Asian Invasion: Clever Sales Strategy Or Epic Racism?
Left: Liu Wen in V Magazine June 2011. Right: Godfrey Goa on Numero Homme China Spring/Summer 2011.
The Rise Of The East Asian Model
Only in this industry is race considered in fashion. Case in point: V Magazine‘s current issue features a spread called Girls On Top, spotlighting four top Asian models: Tao Okamoto, Liu Wen, Fei Fei Sun, and Shu Pei. Apparently for V, four Asian models justifies calling this issue an “Asian Issue.” (To be fair, 10% of sales will go toward disaster relief in Japan.)
But other milestones — or red flags as I see them — have also contributed to this Asian moment: Louis Vuitton casted Godfrey Gao in its campaign and Liu Wen became Estee Lauder’s first Asian spokeswoman. However, the line between sales potential and the cultural significance of aggressively pushing Asian models was poorly drawn.
Behind It All: Money – Surprised?
From the business end, it’s no coincidence that a plethora of articles on the Chinese luxury market have surfaced. The Financial Times, for example, recently reported that: “The company [is] eager to capitalize on men’s untapped enthusiasm for its products in China… Coach said men account for 45% of spending on handbags and luxury accessories in mainland China, whereas they make up only 25% of spending across Asia and just 15% worldwide.” McKinsey predicts that by 2015 China’s luxury goods market will be worth $27bn. Clearly, aligning the image (i.e. an Asian model) with its attractive customer makes sense. (In fact, even I, a minority consumer, will likely buy V‘s Asian Issue.)
A Racist Issue
But consider the cultural significance of this. It’s in having this Asian moment that the fashion industry is acknowledging its inherent racism. The mere fact that we refer to a magazine issue as an “Asian Issue” or a “Black Issue” (from Italian Vogue) is problematic. How egregious would it be to pat a woman on her back for voting or celebrate a gay man for successfully shooting a basketball through a hoop — as if, by some understanding, we collectively believe any race other than Caucasian in modeling is a handicap, something to applaud when obstacles have been overcome?
Connecting The Dots
Speaking of Italian Vogue‘s Black Issue, what’s changed since then? Have we really seen a growing visibility in black models? Or was it just a “black” moment? According to New York Mag, Karl Lagerfeld has not casted a black model in the last few Chanel Cruise shows. Just a Lagerfeld thing or an industry thing? Realistically, this Asian moment is just that: a moment, a trend like any other. And only in this industry can race become demode.