The Slaysians: 5 Asian Fashion Insiders in New York City on Challenges, Family and How They Bond Over Food
As a new generation of Asian designers transform the very image of not only who makes, but also creates fashion today, some of them also want to change how the fashion game is played. Nowhere is this more obvious than New York City, where Asian-American designers have banded together to form their own support network, both of power and play.
They call themselves the “Slaysians,” and their members include designers like Phillip Lim, Prabal Gurung and Laura Kim (co-creative director of Monse and Oscar de la Renta), as well as the stylist Tina Leung and restaurateur Ezra William, who often gather over home-cooked meals to talk all things fashion. Even when they’re apart, you can find them on their phones, usually in a group chat. Let’s listen in:
Phillip Lim (PL) Good morning, Slaysians. So much happening.
Ezra William (EW) Good morning! I’m currently in LA. Been here since Saturday! Things are good. Excited about life.
PL My dayzzzzz are bananas. I think we started this Slaysians group chat to find solace in each other and dealing with our respective Cray Cray lives. Basically we are Asians who have to slay all day!
EW It is not easy to find real friendships in the city, or actually anywhere you go. I think our group is a safe haven, a place to really love and learn from one another.
Prabal Gurung (PG) Can I tell you my morning? Wake up, work out for an hour and a half, breakfast with mom, chat with my sis in Nepal and bro in Mumbai, haircut, chatting with my Slaysians. The fall show is in 12 days, or shall I say in 300 hours, at the Rainbow Room. Can someone say, hello, slow day?
Laura Kim (LK) I’ve known Prabal for years, since I was Oscar de la Renta’s assistant and Prabal worked for Bill Blass.
PG Fashion was so different then. It was still a “you can’t sit with us” environment. Very high school. Hmm, come to think of it... but how has it changed? Well for starters I have found my family with these beautiful souls. We talk about everything, from heartbreaks to love won and lost, politics, culture, fashion and just everything that affects us. But mainly we talk about food.
LK Prabal is always hungry because he goes to the gym! He is such a good son and family boy.
PG Don’t give that away. I want the world to think that I am this tortured artist and soul who thinks of no one but himself.
Tina Leung (TL) We really, really bonded when Phillip asked me over for pre-drinks before bubble tea. Laura and Prabal were already there (I think you guys were talking about your designery things) and I brought Ezra with me. Then we decided to make it a regular thing.
PG I think the industry is reassessing what works and what doesn’t. Paris is the land of history, beauty and conglomerates. London is exciting, experimental and rebellious. Milan is, umm, white? But New York is where the ideas of new, independent designers foster, where real conversation around culture, diversity, inclusivity, politics and the environment happens. One of the characteristics that defines New York is that we are unafraid to have these hard conversations.
(Related: 8 Best Bespoke Fashion Designers In Asia For Your Made-To-Order Gowns)
TL Coming from Hong Kong, where the Chinese are represented everywhere, I wasn’t very vocal about Asian-Americans and their representation and visibility because I didn’t need to be. Living here for two years now, I’m much more aware because, well, honestly, everyone here is vocal about everything.
PG Let me tell you how this group started. We hosted a screening of Crazy Rich Asians—I was really touched by a movie that was about people who looked like us and felt like us and truly represented us—and right after, I realised that there was a serious lack of camaraderie among Asian designers. So we decided to host a dinner.
(Related: Author Kevin Kwan Compares the "Crazy Rich Asians" of Then and Now)
PL See, we are always up for supporting each other for the right price! Usually you pay in food—Asian food! Guys! Help me in exchange for homemade pho? I am sitting out fashion week by not doing a normal show and instead hosting an open house in my store. I was feeling somewhat isolated and wanted to find a way to slow down, take a breath, reconnect and give my people time to rejuvenate. My goal is for the public to meet my entire team so they can share their process, because it takes a whole village, literally.
PG Daddy Phillip! Love you. OK that might have sounded wrong, but it’s the wisdom I am referring to. I have always had a major crush on Phillip. When I was at Blass, he came out with this gorgeous all-white collection—cotton dresses with 3D roses. I was in love with that collection and then cut to few weeks later I am at this major party and I was wearing a vintage Gucci tee.
PG I was basically hovering around him and dancing, and then finally I went to say hello. He wasn’t impressed. He smiled. And walked away. Then with my broken heart I vowed to myself I will become a designer so he will notice me.
PL OMG Prabal! I’m blushing.
PG That last part was a lie. But it was dramatic, no? So when you get a lifetime achievement award, you better ask me to give a speech. I would say find your voice early on if you can. Stay focused. Use your voice for good. And if you are lucky, you will find a community. Like I did with these Slaysians. And they will listen to any crap you want to unload.
(Related: 15 Of The Most Influential Asians In Fashion)
- Photography Bridget Fleming for Tatler Asia