Look at the fashion week coverage this season and a discerning viewer might notice something different. Sandwiched on the Paris calendar between world-famous labels Chanel and Miu Miu, for instance, is Jarel Zhang, a futuristic streetwear label helmed by a Chinese designer. Rokh, the South Korean brand that supermodel Gigi Hadid has been sporting lately, is scheduled just before Christian Dior.
In 2015, Chinese couturier Guo Pei was one of only a handful of Asian names on the lips of fashion aficionados, propelled to further global acclaim after Rihanna walked the Met Gala red carpet in a magnificent yellow cape-gown of her design. But recent years have seen the notoriously selective fashion capitals of Milan and Paris offer a wider embrace of ingénues from all over Asia, not only to tap into their fresh perspectives, but also to attract new clients hailing from the region’s growing middle class. Meanwhile, governments of Asian capitals have also thrown their support behind local creative talents, funding platforms like Seoul and Shanghai fashion weeks, which have become important events in their own right and thrust more emerging design stars onto the global stage.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this trend is how long it has been in the making—roughly three decades since the first wave of Asian designers, mostly from Japan, made an indelible mark on western fashion in the ’80s, when Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons began showing in Paris. Now, a second wave of designers is breaking onto the scene, in far greater numbers and with more regional diversity—there are dozens showing in New York, Milan and Paris, many of whom first presented in their respective cities and received critical and commercial success.
Though they still may look up to the western greats, or have trained under them, many of the new Asian guard are proud to produce and maintain roots in their hometowns. There’s also an exciting emphasis on functionality in their work, with several young designers pioneering innovative techniques, and almost all of them draw inspiration from their cultural origins, pushing those elements to the forefront of their design narratives as something to be celebrated. Here, we highlight 10 who have stolen the international spotlight.
1. Calvin Luo
The Shanghai native and co-founder of Rouge Fashion Book—China’s pioneering independent fashion and art magazine—presented his eclectic collection in Paris for the first time since he launched his brand in 2014. His latest inspiration came from Woody Allen’s time-travel film Midnight in Paris, resulting in a punchy line-up of feathered evening blazers and disco frocks with styles intended to aesthetically bridge the ’50s to the ’80s.
Luo shows the most promise with his structural pieces designed to create impactful silhouettes. Next up, he hopes to try a stint at another brand. “Maybe Marni?” the 23-year-old says, recognising a kindred spirit in its latest star designer, Francesco Risso. “I’m still young, so I want to learn from other brands who have a similar aesthetic to mine.”