This designer only used Asian models for her first NYFW show to make a critical point about representation

Claudia Li’s first New York Fashion Week show is turning heads—but not just for its chic contemporary designs. The Chinese designer debuted her spring 2019 collection at NYFW during a September 9th show with a cast of all Asian models. Given the recent discourse surrounding Asian representation in pop culture—as well as the fact that the fashion industry still skews heavily white—Li’s decision is making waves.

In an interview with HuffPost, Li explained her choice.

“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.


As HuffPost points out, this isn’t the first time a show has featured all Asian models.

Last year, designers Carol Lim and Humberto Leon from Kenzo cast all Asian models for their spring 2018 runway. Still, given the importance Asian representation, Li’s show still feels especially significant. A New Zealand native, Li credited her upbringing in the Oceania country as the influence behind her pieces. She told Teen Vogue, “My bedroom had a door that was right next to the garden. As a child, the flowers looked really big. And the oversized flowers were bold and gigantic.”


Among the attendees of Li’s inaugural NYFW runway was actress Awkwafina, who sat front row at the show in Spring Studios. The 29-year-old New York native recently starred in the blockbuster hit Crazy Rich Asians, which has been hailed as a watershed moment for Asian representation. Given the success of Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Hollywood veteran John Cho’s Searching, the tide certainly seems to be turning. And this is something that isn’t lost on Li.

“It made me really proud to see an all-Asian runway,” Li told HuffPost. “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.”

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