Tag Archives: Museum of Chinese in america

Exhibition Journal: Shanghai Glamour

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These journal pages are from a visit I made to the Museum of Chinese in America two years ago.  In contrast to the exhibition at the Met’s Costume Institute that is currently running, China: Through the Looking Glass which examines Chinese influences on Western fashion, Shanghai Glamour showed how Chinese women adapted aspects of Western dress to create a new style of dress in the early twentieth century.

After the end of the Opium War in 1842, the British victors were able to dictate the creation of “trade cities” in China.  These cities were made to tolerate a Western presence and were forced to allow trade with them.  Shanghai was one of the trade cities.  By the twentieth century there were large British, American, and French populations in the city.  It was an increasingly cosmopolitan place.

The exhibition showed how the women of Shanghai created their own distinctive style of dress, which was based on Chinese traditional dress but incorporated elements of the West.  The look was feminine, but modern.

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There is a lot of discussion about how Western fashion appropriates different cultures, so it was interesting to see how cultural influences flowed the other way. Sometimes we forget that culture often works on an exchange system.


Filed under Journal, Museums

Front Row: Chinese American Designers at the Museum of Chinese in America

One of the highlights of my trip to New York was a visit to the Museum of Chinese in America.  My timing was perfect because they were staging two fashion exhibitions, this one and another on fashion in 1920 and 1930s Shanghai (more on that later).

One happy by-product of the on-going success of fashion exhibitions is that even museums that are not normally thought of as fashion museums are finding ways to feature fashion in accordance with the theme of their collection.  Could it be that people are finally beginning to see that fashion is an important cultural theme?  Let’s hope that is the case.

Front Row: Chinese American Designers showcases the work of sixteen designers who work in America and who are of Chinese heritage.  Some, like Vera Wang and Anna Sui, are quite well-known.  Others, like Jade Lai and Wayne Lee, were new to me.


These two outfits are from Anna Sui.  That cute dress is from her Pirate collection of 2007, and was a favorite of mine.  I’ve always admired Sui’s work, even though I’m not the type of person to actually wear her clothes.  The silver studded set is from 1994, and it made me wonder why Sui was not represented in the Punk show at the Met.

This ensemble is from the current collection of 3.1 Phillip Lam.  The coat is made of neoprene and leather.  How about those boot/sandals?

This gown is by Jason Wu, and there is plenty to love.  It’s blue, it’s made of tulle, it has spangly star sequins.  I’ve been in love with Wu’s work since seeing the dress he designed for Michelle Obama, and this did not disappoint.

Left to right:  Zero waste cape, Yeohlee, 2008.  Leather dress, Derek Lam, 2012.  Circle dress, Yeohlee, 2012.  Circle top, Yeohlee, 2012

Here’s a close-up of the Derek Lam dress.  Note the way the sleeves and bodice are cut and also the top-stitching.  The back of the dress is linen.

I’m so sorry about the quality of this photo, but I had to show this dress by Zang Toi from 1991.  It is actually a sweater, embroidered with Chinese folk motifs.  The yellow dress in the background is by Peter Som.


This ballgown is by Vera Wang, 2013.  I’m so glad this red dress was chosen for the exhibition, instead of one of her white wedding dresses.

Even if you can’t be in New York before this exhibition ends in September, this museum should be on the list of things to see for any visitor to the city.  Their permanent exhibition tells the story of Chinese immigration to the US.  It’s a fascinating, often tragic, story.

I also want to say how nice and helpful the staff was.  The young men at the reception desk steered me toward the best Chinese food I’ve ever eaten.   They wrote directions to the restaurant and even told me what to order.   How nice was that?


Filed under Museums