Fashion designer casts only Asian models for landmark NYFW show

A model walks the runway at the Claudia Li show during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at Gallery II at Spring Studios on September 9, 2018 in New York City.

In a historic moment during New York Fashion Week, Claudia Li‘s Spring 2019 show featured an all Asian model cast. This is a monumental step forward in fashion’s diversity movement.

As an Asian designer, Li felt it was the right time to do this. “People are starting to realise that there is diversity within the Asian group…not just a single…perspective [or] kind of beauty” says Li to Yahoo Lifestyle.

Li grew up in New Zealand where she was “surrounded by the mountains, fields of flowers and low-lying clouds,” but she was still a minority in this vast sea of nature. Nor did she represent the stereotypical version of how western society views Asian people.

Claudia Li at the end of her show during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at Gallery II at Spring Studios on September 9, 2018 in New York City. (Photo: Getty)

“I had maybe three Asian girls in my high school and so people always thought, you know, you’re good at math, you’re good at science, you’re smart, you don’t go out at night, said Li.

Well, guess what, I drove without a license…I played field hockey…I sang in a metal band.” At one point, Li said she ran away with a “cute surfer for a month.” A month later her dad had to drag her home.

Still, she’s far from what people might expect from her as an Asian women. “We all have different personalities,” says Li. “There are Asian girls [who] listen to punk, Asian girls who listen to hip hop.” There are many layers when it comes to Asians and Li wanted to represent this diversity within Asians in her show.

A model walks the runway at the Claudia Li show during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at Gallery II at Spring Studios on September 9, 2018 in New York City. (Photo: Getty)
A model walks the runway at the Claudia Li show during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at Gallery II at Spring Studios on September 9, 2018 in New York City. (Photo: Getty)

This moment was monumental for Li not only because of its diverse model cast, but this was Li’s  first runway show  ever.

She’s presented eight collections at NYFW in the past, but never a runway show. Growing up in New Zealand and memories of her mother’s lush garden inspired this very personal collection of hers.

When the designer was a child, her room had a sliding door which opened straight in her mother’s flowers. “When I was a toddler… I would walk around in my mom’s garden and all the flowers just seemed gigantic to me.” The flowers in Li’s collection were inspired by New Zealand’s Mount Cook lily, a soft buttercup yellow flower which was reimagined as embroideries and 3D lace floral appliqués on dresses, blouses, and coats.

A model walks the runway at the Claudia Li show during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at Gallery II at Spring Studios on September 9, 2018 in New York City. (Photo: Getty)
A model walks the runway at the Claudia Li show during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at Gallery II at Spring Studios on September 9, 2018 in New York City. (Photo: Getty)

The collection felt excitingly fresh and modern, but still displayed Li’s signature touches: exaggerated sleeves, wide legged trousers and exquisite layering. The color palette veered between rich and vibrant colors like magenta and cobalt to soft shades like pale yellow, nude, and classic white. Colorful ropes were the connective tissue tying the looks together. They were used to cinch up blouses, as belts on dresses, around tops, and dangled like tassels from clutched handbags.

A model walks the runway at the Claudia Li show during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at Gallery II at Spring Studios on September 9, 2018 in New York City. (Photo: Getty)
A model walks the runway at the Claudia Li show during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at Gallery II at Spring Studios on September 9, 2018 in New York City. (Photo: Getty)

Claudia Li has long been known for her marvelous clothing “sets” – two or three piece items that pair together seamlessly. As a busy woman herself working in New York City, Li’s clothing sets helped create an ease in getting dressed. There was no time wasted in trying to figure out what clothing items paired well together. This collection still loosely mirrors that idea, but is now evolved. “It’s still got the pairing…set idea that Claudia Li always has, but this season we broke it up and it’s a wardrobe,” said Li.

The push for racial diversity in fashion has seen strides in the past, but they’re still far and few between. In 2017, Kenzo’s Humberto Leon and Carol Lim cast 83 Asian models for their Spring 2018 show. This marks only one other example of Asian representation compared to how many fashion shows that have featured an all-white model casts in the past? Probably too many to name.

Awkwafina attends the Claudia Li Front Row during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at Gallery II at Spring Studios on September 9, 2018 in New York City. (Photo: Getty Images)

Awkwafina, star of Crazy Rich Asians sat front row for this historic show, which was symbolic for many reasons. The actress was among CRA’s predominantly all-Asian cast. This summer, the CRA film represented a huge step forward for Asian representation in Hollywood which has since shattered records, becoming the most successful romantic comedy in nine years and has grossed over £143 million worldwide.

Claudia Li is now part of this group of forward-thinkers who are pushing the envelope when it comes to representation in not only fashion, but film, and more.  Hopefully, this will only be the first of many more diverse moments to come.

Follow us on Instagram and Facebook for non-stop inspiration delivered fresh to your feed, every day. For Twitter updates, follow @YahooStyleUK

Read more from Yahoo Style UK:

Let New York Fashion Week’s street style stars inspire your next shopping trip

Bella Hadid defies logic in nude catsuit at NYFW party

Jilted bride marries herself in dream wedding: ‘I am amazing, and I know it’