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Fashion grads from Asia have their New York moment

today Sep 10, 2012
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NEW YORK - There's nothing glamorous about ironing your own collection before a show at New York fashion week, but if that's what it takes for Jie Jessie Liu to break into the business, she'll do it.

Jie Jessie Liu, center, 32, from Penglai, Shandong province, China, a graduate of the Academy of Art University fashion school in San Francisco, looks on as an assistant steams out the creases on one of her designs backstage before a show at New York fashion week on Sept. 7. Nine of the best graduates from the school, five of them Asian, participated in its annual showcase attended by international press, buyers and talent scouts. (AFP Photo/Robert MacPherson)

Liu was among nine jury-selected master's degree graduates -- all women -- from San Francisco's Academy of Art University fashion school whose creations Friday got the kind of runway exposure usually reserved for top designers.

Five of the newly-minted designers hailed from Asia, underscoring the region's rise as a fashion power, and Friday's well-attended show was a prized opportunity to be spotted by international buyers, talent scouts and journalists.

"This is a way for them to be seen across the globe," said university spokeswoman Edith Mead Barker.

Backstage at Lincoln Center, ground zero for the ongoing spring-summer 2013 collections, 32-year-old Liu reflected on her long and winding journey from her seaside hometown of Penglai, in China's eastern Shandong province, to New York.

"I was just like most women when I was young. I loved to dress Barbie dolls," she told AFP during a break from steaming out the creases of the silk outfits she created with Belgrade-born textile design classmate Tanja Milutinovic.

"When I was grown up I was still obsessed by fashion ... and after I worked as an accountant for three years (in Toronto, Canada, where she got a first degree in accounting), I just realized that I would enjoy doing it every day."

The eight distinctly modern looks Liu sent out Friday, with their sharp lines and angular silhouettes, drew inspiration from London-based sculptor Anish Kapoor and Beijing's "bird's nest" Olympic stadium, she said.

Liu's ambition? Her own label, like those now firmly established by pioneering young designers of Asian origin like Alexander Wang and Jason Wu, with a firm hand on every aspect from initial design to final distribution.

"That's my long-term goal," she said. "In the short term, I'm looking for suitable position (in New York next year), maybe an associate designer position, just to sharpen my design skills."

From Taiwan, Ginie C.Y. Huang, 28, let the hypercolorful floral still lifes of Japanese photographer Ninagawa Mika inform skirt-and-jacket combinations that strolled down the runway in lime, red, orange and fuchsia.

"Actually, my whole collection is really tailored, but I added feathers to make it crazier, but not by too much," the Taipei native told AFP. "I design for the woman who is really willing to take a risk, who knows what she is doing."

Also a fashion devotee since childhood, Huang faced stiff resistance from her banker father and teacher mother when she first aspired to break into the business -- resistance that eased only after she first got a business degree.

"I just held out and finally they understood," she said, and indeed the entire family was on hand for Friday's show.

Jarida Karnjanasirirat, from Bangkok, had no such problem with her next of kin. In fact, she said, she enlisted them to send over "hundreds and hundreds" of swatches of Thai silk, of which she picked a handful, some of them antique.

The result seen Friday comprised silk tunics, dresses, shorts and jackets in shades of champagne, silver, rose and white, with three-dimensional lapels and pleats inspired by relief sculptures at a church near her San Francisco home.

"I kept looking at it for three years," Jarida said. "I took that as my inspiration because I liked it so much."

A big fan of Calvin Klein creative director Francisco Costa's designs ("I want them all, even the menswear"), she too dreams of having her own label in Thailand, and teaching as well.

But for the immediate future, her sights are on New York: "The fashion industry in Thailand is not as developed as here. I want to get experience and then I can go back home and develop."

Other Asians participating in Friday's graduate show were Jisun Lee from Seoul, who reinterpreted men's suits from the 1920s as women's wear for today, and Yanfei Fan, from Shijianhuang, Hebei province, China, whose silk and organza looks were inspired by the windows of modern buildings.

by Robert MacPherson

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