNA
Some of my friends are fashion designers and they all share some common characteristics: persistence, courage and not being afraid of failure. I see these friends as “Super Nobodies”, genuine talents that are still waiting for that moment when their works can shine in the international stage.
“Asians always expect the ‘next fashion star’ to emerge from their own countries. However, while some Asian designers have been already successful at home, they are still battling to get international recognition and be listed alongside the international, chart-topping fashion designers. The only way they can get international visibility is by presenting their works at fashion week events in New York, Paris, Milan or London,” Chiaoling comments.
Speaking of the high-profile fashion industry and outstanding Asian designers, two recent Asian celebrities come to my mind: Jason Wu and Alexander Wang. Asian fashion design students around the world regard these designers as true idols.
Chiaoling adds: “In fact, the emergence, education and background of these acclaimed Asian designers started in the United States and their achievement is also thanks to their strategic location: New York City.” And yet, by looking at these talented designers, I can still see the same characteristic of other Asian designers, it is like a particular DNA, the Chinese personality of persistence and courage that accompanies them along their journey.
In the jewellery industry there are many artists or creative talents from Asia, their creations are the combination of traditional Asian culture and modern art, coming out with new aesthetic concepts that are very much appreciated around the world.
Wallace Chan and Zunci Gong are two of the most impressive interviewees Chiaoling can recall: “Wallace Chan is the first Asian jewellery artist to be invited to participate at the Biennale de Paris. His work has strong Oriental elements, inspired by Chinese literature and philosophy. For the design of his jewellery, he does the drawing, but he has also learned how to develop and make special machines to achieve his desired effect of gem cutting. He has finally completed his most famous work of the unique cutting method, Wallace Cut.”
“Zunci Gong is another excellent designer,” Chiaoling continues. “She created and developed a polishing technique, however her hard work has caused damage to her hearing. Zunci Gong’s never-give-up attitude led her to the opportunity to participate in the Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong in 1997, then New York and more recently in Los Angeles. Her personal design exhibition at the end of every year is eagerly anticipated!”
“Talent” does not only refer to young people trying to stay ahead, especially in Asia there are a lot of more experienced masters, like Wallace Chen and Zunci Gong. When they started in these creative fields, there was no Internet with endless information, no social networks to show their creations to the world and no media promotion in general, but it led them to concentrate on creating. When we appreciate their special artworks that are different from the secular art, we can see real connotations and should give them more praise. For these senior masters, actually being famous is not important, they have an attitude of humility and modesty that is inherent to Chinese traditional culture.
Many Asian students in fashion design schools, long for a life in the fashion industry, but they worry about what they can actually do after graduation. Most parents instil into their children the idea that art and design is not a stable or profitable industry.
In fact this idea exists because of the education environment and the fact that the fashion industry is not well perceived in Asia. Asian companies are still based on trade and manufacture, we know there are more and more followers, but there are very few leaders. What I can see is that UNIQLO is the only really successful brand.
After visiting many Asian fashion shows, Chiaoling talks about some of her insights into the status of the Taiwan fashion Industry with some frustration:
“Every Asian country keeps running their own fashion week over the years in order to follow the rhythm of other urban cities in the United States and Europe. Fashion shows in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, Taipei or Bangkok, aim to promote local talents with new designers presenting with a global perspective, but the question remains: does the design work have enough competitive strength?”
“We are happy to see the rise of new designer, brand-based composite clothing boutiques in Taiwan in recent years,” say Chiaoling. “These are single stores selling many designer brands and such a business model can solve the problem of single designers that only have a few products; and it also gives the whole store a sense of fulfilment. These new brands are not yet famous, the products are good and impressive, but customers still expect low prices.”
We understand well the young designers mentioned above, most of them are alone on the fashion battlefield: there is no deep family background, no funds, no performance in international fashion runway and so, an obvious limitation in the development of their fashion career. I believe that in the United States and Europe, the local young designers encounter the same situation. They are always looking for new opportunities; of course it is more difficult for the young designers in faraway Asia, especially for the Asian students who never go abroad to cosmopolitan cities to study fashion.
In the fashion industry, there are a lot of personal design studios, personal brands and small design companies of different ages and nationalities. Just thinking of my small city around Taiwan, the number of young fashion or jewellery designers is over 500.
Thanks to the passion and persist efforts of people like Chiaoling Lin, Wallace Chan and Zunci Gong, Asia is changing. It is no longer the continent of blind followers, now Asia is a birthplace to breed talents and outstanding designers. A good designer is not a momentary spark, they will continue to shine and we look forward to the next superstar who we hope will be Asian.