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Asian Designers Bring Diverse Perspectives, Visions to New York Fashion Week

Tadashi Shoji, Fall/Winter 2016 collection. Courtesy of Tadashi Shoji

From messages of cultural harmony to edgy inspirations sparked by body art, Asian designers brought a diverse range of perspective and vision at this month's New York Fashion Week.

A handful of designers shared their personal take on their fall/winter ready-to-wear collections with NBC Asian America, and offered an inside look to the story behind their inspirations this season.

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Yuna Yang

Yuna Yang has dedicated her fall/winter 2016 collection to her personal dream of “No Borders” between religions, races, and all divisions. Featuring hard and soft fabrics juxtaposed together to represent her theme, many of the pieces deconstruct military uniforms mixed with softer lines to, according to the designer, “bring out the graceful individual from the militaristic collective.”

Yuna Yang, Fall/Winter 2016 collection.
Yuna Yang, Fall/Winter 2016 collection. Daniel Sims

“I grew up in South Korea, a country that still remains divided from the Cold War. I always wanted to express this experience and promote peace in my country,” Yang told NBC News.

She added, “I always believed that fashion is not only about the clothes, but the culture we create. As a fashion designer we communicate with society, so we must watch what’s going on not only with current trends, but also with current issues. I started my career in Milan, studied in London, and now I’m based in New York. I don’t normally put my Korean roots into my collection. But after the Paris attacks, I questioned, why can’t fashion express peace?”

Tadashi Shoji

With an impressive clientele that includes First Lady Michelle Obama, Japanese designer Tadashi Shoji is a heavy hitter who creates elegant gowns fit for royalty. This season, however, he walks an edgier line, telling NBC News, “I took inspiration from body art such as henna and tattoos.”

His standout piece was a one-piece bodysuit with body art inspired design, made for a woman who wears the party spirit on her like second skin.

NYFW: Tadashi Shoji 1:03

Shoji, who often creates more traditional gowns, presents a new direction this season, offering a sexier, body conscious look that’s more ‘rock star’ than White House. Many of the designs give the illusion of being painted directly on the skin, while others featured embellished geometric shapes. He didn’t leave his more traditional clientele out, however. There were still pieces that stayed loyal to the designer’s gown aesthetic, with billowy dresses in dark shades of lace.

Could Michelle Obama wear the bodysuit, perhaps? “Probably not,” the designer laughs.

Shoji was raised in Sendai, Japan, where he studied fine art and became an apprentice to Japan’s leading contemporary artist, Jiro Takamatsu. In the '70s, he moved to Los Angeles, where he awakened his life-long passion for fashion design. He launched his line of special occasion dresses in 1982, and boasts more than 30 years of experience in the industry.

Image: Tadashi Shoji - Runway - New York Fall Fashion Week 2016
Models present creation by Japanese-born US designer Tadashi Shoji during the New York Fall Fashion Week, in New York, New York, USA, 12 February 2016. JOHN TAGGART / EPA

Son Jung Wan

For Korean designer Son Jung Wan, her latest collection is about having fun. Themed “Playing with Fashion,” Wan created new shapes and played with new textures for her fall/winter 2016 line. “I created this collection as if I was putting together a puzzle. The most important concept was during the process of creating: I put together different pieces of material and fabrics as if it were a puzzle,” Wan told NBC News.

With different materials, textures, and prints set on powdery pastels and black and white checkered backdrops, this collection is reflective of a designer who took on the creative process with a playful approach without compromising glamour.

Son Jung Wan, Fall/Winter 2016 collection.
Son Jung Wan, Fall/Winter 2016 collection. Rodin Banica

This season, Wan collaborated with Kopenhagen fur, giving her collection an extravagant touch of fur in fun colors. Other materials the designer used include hand knitted pieces, sequins, patent leather, and mohair.

Wan was born and raised in South Korea, where she attended design school at International Mode in Seoul. She earned the title of “Designer of the Year’ by Seoul Metropolitan in 2005.

Monique Lhullier

For Philippine-born designer Monique Lhullier, her fall/winter collection borrows inspiration from her muse, the late actress and style icon Talitha Getty. Getty was known for her '60s-era bohemian glamour, expressing an equal dose of eclecticism and elegance at the same time. Taking these cues, Lhullier created a collection with rich textures and extravagant elegance for “an eccentric woman that is cool, relaxed, and rock ‘n’ roll,” she wrote in her designer statement.

True to her posh aesthetic, Lhullier’s fall/winter collection is ultra feminine and ultra luxe, featuring materials such as cashmere, mink, chinchilla, and art deco embroidered cardigans and knitwear. She chose vibrant colors ranging from cherry, teal blue, rose pink, to darker tones of caramel and amber. Her evening wear featured lavish gowns of overflowing tulle and flower embellishments, staying consistent with the designer’s statement style (Lhullier is known for her ornate wedding gowns).

Monique Lhullier, Fall/Winter 2016 collection. Indigital

Lhullier was born in Cebu City, Philippines, to a Filipino father with mixed French descent. She started her first bridal collection in 1996 after noticing a lack of fashion-infused bridal gowns in the market. She opened her first retail store in 2001, and has since designed wedding and red carpet gowns for clients such as Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, and Reese Witherspoon.

Vivienne Tam

At Vivienne Tam’s New York Fashion Week presentation, the designer took her audience on a cultural journey spanning from Asia to Eastern Europe. “My inspiration is a cultural dreamland, a place I call the new ‘Silk Road," Tam told NBC News. "A couple of months ago, I had this dream, that I went to Xinjiang and then all the way to Turkey and Russia, and I was so inspired by the motifs, the patchwork, the tapestries, that I wanted to bring them all together as a cultural collage.”

Vivienne Tam, Fall/Winter 2016 collection. Dan Lecca

For her fall/winter collection, the designer pulled inspiration from indigenous cultures to express a call for global harmony. Her collection brings together ancient and modern elements (such as traditional emblems and amulets), and gives them a contemporary interpretation through modern shapes.

“I believe that I can use my ability to enhance culture and bring peace to the world. It’s not just about trends — bringing forth cultural awareness is my mission," she said.

This season, Tam also collaborated with Joy & Peace, a leading women’s footwear brand in China and Hong Kong to create special footwear especially for the collection.

Tam is well-known for her creations that often bridge culture and merge fashion with technology. She infuses her cultural roots in her work, often expressing social and political statements in her designs. Pieces from her collections can be found in permanent archives of prestigious museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.