ASIAN VOICES
09/10/2018 06:00 pm ET Updated Sep 10, 2018

Designer Casts All Asian Models For New York Fashion Week Show

“As an Asian woman, I am automatically seen in a certain way. For me, it’s about recognizing that within a race, there is diversity as well.”

One designer made a big statement at New York Fashion Week. 

Claudia Li’s spring 2019 show Sunday featured a runway consisting entirely of Asian models. 

Designer Claudia Li at her New York Fashion Week show, Sept. 9. “I feel like the word ‘Asian&rsquo
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Designer Claudia Li at her New York Fashion Week show, Sept. 9. “I feel like the word ‘Asian’ just means one thing to a lot of people, and we are not just one note. There’s incredible diversity,” she says.

When it comes to the fashion industry, Asians can be erroneously considered a monolithic group, Li told HuffPost. She explained that she made the particular casting choice to highlight the diversity and uniqueness among Asian-American women. 

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“I feel like often the fashion industry just tries to check a box — i.e., ‘We need an Asian girl for our show.’ But what kind of Asian girl? A Filipino girl? Singaporean? Chinese? Korean? ‘Asian’ doesn’t mean one thing,” she said. “I feel like the word ‘Asian’ just means one thing to a lot of people, and we are not just one note. There’s incredible diversity.”

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The show — attended by some big names, including rapper and actress Awkwafina — was Li’s very first runway event and was incredibly personal for her. Li, who grew up in New Zealand, said that she went to school with few other Asians and that people often assumed she would fit the stereotypical model minority mold. But she said she was far from the submissive math nerd usually portrayed in mainstream media. She played field hockey and sang in a metal band. She even ran away from home as a high schooler to be with a “super cute surfer” for a month before her father forced her to return home. 

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“As an Asian woman, I am automatically seen in a certain way. For me, it’s about recognizing that within a race, there is diversity as well,” she said. “There is not one standard Asian beauty. Every Asian woman looks different, and there are different personalities. Asian girls do listen to punk rock and heavy metal and hip-hop. There is not a singular way of defining what Asian is.”

Ultimately, she said, she aimed to celebrate individuality. 

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“It made me really proud to see an all-Asian runway,” she said. “I feel excited for the future of Fashion Week because this is an important conversation that needs to happen — not just for New York Fashion Week but for every Fashion Week.”

Last year Kenzo designers Carol Lim and Humberto Leon also cast all Asian models for their spring 2018 show, with several models flown in from Japan, Korea and Taiwan. 

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“We hope to serve as an example for other houses that diversity is important and beautiful,” Leon told Elle of the show, which was inspired by Japanese musician Ryuichi Sakamoto and model Sayoko Yamaguchi. “It’s important to give minorities in any field a platform. In this case, we wanted to have an authentic approach.”

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