Looking East

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THOSE who have seen the photos of pop princess Rihanna walking down the red carpet at the Costume Institute Gala this year in New York would likely agree that the dress is not one that is easy to forget, in all its bright yellow glory with a heavily embroidered, floor-sweeping train. The handmade dress that took couturier Guo Pei two years to make not only turned heads at the event but also sparked international media coverage and interest in designer, whom Rihanna had reportedly chanced upon while researching Chinese couture online. 

The China: Through the Looking Glass exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that commenced in May was extended due to the overwhelming response and earlier this month, the number of visitors to the exhibition stood at 735,000 people. 

This figure makes it the most-visited Costume Institute show in the museum’s history, displacing Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty, which attracted 661,509 attendees and is not too far off from the museum’s biggest show in 1979 — Treasures of Tutankhamun — which attracted more than one million people. 

Perhaps the response is indicative of both a fascination with oriental-themed creations as well as a trend of the fashion compass moving East, as more and more Asian designers and home-grown fashion labels rising to international fame.

One characteristic shared by the designs of these fashion creators across the region is the emphasis on being current and up-to-date with the latest trends, while not compromising on the element of individuality. 

Think the eclectic and at times avant-garde style of Japanese fashion, or the incorporation of materials like songket and batik in the clothing and accessories of our local designers.

Capitalising on the power of celebrity is one way of making a mark, as few other things leave quite the same impression as a famous personality donning your creations to an event with wide media coverage. 

Asian fashion designers are slowly but surely carving an identity in the world stage with ingenious ideas and a rising presence in international fashion shows. These are some emerging fashion labels that are making waves worldwide.

China

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While Guo Pei is a renowned name in the Chinese fashion industry and has dressed the likes of Li Bingbing and Zhang Ziyi before, the dress that Rihanna debuted this year marked her entrance to the Western fashion world. Other designers include China-born Yiqing Yin whose clothing line is carried in 10 Corso Como, Milan and as a guest member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture (the French Federation of Haute Couture and Ready-to-Wear), her collections are showcased during Paris Couture Week.

Japan

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Tokyo, the fashion capital of Japan, is sometimes dubbed the number one city for street style. Japanese fashion is eclectic with elements of avant-garde. Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons are no strangers to the industry, locally and abroad. Former stylist of singer Lady Gaga, the artistic director of Diesel, fashion director for Uniqlo, and Vogue Hommes Japan Nicola Formichetti is one of the names to look out for in terms of innovation and bold designs.

Malaysia

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In addition to industry darlings like Datuk Zang Toi, Datuk Jimmy Choo and Datuk Bernard Chandran, this year’s Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week showcased a list of promising talent. With designs that weigh heavily on practicality and wearability, Malaysian designers like Adila Long and fashion labels such a Frankitas are proud to display the beauty of traditional materials while Jovian Mandagie presents a modern approach on traditional wear with his Hari Raya collections and a touch of couture in the evening wear and bridal selections.

Korea

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Designers Kang Dong Jun and Jang Hyeong Cheol were selected to present their lines at New York Fashion Week: Men’s spring/summer 2016, gaining the opportunity of an international audience at Concept Korea, part of NYFW for the 12th time. Meanwhile, noted regulars on the stages of Seoul Fashion Week Munsoo Kwon as well as Jinwoo Choi and Yeonjoo Koo of J Koo will represent the entire Asian region at the International Woolmark Prize, which has been credited for the discovery of big fashion names such as Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent.

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on September 22, 2015.