On August 13th, the China Institute interviewed Kevin Kwan, author of the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, for its “Pieces of China” season 1 finale. This online series showcases objects that represent Chinese culture and tell the story of China. 

Mr. Kwan shared a photo of a stylish Christian Dior dress. “[Dior’s] taken [his] classic dress, the hourglass-shaped dress that created what they called the new-look back in the 50s… [and] added another layer with this underline of beautiful Chinese porcelain just peeking through,” he noted. Only one of these dresses, which can cost up to seven figures, is sold per continent, and their porcelain inspiration demonstrates fashion’s universal and cross-cultural ties. Mr. Kwan also discussed Chinese designers entering the top fashion world, such as Guo Pei. “She put the look of Chinese luxury on the international map,” he remarked, recalling when Rihanna wore Guo Pei’s beautiful yellow cape gown to the 2015 Met Gala red carpet. “The world took notice, [and] they hadn’t before.”

In addition, Mr. Kwan pointed out two noteworthy trends today. As Chinese luxury brands establish themselves, the desire to import foreign fashions to China has lessened. New Chinese billionaires no longer feel the need to travel to fashion capitals such as Paris, Milan, or New York to acquire designer looks. Concurrently, self-promotion through social media has rapidly expanded. “These are self-made people who made fortunes overnight, and they are proudly expressing themselves,” Mr. Kwan explained. “Everyone wants to look original and have their own tastes.” He remembered his surprise when seeing Asians sitting in the front rows of runways at recent couture shows rather than “European princesses and New York socialites.” Similar to the characters in his novels, this newly affluent Chinese class emulates the sophisticated behaviors of those born into generations of wealth. “This is not Beverly Hillbillies,” he said, laughing.

To wrap up the interview, Mr. Kwan promoted his newest book, Sex and Vanity. The novel follows a love triangle in the midst of conflict between the East Coast WASP establishment and new tech enterprises, and it navigates a tangled web of social status, race, and economic class through a satirical lens. Its timely release makes it a recommended escape from today’s stresses. 

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