Backstage at Vivienne Tam’s Spring 2011 womenswear show, celebrities waited to get photos taken … with her. The prolific designer — celebrated for merging Eastern details with Western style — transformed the fashion and art worlds with her controversial Mao Collection in 1995, which employed prints of the infamous Chairman sporting pigtails. With a career that spans decades, Tam is a New York Fashion Week icon. She chatted with Express about fusion, travel and world affairs that go far beyond Fashion Week.

» EXPRESS: What inspired “The New Silk Road” collection?
» TAM: Doing the fashion show in Lincoln Center. It’s a cultural place. It really showcases the world’s economies and the mix of culture. But the collection is inspired by the travel. It’s for the woman who travels around the world, who wears flats and enjoys other cultures. I deconstructed the costumes of the world to make them into modern clothing. I want young women to do the same and to create things themselves.

» EXPRESS: Your clothes often make a social statement. What’s the statement you’re making this Spring?
» TAM: My line and collection speak to unity. We’re all together and we care about each other and other people. With the recent floods in Pakistan, I wanted to raise awareness, and being a fashion designer, I can do something meaningful to help the world. We can use fashion to do something meaningful. That’s why there was a message [on the show’s program] to donate.

» EXPRESS: It seems like lady-like, modest fashions are coming back into style. What are your thoughts on this trend?
» TAM: The dresses are definitely longer. When I travel, I see that the costumes of the world are so beautiful. There are very interesting cuts, and around the world, women cover their bodies. I like the way that everything is simple, but still very interesting. Covering with layers and colors can be very interesting and sexy.

» EXPRESS: What’s the secret to your longevity in the industry?
» TAM: Being conscious of what people are wearing. I look at what people wear in the streets and what is real. I keep myself open. Being aware of what’s happening in the world affects my line. I want to make what people really want to wear and do something more sensible.

» EXPRESS: What type of woman do you design for?
» TAM: I design for the world woman, not just a particular woman. [I design] for women who care about the world. I want to inspire them to make their own clothes. We should use our hands and encourage young women to design their own clothes. My mother always said, if you make your own piece of clothing, there is only one in the world.

Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images