asian american climb the fashion ladder

New York Fashion Week begins on Thursday. Over the weekend, the New York Times ran front-page story on the growing number of promising new designers who are of Asian descent -- representing an important demographic shift on Seventh Avenue: Asian-Americans Climb Fashion Industry Ladder.

Significant, up-and-coming designers include Jason Wu, Alexander Wang, Thakoon Panichgul, Prabal Gurung, Phillip Lim and Derek Lam -- names that are increasingly likely to represent the future of fashion. So where are all these Asian designers coming from? And why's it all happening now?
Major design schools around the world have seen an influx of Asian-American and Asian-born students since the 1990s, partly through their own recruitment efforts in countries with rapidly developing fashion industries, like South Korea and Japan, and partly because of changing attitudes in those countries about fashion careers. At Parsons the New School for Design, roughly 70 percent of its international students enrolled in the school of fashion now come from Asia, according to school officials. At the Fashion Institute of Technology, 23 percent of the nearly 1,200 students now enrolled are either Asian or Asian-American.

"F.I.T. is a pretty diverse place, but this is the most obvious change we have seen," said Joanne Arbuckle, the dean of its school of art and design. "It is remarkable when you compare it to many years ago. I don’t think we ever had these numbers of students from Asian countries or Asian-American students. And it is a growing population."

The rise of Asian designers in America has actually come in several smaller waves, including one that marked the emergence of Anna Sui and Vera Wang in the 1980s. In the last few years, however, as a new generation of designers has asserted itself in New York, Asian-Americans have been at the forefront. In 1995, there were only about 10 Asian-American members of the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Today there are at least 35.
This is not an industry where I profess to know much about. But I know enough to understand that this current rise of hot Asian designers is a pretty big deal, and the fashion industry is sitting up and paying attention to see what's next. (And isn't that what fashion is always about -- what's next?)

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