In the past, Paris, London and New York used to dictate the fashion trends for the rest of the world, telling people what they should wear and what their tastes should be, or even what they should eat or drink. Now, the winds of fashion are blowing into the sails of Asian countries. But why Asia? And why now?
I read an interview with Güler Sabancı back in 2009, I believe, in an economy journal. The mortgage crisis had been wreaking havoc all around the world at the time. In particular, it had dealt a fatal blow to the textile sector. The sector had suffered from serious shocks to its businesses and had to be content with very low profit margins. A good many textile companies had closed down and many others had shifted their businesses to countries where cotton production was higher or labor costs were lower, such as Egypt. China had emerged as a nightmare for many sectors with the abolition of quotas. In such a setting, Sabancı had said that they were not concerned about the impending Chinese threat but rather, they saw China as a virgin market for the world economy.
Although it is currently viewed mainly as a producer, she argued, China will soon attain stable economic development and will emerge as a consumer. Today is the day the business world has been waiting for. Asian winds are driving the world economy and fashion trends are now set in Asia.
Designers from Asia and those with Asian heritage like Kenzo, Alexander Wang, Jason Wu and Phillip Lim all first served in show business and then extended their influence to the entire Western world. Wu, for instance, is designing clothes for Michelle Obama, the wife of the American president.
Asian designers’ collections in the 2013 winter fashion shows in New York have come to be perceived as a show of power by American-born Chinese (ABC) designers. Their achievements now inspire fashion students in design schools in their home countries. And why not? Thirty-year-old Wang now sells his designs to 50 countries through e-commerce venues. Wang also has 700 points of sale (POS) and 40 percent of these points are located in the US while 30 percent are in Europe and Asia.
Separately, the fashion houses that focus on luxury products have rolled up their sleeves for the new consumers of Asia. As a result, Asian-themed design winds have started to blow stronger this summer.
Asia as emerging market for luxury products
Fashion houses have already turned their backs on Western countries which have abandoned their luxury habits under the heat of the economic crisis and are now setting their sights on Asian customers who are now becoming introduced to luxury products and whose shopping lists are long. Thus, Asian countries have become the emerging market for luxury products.
But there is more that Asia can offer: an opportunity for designers to get their inspirations from ancient cultures. New collections introduce designs that can make a positive impact on the Western world with flowers specific to Asia or vivid colors. For example, it is hard not to notice the influence of Tibetan culture on the emergence of the color orange as one of the key colors for summer.
The collection Marc Jacobs prepared for Louis Vuitton in 2011 reinforced the brand’s position in Asia. It is no coincidence that Jacobs came up with a collection using the polka dot designs of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama in the summer of 2012. Getting his inspiration from Chinese miniatures in winter 2012, Dries Van Noten managed to turn the ocean winds toward himself. It was also notable when Miuccia Prada produced a summer collection dedicated to Asia in 2013. Prada was not alone in her voyage to Asia. Etro is embodying Asian spirits with flower patterned fabrics and asymmetrical lines while Emilio Pucci is embroidering dragon designs on silk sportswear jackets. Martial arts, which are one of the representative cultural elements of Asia, have been translated into kimono jackets in fashion collections. Another ubiquitous item is pajama pants.