1. I have spent this week in London, working at the office of the Institute for Public Policy Research, helping them out with the report on the San Francisco green jobs trip I went on in April. I have also spent a lot of time catching up with London-based friends and somehow that has gone hand in hand with some a-may-zing mexican food. Mestizo near Warren St tube and Lupita near Embankment to be exact.
2. This is my favourite.
3. A while ago I featured the blog Of Another Fashion, that charts the fashion histories of U.S women of color. Well, here is its parent blog Threadbared that discusses the politics of fashion and is great. I really enjoyed this recent post on The Racial Construction of Preppiness.
4. Louis Theroux’s recent 2-part Miami Mega Jail series really affected me. I spent most of the last part crying, which admittedly isn’t super, but it is enlightening. Watch it on iPlayer.
5. Big super shout out to my friend Jo and her lovely housemates for letting me stay for a week! Thanks Jo!
6. Great post on Racialicious on the challenges facing multiracial actors like Keanu Reeves, which I found particularly interesting since a few years ago I was all about the acting. Also, what a great excuse to post a picture of Keanu Reeves. You’re welcome.
7. Heart-warming to see UK Feminista out in force last night to protest the re-opening of the Playboy club in London. Photo care of @MaeveMckeown who also tweeted this “The london playboy club closed 30 years ago cos it was anachronistic. Why reopen it now? We don’t want this. #effoffhef“
I’ve been trying to ration my magazine consumption lately, but I had to buy the latest issue of Vogue because one of the headline articles is titled “The Arrival of the Asian Supermodels”. Boo yeah! I thought. Take that idealised stereotypes of barbie women! He-llo asian invasion!
But reading the article highlighted two things for me – one is that the rise of Asian models is being almost exclusively driven by the new elite class of mega-rich Chinese. The Chinese market for luxury items has gained so much power that Givenchy showed their Spring 2011 collection using exclusively Asian models, in an attempt to appeal to this “new” demographic (below).
I’m happy that there will be faces that look more like mine peppering the media from now on. I’m glad that being Asian will be seen as simultaneously more ordinary and beautiful. But the fact that this is happening as a result of market forces and greater consumer clout is perturbing me. It’s the translation of money into beauty that ensures greater representation and yet highlights those other ethnicities or “markets” who remain invisible in the western media. Must we wait for economic development before we see beauty?
The second point is one about racism in the fashion industry in general. The first paragraph of the article summarises it perfectly:
Chinese model Li Ai vividly remembers her attempts to break on to the international fashion stage in the early 2000s. Season after season, as she made the London, Paris and Milan circuits, “at most places, casting said, ‘We don’t want an Asian,’ or, ‘We just want one and we already have her.’ I gave up and went home.”
The article also touches on the fact that many of the Asian models being used at the moment have particularly “western” features and do not necessarily conform to what is considered beautiful by Asian societies – “Often Western stylists and photographers mistakenly think they know what makes an Asian beautiful better than Asians themselves.”
I was pleased to be reading an article with these perceptive insights around race in Vogue. That is, until I turned to p.124, where I was confronted with a fashion spread titled “Neo Geisha” with the blurb “With the eyes of the world on Japan, designers are referencing the colours, shapes and forms of its past. The serene beauty of the traditional geisha gets a twenty-first-century remix”.
Over the following ten pages, we see a white model in various states of geisha-inspired dress which include bondage referencing headdresses and some revealing boob shots.
There is so much wrong with this situation I find it hard to know where to begin. But I’ll have a crack at it:
1) Why after an article 60 pages earlier referring to the rise of the Asian supermodel, do you use a white model in a fashion spread that is inspired by Japan?
2) Why do you use no Japanese designers? An excellent way to support Japan while “the eyes of the world” are on it in the wake of the earthquake, might be to celebrate Japanese designers and models.
3) A “geisha” inspired fashion spread is just weird. Geishas, even if they weren’t all “courtesans”, are commonly thought of that way. The geisha motif just perpetuates images of Asian women in the west being “exotic” and sexually available. And the bondage-inspired headdresses? Seriously?
4) You also use the word “oriental” to use an outfit. I would have thought after an article investigating racism against Asian models, you would have thought twice before using a loaded term that recalls colonialism and commodification of Asian culture.
Of Another Fashion is an amazing blog I came across a few weeks ago that documents the “not-quite-hidden but too often ignored fashion histories of U.S. women of color”. You can see some beautiful, beautiful pictures on the site, as well as fascinating glimpses of social history. I could stare at it all day long. (I do).
I can think of no better song to share with you today than Wrong Ways, by my friend Amy. She is half Japanese, half American, and we grew up together in Tokyo when I was very small – I don’t think I’ve known anyone longer than her, apart from my parents! We’ve lived on different continents for many years, but somehow, our lives are still connected. Through the twists and turns of fate, we’ve ended up doing very similar work around youth advocacy and social justice. Except she’s waaaay cooler than me, because she also uses music and dance as a tool for her work!
Thankfully, I heard from her today and her family is safe, although shaken. When I listen to this, I feel like she sums up how it feels to live away from your birthland perfectly, especially when something like this is going on.
1. I went for a scrumptious afternoon tea with my friend Nick on Friday at Metro Deco. It’s like a cafe and an antique shop met and had a baby. My kind of place.
2. Nick and I also went to see Sleigh Bells play this week! I’ve seen them before and they were just as good the second time. However, I think it’s grossly unfair that Alexis Krauss gets to be Alexis Krauss and I don’t get to be Alexis Krauss. I think I am obsessed with her.
3. I have bought a ukelele! And for my first challenge, I am going to learn Umbrella by Rihanna. After I learn how to tune it, that is.
4. It was my Grandma’s birthday this week and I bought her a tub of this Lucas’ Papaw Ointment. I’ve been using it on my lips overnight and it has transformed them from a chapped mess into actual, normal, human lips.
5. I think these are getting close to my perfect beds. I like the idea of having a bed island. Both designed by Jimmy Schonning. I also very much like the idea of living in Sleepless in Seattle. Adorable.
6. I saw two plays this week – Greenland at the National and Phantom of the Opera! Both quite traumatic, yet uplifting in their own way. Highly recommended!
7. Read a great article from New York Magazine – Why Fashion Keeps Tripping Over Race.
“What is it like being the only black editor, designer, publicist in the room? I recall walking into a luncheon at the Joseph Abboud showroom some years ago. I was the first to arrive, and a white valet waited in anticipation of the guests. I said hello. He nodded but said nothing, and did not offer to take my coat. Within moments, however, a group of white male colleagues arrived, and I watched as the valet immediately jumped into action, checking their coats and bags. I waited, and when it seemed he had no plans to come to my aid, I finally said, “You can take my coat now.” Without comment, he did. Did he think I was a delivery person? The help? Or was he just hopelessly distracted and unprofessional?”
Worth a read.