It’s no secret that Asian-American designers are at the forefront of the fashion industry these days, particularly the men. Just skim the list of designers gearing up to present at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in February: Alexander Wang, Richard Chai, Yohji Yamamoto and Derek Lam are a few, with First Lady-favorites Peter Som and Thakoon Panichgul in the wings. Last month, Joseph Altuzarra, a half-Chinese half-French designer living in New York, pocketed the coveted Council of Fashion Designers of America/Vogue Fashion Fund prize.
Asian women are also cementing their place in the industry. Along with mainstays Anna Sui and Vera Wang, there’s Malaysian artist and designer Yeohlee Teng. If you don’t know Teng yet, you will.
A host of Washington’s well-heeled gathered at the Freer and Sackler Galleries’ “Dress to Empress” soiree on Saturday to celebrate Chinese fashion and Teng’s Fall 2011 line. The gala was hosted by the Silk Road Society, a group for young art enthusiasts with a focus on Asian culture.
The event also highlighted two exhibits currently on display at the galleries: “Power Play: China’s Empress Dowager,” through Jan. 29, and “Family Matters: Portraits from the Qing Court,” through Jan. 16. Both exhibits showcase the legacy of Chinese fashion.
For the curious, head archivist David Hogge and specialist Daisy Wang led gallery talks on Qing Dynasty clothing while Chinese papercut artist Voyo Foo gave demonstrations near the runway. The food also was inspired by Chinese culture, as guests sampled vegetable stir-fry, spring rolls and sesame noodle dishes.
Although Teng herself wasn’t present, the runway presentation was generally well-received. The models wore chunky knits, oversized jumpsuits and highly structured blazers in shades of black, white and metallic gray.
Such simple and architectural designs called to mind the minimalist collections of Theory’s current artistic director Olivier Theyskins and Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto, both of whom emphasized core fabric and textures rather than ornamentation or embellishment.
Teng moved to New York to study at Parsons School of Design and established her own fashion house in 1981. Now, she is part of the permanent collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.
A highlight of the evening for many was the opportunity to take professional photos in traditional imperial robes from the Chinese Embassy (ringing bells of the Wild West-inspired photo booths at amusement parks, except in ancient Chinese couture). After all, why should the models have all the fun?