As the buzz for the upcoming New York Fashion Week (NYFW) builds, Asian and Asian-American designers continue to be a force in the industry, with both seasoned and emerging talent offering a range of visions to showcase on the runways. NBC News spoke with several designers showing at the upcoming NYFW presentations, discussing their inspirations for their forthcoming collections.
Naeem Khan’s gowns have become a favorite of First Lady Michelle Obama, who was spotted wearing one of the Indian-American designer's dresses at Obama's first state dinner in 2009 hosting the prime minister of India. The First Lady has since worn the designer’s work for the Nordic state dinner this May, as well as the Singapore state dinner in July.
Raised in Mumbai, Khan’s vast knowledge of textiles was influenced by his father and grandfather, both of whom designed clothing for India’s royal families, according to Khan.
“My family has been in the fashion business for over one hundred years in India, so it has always been a part of my life,” Khan told NBC News. “I moved to the U.S. when I was 19 years old to work for Halston, and that was my education in the art of construction, fabric development, and draping. I have brought the tradition and craftsmanship of my heritage to very classic and sleek shapes, and I think that is what sets me apart.”
Reflecting on his first experience at Halston, the designer is bringing back some of his most valuable lessons this season, he said.
“For Spring 2017, I am influenced by my career at Halston in the 1970's, mixed with bright, fun florals," Khan said. "Beautiful colors and shapes for a vibrant, confident woman.”
Educated at both the Parsons School of Design in New York and the Central Saint Martins in London, Charles Youssef launched his first collection during London Fashion Week in 2010. After the debut, Lady Gaga purchased the line for her concert tour, giving Youssef exposure before he had even graduated. Despite the early buzz, Youssef has focused on creating a strong foundation for his eponymous brand, he told NBC News, which represents “strong ideas, luxurious execution, perfected fit, and feminine detailing” inspired by architecture, geometry, and art.
Raised by a French-Lebanese father and a Korean mother, Youssef’s mixed heritage influences his perspectives as a designer, he said.
“I think that having a mixed background has made me very sensitive to the way people feel; that is why I think it's so important to uplift people regardless of where they're from and what their circumstances might be,” Youssef said.
Youssef's Spring 2017 collection will be inspired by artist Esther Stocker, he added.
"Her work makes a lot of sense with our brand's signature origami detailing, and triangular shapes," Youssef said. "In addition, I looked at Matthieu Venot's pastel colored photographs of buildings; he captures a beautiful mix of soft neutrals, pinks, metallic greys, and mirrored surfaces, which are often shot against a morning powder blue sky. The overall effect is dynamic, geometric, and structured, while still being feminine and optimistic.”
Initially inspired by her Chinese grandmother’s way of dressing, 23-year-old Sandy Liang’s early collection was inspired by Chinatown elderly fashion, she told Fashionista in 2015.
“What I know is how I grew up and the people that I grew up with, the people who took care of me. And that just came very naturally and I always thought it was beautiful the way my grandmother dressed," she told the publication. "She would get these Chinatown pants that were ill-fitting and cropped and wide-legged. Are they meant to be cropped, are they not? Who knows. Also it was much more about the attitude, about the way they just don't really care.”
Liang’s debut collection was partially funded by her family, according to Fashionista. Liang said she gained the support of her father after she impressed him with her thesis collection for the Parsons School of Design.
Lie Sangbong is not only fashion designer, but also a craftsman. Founding his namesake label in 1985, the veteran Korean designer is most known for his architectural collections blending traditional influences and innovative techniques.
“I feel that my role as a designer is to not keep traditions in their original form, but to reinvent and reinterpret them, to see them through a modern lens, and to present to them, transmuted, to the next generation," Sangbong told NBC News. "That’s how I preserve culture and pay respect to tradition.”
Sangbong’s career first came to prominence when he designed for private clients in Seoul, eventually gaining a favorable reputation among Korean celebrities and press. To date, he has expanded his work among international influencers, dressing everyone from Beyoncé to the First Lady of Korea.
After twelve years of showing in Paris Fashion Week, Sangbong debuted at New York Fashion Week in 2014. This season, he draws upon traditional Korean influences to create modern creations, he said.
“This season, I found myself inspired by chaekgado, Korean still-life paintings that were popular during the latter part of the Joseon dynasty," he said. "The paintings feature bookshelves and the personal effect that are placed in and on them — reflecting the lifestyle of scholars and their high regard for knowledge and virtue. The images are highly graphic, colorful and geometric — much like our signature seasonal prints.”
After finishing her studies at East China Normal University, Chinese designer Taoray Wang continued her training at Tokyo Mode Gakeun. She then took over as a brand designer for the studio of Japanese costume designer Junko Koshino, where she gained five international awards for her work.
Structured minimalism with a feminine flair, Wang is best known as the “Queen of Suit” in her home country. She designs for high-powered professional women with high-end business roles, yet maintains a creative, artistic approach to her looks.
Wang debuted at New York Fashion Week in 2014, and will showcase again this season.
New York-based designer Ji Oh is already making quite a name for herself despite only launching her namesake label in 2014. Since her launch, the designer has already won sponsorship from the Korea Fashion Association, awarded by the CFDA incubator 4.0, and came in as a finalist for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund.
According to her website, Oh designs for the modern woman “who believes in their own power, their freedom and that their confidence can carry their image, without caring about whether an impression is made. It’s about powerful understatement with balance and proportion”.
“I’m trying to keep things as pure as possible. I’m playing with shirting styles more than ever!" Oh told NBC News. "Shirting has always been the core of my collection and exploring other ways for my customers to build their wardrobe has been an enjoyable process.”
Born in South Korea, Oh was educated at Central Saint Martin’s in London as well as Parsons School of Design in New York City.