|The award winners and presenters Mike Albanese, Lang Lang, Shirley Young, Chiu-Ti Jansen, Yue-Sai Kan, Zang Toi and Hutch Hutchinson|
(Event photos: Lieba Nesis)
YUE, the Chinese-English bilingual quarterly magazine held its third anniversary gala this past week to celebrate its success as a magazine that serves more than 60,000 readers with the median salary of the average reader being one million dollars. The event was held at the Harmonie Club and featured the elite in Chinese society including: esteemed designer Zang Toi, famed pianist Lang Lang and well known architect Chien Chung Pei. Chiu-Ti, the co-owner (with Observer Media) and publisher of YUE, regaled the crowd in a sweeping black Zang Toi gown with her hair in an elegant updo. Chiu-Ti has a style that is continually evolving and this night her look was perfection (I am slightly partial as I chose her as a style subject for my fashion column). Chiu-Ti, the master of ceremonies, introduced all of her illustrious friends and humorously commented that if you meet your husband at a YUE event you should give her credit but that if you were married you should not be perusing the crowd to find your soulmate. This had some married men in the crowd, especially the ones accompanied by their wives, laughing uncomfortably.
Chiu-Ti informed me that Chinese women used to be perceived of dressing like "country bumpkins" but this crowd was bumpkinless; appearing in sequined gowns, heavy jewelry, and edgy tuxedos this was the "it" Asian crowd of New York, and the throngs of Chinese media present confirmed this. Numerous awards were presented, but that was not the point, this event was all about Chinese people saying we are here to stay and we are proud of our heritage. This event was also intended to highlight prominent Chinese philanthropists despite society's perception that the Chinese are preconditioned to be thrifty. Events like these are pivotal in counteracting the racial stereotypes associated with being Asian, so that the lack of diversity on fashion runways and in fashion magazines, can be replaced by an acceptance of beauty in all shapes, colors and sizes.
|Zang Toi and Cherry Wong|
Zang Toi, a renowned Malaysian designer, who just celebrated his 25th anniversary at fashion week this September, delayed his Alabama trunk show to support his close friend Chiu-Ti on this important evening. Zang, who is 53, described arriving in the United States 33 years ago with just $300 in his pocket. His humble demeanor and omnipresent smile make him a darling of the New York social set and a Toi gown is one that bespeaks elegance and opulence. Zang's youthful good looks are genetic gifts which he primarily attributes to his mother, who he says is 87 but looks like she is 55. Zang opened his atelier in 1989 and recounts Anna Wintour immediately featuring him in the "New Faces" March 1990 Vogue issue. One of the most magical moments for Zang was when a photographer presented him with a cake at the Mercedes Benz tents in September to honor his 25 years in fashion.
|Lucia Hwong Gordon and Zang Toi|
Zang recently started a cheaper line called "Zang Toi Closet" which has a price point of $600 to $2800 and is being carried at Saks and Nordstrom. Zang says he is fortunate that so many husbands love their wives in his clothing and he is even dressing men in custom made tuxedos and suits; a schedule so busy he is lucky if he gets 5 hours of sleep. Zang does not have a publicist and has had the same office manager for the past 24 years by keeping his staff joyful with his motto of, "happy family, happy house." To counteract Zang's love of sweets and pork he jogs one hour 6 days a week.
|Lang Lang and Chiu-Ti Jansen|
As Zang left to introduce the next award winner, I spoke with Lang Lang, the famed classical pianist who has entertained Obama, Sarkozy, Putin, and Queen Elizabeth and yet continues to perform for disadvantaged rural communities. Lang Lang has set up an international music foundation to "inspire the next generation of classical music lovers and performers." He enjoys playing music because it takes human beings to a "happy place" and makes life better. Lang Lang, also has an appreciation for fashion and recently gave his one of a kind white silk and diamond Armani suit, which he performed in at the 2014 Grammys, to the Grammy museum. He used to wear primarily Giorgio Armani and he now dresses in Louis Vuitton. In order to facilitate his playing of the piano, Lang Lang has worked with Armani and Louis Vuitton to custom make jackets with shorter sleeves and with Nike and Adidas to design comfortable shoes. He foresees starting a fashion label in the future and in January is launching a men and women's perfume called "Amazing" in Europe.
|Chien Chung Pei and his wife Beatrice|
The success of Asians in the fashion world has been astounding, with numerous Asian designers such as Phillip Lim, Alexander Wang, Jason Wu and Zang Toi dominating fashion week. However, no Asian model has ever graced the cover of American Vogue or any other major American fashion magazine such as Bazaar or Elle. When Fei Fei Sun appeared on the cover of Vogue Italia in January 2013 this was considered a major milestone; however, in the picture she is made up to camouflage her ethnicity, with heavy makeup masking her racial identity. Asian models and actors fail to achieve the fame of their American counterparts despite their beauty and talent.
In August 2013, Liu Wen, who has contracts with Estee Lauder, Calvin Klein and Hugo Boss, became the first ever Asian model to make Forbes annual list of highest paid models - this is too little too late. Recently, a report was released that revealed that in an analysis of 151 fashion shows in New York, Milan and Paris, Blacks and Asians made up only 6.8% of castings. The world's most avid clothes shoppers are Chinese, with their annual clothing expenditures expected to reach $341 billion by 2018, and yet this group is highly underrepresented in a field they are heavily supporting. It is time for Asian Americans to demand that Hollywood and the fashion industry give the Asian community the opportunity to flourish. Moreover, the increased exposure of Asians to the global community will benefit society as a whole by changing our parochial conceptions of conventional beauty.
- Lieba Nesis