Pret-a-Reporter

Kimora Lee Simmons, Monse Designer Laura Kim Champion Asian Representation in Fashion

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Models at Kimora Lee Simmons' fall 2016 presentation during New York Fashion Week.

Adds Brandon Sun of Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month in May: "Having a month like this allows us to form some kind of solidarity."

A study released by The Fashion Spot earlier this month shows that on the whole, diversity in fashion campaigns is slowly but surely improving. That being said, however, Asian representation actually decreased between the fall 2015 and spring 2016 seasons.

Of the 236 spring 2016 print fashion ads that were surveyed, white representation decreased from 84 to 78 percent — still making up a large majority of models. Although black and Latina models were cast at almost double the rate of the fall 2015 season, Asian representation decreased by 2.2 percent.

The issue of diversity has been in fashion news most recently with the outrage over the use of Beyonce's "Formation" during the finale of Australian brand Misha's resort 2017 presentation. The all-white cast of models hit the catwalk with designer Michelle Aznavorian while Bey's black feminist anthem was blasted over the speakers, resulting in outrage over social media.

On the positive end of the news cycle, Maybelline announced Taiwanese model I-Hua as the first Asian model to represent the brand in global ads. "I do feel like Asians are still underrepresented in the mainstream fashion and beauty world, and I hope my role as Maybelline’s first global Taiwanese face can open up new opportunities for us," Hua told Pret-a-Reporter.

Since 1992, when congress passed the Public Law 102-450, May has been celebrated as Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month. The month was chosen to honor the immigration of the first Japanese persons to the United States on May 7, 1843, and in recognition of the anniversary of the completion of the transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, where the majority of the workers who laid the tracks were Chinese immigrants.

Brandon Sun, who was raised in New Jersey and now goes back and forth between New York and L.A., finds having a month dedicated to celebrating Asian culture is incredibly significant. "It is so important to create a space where we can identify with our heritage especially now," says Sun, who founded his namesake label in 2012. "Having a month like this allows us to form some kind of solidarity."

MODEL BEHAVIOR: Kimora Lee Simmons and pal Tyra Banks at the 1998 MTV Movie Awards. (Photo: Getty Images)

Kimora Lee Smimons, whose father is African-American and mother is Japanese, has been on both the design and modeling sides of the fashion industry. Her modeling career exploded after she walked for Chanel at age 14, and she has worked and designed for Baby Phat, Phat Farm and KLS, among other labels, before recently launching her eponymous luxury-priced fashion line for women.

Simmons states the importance of using a variety of races and ethnicities for her brand: "I’ve always considered it my responsibility to use my position as CEO and creative director and designer to create opportunities for diversity in my projects." She adds that diversity extends beyond models at her brand, including executives, partners and vendors who also come from varied backgrounds. "That’s how I do business," says Simmons. 

As the entertainment and fashion industry creates room for diversity, more up-and-comers will be afforded the opportunity to have role models that they may better identify with. Laura Kim, co-designer of Monse (Selena Gomez and Sienna Miller as fans of the brand), cites Rei Kawakubo of Comme de Garcons as a major influence over her career. "I love her business model, her vision and also how she supports her assistants to start their own brand under her umbrella." Kim also feels as though her heritage inspires the way she designs clothing now, "I like balance and rectangular cuts, it's a very Korean/Japanese way of cutting traditional garments."

MEET MONSE: Monse designers Fernando Garcia and Laura Kim on the runway during Fall 2016 New York Fashion Week. (Photo: Getty Images)

Simmons stresses that fashion shouldn’t feel "a million miles away" from those who dream of pursuing a career in the industry. She explains, "That’s how it felt to me growing up in Missouri, never seeing anyone who looked like me in the business." Sun agrees, noting that growing up it was difficult being the only Chinese kid in class. "Even now I feel a little of that," he says, adding, "Creating a tribe is super important, I have a few girls that I always use." Nykhor Paul, Ana Gilca, Hawa Diawara among others are frequent models for the brand and Sun Jung Li is the current face of the label. "We stick together."

According to Simmons, "As an industry, we’ve been having this long overdue discussion about representation."

(ROLE) MODELS: Ana Gilca, Nykhor Paul and Hawa Diawara walk in Brandon Sun's fall 2015 show during New York Fashion Week. (Photos: Getty Images)

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