Fashion, Politics & Diversity: NYFW Lily Fashion Event

With Lily General Manager, Chen Chuan & CCO, Sun Mingyang

In my many years writing about beauty, I’ve commented on the bridging opportunities of fashion.  I believe that because fashion and beauty are often relegated to the “nice to have” or “fun/cultural” spaces (aka not THAT important), it gets overlooked by those in political power.  Yet this “status” rewards it the freedom to defy authority, push boundaries or advocate for certain agendas.   

I’ve had the privilege of being associated with Unipx, a Chinese lifestyle/culture/fashion publication.  More than that, I’ve become good friends with members of the publication, including its CEO. Through our relationship I get to do fun things like attend fashion shows and speak at events.  But more importantly I get to hear different perspectives, and, in some small way, help to bridge the gaps that exist between our cultures. No question, with all the events happening in Hong Kong, we jump into lengthy debates.  And of course, we acknowledge China’s limitations for people with different sexual orientations and identities. But at least we are having these conversations and trying to connect.

The recent event at the Lily fashion event: “The New Generation of Chinese Women,” and the subsequent fashion show during New York Fashion Week further reinforced this goal of connection, understanding and openness.    Of course, I loved being outfitted by the brand :). But I REALLY loved the shared values expressed at that event. We all — no matter the culture — want to find ways to empower women — ALL women. Fashion has the ability to help us feel confident, successful, powerful.  And this includes women of different shapes, ethnicities, abilities. This culminated in the fashion show where I was able to see the wonderful diversity of looks, ethnicities, identities and ages at the Lily fashion show tonight. As Pablo Starr from Fashion Week Online said at Lily’s event about today’s fashion scene: 

“There’s a beautiful mingling of cultures…we aren’t just tolerant of other cultures…we want to embrace them…we are excited by them! People want to take from other cultures because there is one human culture…we all belong and can embrace together. “

Sure the Lily brand showed off gorgeous outfits, but it also went out on a limb and pushed an agenda of openness.   Fashion and beauty may not be a subject raised at the U.N. but it allows for sharing, communication and defiance.

See this video for all the diversity of ages, looks, sexual orientation, ethnicities.

Some more pics from the event:

With Unipx CEO, Yitong Qui
With Louie Herman, fashion photographer & FashionWeek Online founder, Pablo Starr

Chinese Fashion: Not A Case Of Cultural Appropriation But Cultural Understanding…I Saw It With my Own Eyes

Yue-Sai Kan, Miss China Universe 2011-2016 and me at the Plaza

I’m sure you’ve all read about the bruhaha about a Utah girl’s Chinese prom dress.  Keziah Daum wore a classic Cheongasm dress and got beaten up in social media by people accusing her of cultural appropriation.  In response to that shaming she received tons of encouraging messages directly from China.  And I’m not surprised at all the positive feedback.  Having just hosted the China Fashion Gala at the Plaza last weekend and seeing all the amazing mixing and matching of traditional and modern Chinese elements worn by Westerners and Chinese alike, I can tell you that Keziah’s choice of dress was a wonderful and future-forward one.  Not only was her dress beautiful but it was symbolic of the wonderful fusion of Chinese and Western fashion, and dare I say, the growing multi-cultural understanding we are all craving..

A little context for you all: you may recall that I’m collaborating with Unipx Media, a Chinese media channel that focuses primarily on fashion, lifestyle and tech.  The goal is to turn me into an “influencer” in the Chinese market.  To be honest, our early attempts weren’t making much progress.  Then we had an idea: host the China Fashion Gala!  It would be live-streamed into China, I would meet some movers and shakers, and be photographed with lots of China’s “beautiful people.”  It was all last minute and a bit crazy up until the end.  Not only did I have to attempt to learn a bit of Chinese, but I had to pronounce A LOT of Chinese names without butchering them too much, yikes!  I was also super fortunate enough to wear not just one but two amazing dresses by haute couture designer, Grace Chen.  

The event was gorgeous.  Men and women — old and young alike, — dressed in stunning gowns that expertly married modern with classic, and Western with Chinese styles.  Each and everybody looked regal with a bit of kick!  In fact, when I kicked off my hosting gig, I had to go off script and comment on how everyone looked so proud and beautiful.  And, just to name drop, I got to hob nob with the likes of Christian Louboutin and Vivienne Tam!!!

What struck me the most, however, is fashion’s unique ability to help people appreciate each other’s cultures.  Clothing is a language of it’s own.  For better or for worse, it “speaks” a culture’s definition of beauty, it’s values, rituals, and social norms.  Just as I convinced my 5th grade teacher when I chose to write my history term paper on the fashion of the Wild West (vs, oh, say, a defining war or key U.S. president), we learn about different cultures through our clothing.  Fashion is a way to see how we differ and how we are very much the same.   Grace Chen reinforced this when she treated us to a fashion show of her latest lines.  And thanks to Yue-Sai Kan‘s urging (Yue-Sai, by the way, has been named the “most famous woman in China.”) Chen explained to us how each piece resembles elements of ancient and modern China culture, as well as those of Western life.  It was fascinating and educational!

Even though I just scratched the surface of Chinese fashion in my short experience as a gala host, I will look at Chinese fashion with a deeper sense of appreciation.  And I will know that much more about a culture rich with heritage and nuance.  So instead of criticizing Miss Daum, we should thank her.  We should thank her for taking a risk and going against the grain and wearing a classic Chinese dress.  But more importantly, we should thank her for introducing a different culture to her community, to social media, and, now, to the entire U.S..

Feel free to check out our page hosted by Unipx!

Empowerment, Political Affairs & Youth Education: Fashion Week’s Other Side

If any of you follow fashion, you know every major city has celebrated it’s Fashion Week over the past month or so.  And I can’t help but reflect on it all.  Sure, Fashion Week is full of crazy outfits, “who’s who” sightings, and glamazons.  But in some overt and covert ways, it also uplifts society.  Based on what I’ve read and experienced first hand, Fashion Week also helps open borders; gives those otherwise ignored and let down by society a sense of respect and hope; and, in some veiled ways, empowers a group of women living within a conservative and somewhat sexist society.  And when it comes to me, personally, it has helped open my eyes to and widen my appreciation for another world.

No question, the fashion world has it’s share of issues: underage models, eating disorders and, most recently discussed in the press: sexual harassment.  I’m certainly not saying the industry is perfect.  But there’s a beautiful side to it.  Let’s just take a look at New York Fashion Week as an example.

One particular show that kicked off the week, received a ton of buzz, and impressed the hell out of me.  It celebrated the talents and models of the NYC’s homeless youths (see full New York Times story here).  For four weeks, designers from PVH mentored homeless youth, teaching them how to design, sew clothing and choreograph a show.  These lessons culminated in a show that displayed major doses of creativity, elation and pride.  So many of these youths are on the street due to abuse and neglect from their families.  You can imagine the lack of confidence, anxiety and helplessness they must feel on a daily basis.  But this experience not only taught them key skills in design and crafts, but gave them a sense of accomplishment and pride they rarely felt before.  The pictures of the event, alone, tug at the heartstrings.

Here’s another fascinating example from The New Yorker.  Given the uber-New York-ness of fashion week, The New Yorker dedicates a whole issue on the topic every year.  The best story by far in this year’s edition, “Armor and Lingerie,” features Amaka Osakwe, the designer of Nigerian fashion line: Maki Oh.  She, too, showed her talents at NY Fashion Week.  Despite her “unassuming” appearance, Osakwe is “obsessed with the female form and seduction,  subversive interests for Nigerian women.”  She also makes it a point to highlight Nigerian fabrics and designs, embracing  and bringing to light her culture around the world.  Perhaps most exciting for me, is her expertise in turning her clothes into a form of “elicit escape.”  In other words, her designs give women the permission to embrace their sexuality — on their own terms — despite the taboo of sex in Nigeria.  As such, she gives women back their power to determine how, when and in what ways they want to express their sexuality.

Needless to say, the NYC Fashion Week story that affected me the most was that which I experienced myself.  I was invited to attend a fashion show for Chinese brand, Naersi, at the American Museum of Natural History.  I had no idea what to expect.  I’ve never been to China nor have I developed an sense of Chinese fashion.  But given my relationship with UniPx media (a source of fashion and lifestyle to the Chinese market), and the wonderful VIP accommodations I was given, I jumped at the chance to attend.  Naersi dressed me in one their own beautiful gowns, sat me in the front row next to it’s founder, one of the top models in China, and a few seats down from TV star, Leighten Meester (how’s that for a view?:)).  And best of all I was able to drag a few of my good friends to join me.  The brand’s role, according to its literature, is to “instill confidence and success to independent women….through beautiful and modern design.” As to be expected, some of the designs are meant for the runway show only, but there were quite a few that inspired me.  What hit me most was not so much designs themselves but that I was able to peer inside a world that I have admired from afar but, until now, have little contact with and understanding of.  But right there and then I felt a new sense of kinship with Chinese fashion lovers.  Despite the political, cultural or philosophical boundaries that separate China and the U.S., the spirit of beauty, celebration of female empowerment, and love of pushing the limits unites us.  Thanks to fashion, I feel a new sense of appreciation for and connection with a culture that always seemed to distant and different.

No doubt fashion is fun and sometimes frivolous.  And in some ways, it’s because of its very lack of seriousness that it can be used to subvert culture, push against our assumptions and make us think.  When used for the right purposes, fashion has the potential to unite and empower people.  That and a nice new pair of boots will certainly give me a lift. 🙂

 

More to Love: Additions to the Reading List

 

  • I’ve had my eye on China when it comes to beauty, luxury and fashion for a few years now.  Turns out they have a long heritage in clothing design…check it out for yourself

http://www.sacbee.com/2012/07/09/4619906/experience-china-beauty-of-chinese.html

  • Seems like beauty pageants have gotten a ton of press this year for unusual contestants.  This one is blind?!  How does she put her face on then?

http://abcnews.go.com/US/miss-florida-usa-contestant-legally-blind/story?id=16741255

  • As erotica is becoming hyper-cool these days, Anne Rice is jumping on the band wagon AGAIN with a revival of her old trilogy

http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/08/in-race-toward-the-erotic-reviving-an-old-trilogy/

  • Not only can beauties have brains, but bravery too!  The story of how a Parisian beauty acts as spy, smuggler and decoy for a defecting Syrian general

http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/parisian-beauty-outwits-syrias-assad/story-fnb64oi6-1226420209129

Anything more to add? Comment or tweet us @Beautyskew