by guest blogger Deborah Tay of Shanghai, China

Fashion design is the application of art, creativity, design, and beauty to apparel and accessories.

Asian fashion design is largely categorized by Japanese, Korean and Chinese. Leading the pack in world-wide recognition is Japanese fashion whose style largely influences all of Asia, especially Korean, Taiwan and China.

Japanese fashion started in the Edo period with the famous Japanese kimono (1600-1868). Japanese street fashion design started in the 19th century by adapting Western fashion designs in Japan. Through centuries of development and evolvement, as well as contributions from talented Japanese fashion designers, Japanese fashion design emerged to be a unique force of its own, and is one of the five countries to have established [an] international reputation.

Japanese street fashion has both local and western influences and there is no[t one] style that dominates all age groups. The prominent fashion styles are:

  • Lolita – An exaggeration of girlie and cuteness in ladies’ fashion. The Lolita style is largely influenced by fairy tale themes, cute baby animals (Hello Kitty), and involve the use of short dresses, skirts, laces, cute head-bows, purses and other accessories
  • Visual Kei – similar to Western style of glam rock, Visual Kei is a style consisting of striking makeup, unusual hairstyles and loud costumes.
  • Dolly Kei – Middle Age European fairy tale vintage style
  • Fairy Kei – The Lolita style with an added sweetness using elements from Western toy lines of the 1980s such as My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake.

The style that is most adopted in other Asian countries is Lolita. Asian women are generally petite in size and retain young complexions well into their 30s. The Lolita style not only fits the physical attributes of Asian women, it helps to perpetuate a youthful perception.

Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcon are often said to be the three cornerstone brands of Japan’s vibrant fashion industry. Other popular brands include Uniqlo, Evisu, and A Bathing Ape.

Korean fashion does not have a distinct style that identifies it in the international fashion scene, nor are there as many famous Korean fashion designers as Japan but I would like to talk about Korean fashion as it has been increasing in influence in Asia since the year 2000, especially in China.

Korean fashion can be defined as a mix between Japanese and New Yorker styles. Given the cultural and physical affinities of the Japanese and Koreans, most Japanese fashion styles are adapted in Korea. However, Koreans add western influences (eg. Layering), as a result, their “hybrid” versions have been increasing in popularity throughout Asia.

Whilst Chinese fashion had enjoy[ed] a long and colourful history, much of it is [was] erased during the Chinese Cultural Revolution and is [now] hardly ever seen in street and high fashion. Aside from the Mao suit that is still worn by government officials at certain high level meetings, the only traditional Chinese outfits still seen are the cheongsam (ladies) and tangzhuang (men). The revival of the cheongsam was partly brought about by the famous Hong Kong movie, In the Mood for Love, which featured international movie star, Maggie Cheung, in a variety of retro style cheongsams on her svelte figure.

High-end fashion brands like Shanghai Tang rode on this revival by combining the oriental styles of the cheongsam and tangzhuang with European fashion styles using quality silk and cashmere fabrics to create a new kind of oriental chic for the modern world.

Currently, China’s street fashion is largely influenced by Japanese and Korean fashion styles, as well as American and European designs. There is no distinct characteristic of Chinese street fashion as the Chinese economy opened to the world only about 30 years ago. Since then, international fashion houses and brands have rushed to enter into this country and through the means of branding and advertising, attempt to influence the Chinese consumers.

In general, fashion in Asia is largely influenced by the West. Traditional Asian costumes like the kimono, cheongsam and tangzhuang are now worn on special occasions and for professional, casual and formal purposes, western styles of suits, casual wear, tuxedos and gowns are preferred.

My experience with Fashion design is mainly in the form of tailor made apparel for myself. As I live in Shanghai, the cost of tailor making an outfit is very affordable and designing every piece of clothing and having it constructed by a tailor is a highly enjoyable process for me. I’ve had work pants, blouses, summer dresses, evening gowns, coats and work suits made. My fashion style can be described as American urban classic as I prefer simple cuts and classic designs.

The most significant fashion design project I’ve undertaken was for my wedding. I personally designed my wedding gown and 2 evening gowns and worked with 2 separate groups of tailors to have [these] made. The sense of achievement I gather from all my successful projects encourages my passion in fashion design and makes me want to share my knowledge!