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Asian-American Designers: A Force in Fashion

18 May 2011

In the last few years, Asian American designers have become a major force in the global fashion industry. From quirky visionaries like Anna Sui to masters of refined elegance like Jason Wu, this select group offers a wide range of looks that reflect each designer’s particular sensibility.

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Alt tag: Runway model in green evening gown, with two other models in background (AP Images)

Credit: © AP Images

Asian-American designers are a major force in the global fashion industry, as the New York Times recently noted. In this group are Vera Wang, Anna Sui and other established figures, plus relative newcomers such as Jason Wu and Thakoon Panichgul (both of whom are favorites of U.S. first lady Michelle Obama). Each designer has a distinctive aesthetic, reflecting the deep Asian-American talent pool in fashion and other fields. Here, models show off evening wear by Monique Lhuillier, a Filippina-turned-Californian.

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Alt tag: Close-up of fashion designer Thakoon Panichgul combined with photo of runway model (AP Images)

One of the fashion world’s rising stars is Thakoon Panichgul, whose designs have won many fans, including U.S. first lady Michelle Obama. Known simply as Thakoon, he was born in Thailand and grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. His clothes — as seen here on a model — are described by fashion editors as romantic and sensual, yet modern and innovative. Thakoon told the Bangkok Post, “My ideas come from art, culture, photography. Also, they come from my observations of the way people live.”

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Alt tag: Photo of Monique Lhuillier combined with photo of Jessica Lowndes (AP Images)

Credit: AP Images

Monique Lhuillier (in white blouse) was born in the Philippines and is now based in Los Angeles. She studied at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and developed an affinity for bridal and evening gowns. In 1996, she launched her first bridal collection, earning acclaim from editors and buyers alike. Her designs — such as this strapless cocktail dress on actress Jessica Lowndes — are worn by such stars as Jennifer Lopez and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Lhuillier told Asiance magazine her “very glamorous mother” was a stylistic influence.

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Alt tag: Photo of Jason Wu gesturing combined with photo of Michelle Obama in evening gown (AP Images)

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Born in Taiwan, Jason Wu grew up in Canada, Massachusetts and Connecticut, and is now based in New York. He decided on a fashion career while still in his teens. His first collection of women’s wear debuted in 2006, and he soon attracted a strong following. Fashion critics praise Wu’s polished silhouettes, as exemplified by first lady Michelle Obama’s one-shouldered inaugural gown, seen here. “I’ve never been [a] ripped-jeans-and-grungy kind of a guy,” he told stylehog.com. Elegance is “something I really believe in.”

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Alt tag: Close-up of Alexander Wang combined with photo of runway model in jacket, jeans and embellished shorts (AP Images)

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Alexander Wang, of Taiwanese ancestry, was born in San Francisco. He briefly studied fashion design in New York, but dropped out of school to launch his first women’s ready-to-wear collection in 2007. His label embodies casually cool, urban style, inspired by the 1990s, rock grunge and French chic. Fashion critics hail the slouchy, rolled-out-of-bed aesthetic of Wang’s edgy, somewhat masculine designs. Inspiration comes from “my walk to work, or sitting in the subway and seeing something random or out of context,” Wang told Interview magazine.

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Alt tag: Close-up of Anna Sui combined with photo of runway model wearing patterned ensemble (AP Images)

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Detroit native Anna Sui, of Chinese descent, studied fashion at The New School’s art and design college, Parsons School of Design, in New York. Encouraged by her friends, models Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista, she launched her first runway show in 1991. Her debut was warmly received, and today, her brand retails globally. Sui is known for her bold, culturally inspired designs, which have a distinctly bohemian look, say fashion critics. When designing clothes, Sui told Elle magazine, she asks herself: “Would a rock star wear this?”

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Alt tag: Photo of Phillip Lim combined with picture of runway model in jacket, belted top and shorts (AP Images)

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Thai-born, with Cambodian and Chinese ancestry, designer Phillip Lim was raised in California and now calls New York home. Originally a finance student, he dropped his business studies to pursue fashion. His design label, 3.1 Phillip Lim, won near-instant success when it debuted in 2005, and his brand includes women’s and men’s wear and children’s clothing. His designs for women are admired by critics for their effortless refinement. “I am inspired by the global citizen” whose outlook is “borderless,” Lim told farfetch.com.

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Alt tag: Close-up of Vera Wang combined with photo of Keira Knightly in one-shouldered evening gown (AP Images)

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Vera Wang, daughter of Chinese immigrants, is a native New Yorker. She trained as a figure skater, but failure to make the U.S. Olympics team led her to the fashion industry. In 1990, she opened her own salon, selling her couture-inspired bridal gowns. Wang also designs a ready-to-wear women’s line, noted by critics for its luxurious but unfussy aesthetic. Here, actress Keira Knightley wears a custom-made gown by Wang. Each piece should be special, Wang told New York magazine: “If you’re selling [a] product that’s expensive, it better look it.”

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Alt tag: Close-up of Derek Lam combined with photo of runway model in patterned floor-length dress (AP Images)

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San Francisco native Derek Lam, of Chinese-American parentage, graduated from Parsons School of Design in 1990. He began working as an assistant for designer Michael Kors, then moved to Hong Kong to work for a large retail brand. After returning to New York, he launched his own label in 2003. Lam is hailed by critics for his clean, crisp silhouettes; his clients include actresses Leighton Meester and Emmy Rossum. “For me, it’s all about a sense of informality but still wanting to look stylish,” he told Neiman Marcus Daily.