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Asian-American Community Takes Fashion World By Storm

There is an interesting phenomenon taking hold in the fashion world right now. Young Asian-Americans have long been stereotyped as fast-tracking it into science and medicine careers; now, however, an unprecedented number are making names for themselves in fashion. Yesterday, Ray A. Smith of the Wall Street Journal profiled the phenomenon.

It starts with Thakoon Panichgul, a 34-year-old Thai-born American fashion designer who is the star of The September Issue, a new documentary out about Vogue magazine. He is, however, "just one of a growing number of young Asian-American fashion designers who command growing clout in the fashion world," says Smith. From 26-year-old Jason Wu, whose dress graced the First Lady on Inaugural Night, to the 25 Asian-American fashion designers showcasing their designs at New York Fashion Week (which started yesterday!), there is definitely a trend afoot.

So, what are the reasons behind the trend? One theory is a sort of relaxing of conventional expectations. As the most recent wave of immigrants in the 1960s and 1970s, Asian parents tended to have high hopes of assimilation by way of their children excelling within the conventional fields, pushing their children into business schools or encouraging math and science degrees. Since then, however, things have changed and some parents are taking notice. "These Asian-American parents look around and realize the American dream can be realized in other ways," Frank H. Wu, who wrote Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White, tells the WSJ. "They also realize their children are assimilated and don't face all the barriers that they might have faced when they first came here."

Another theory is borne of rebellion. 36-year-old Phillip Lim, another fashion designer of Thai descent, switched his college major from business to fashion merchandising without consulting his parents first. "They said, 'We worked so hard. We brought you here. Why would you do that? No one looks up at us, we are the lowest class.'?The whole guilt trip," Lim tells WSJ, "but that wasn't going to stop me from doing what I wanted to do." Meanwhile Panichgul who earned a business degree to make his mother happy, only revealed the truth of his passion for design after his line was already in production and couldn't be stopped: "It's a rebelling," he says. "Our generation kind of went the opposite direction of what our parents wanted us to do."

One thing is for sure: years of encouragement to study hard pay off, and may have contributed in no small part to this group of designers' successes. Joanne Arbuckle, a dean at the Fashion Institute of Technology, had only good things to say about Asian students pursuing fashion design degrees. "While she doesn't like to generalize," says Smith in the article, "she finds that students of Asian descent 'come to the table with two things: talent and work ethic.'... She also said some had strong math and engineering backgrounds, 'which is a tremendous benefit to being a designer.'"

No matter what the reason, Asian-Americans are starting to make a huge mark in mainstream fashion, and if the proliferation at Fashion Week suggests anything, it's only up from here.

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