Fashion Designers Reference Their Immigrant Roots During NYFW FW19—Proving Why America Is Great

by Meriam Ahari
Adeam at NYFW FW19 | Photo by

Mankind might be advancing at a rapid rate when it comes to technologies like A.I. and smart gadgets, but it sure seems like we’re dragging our feet at a snail’s pace in terms of the more elementary fundamentals of our existence—Such as tolerance and equality. Despite the dissemination of words like diversity and inclusion, it appears not all political groups are down for egalitarianism. With ceaseless heated debates over building walls, separating refugee families and seeking justice for innocent victims of hate crimes, many Americans might argue that we are actually in a state of regression. Whether you feel #Black, #Human or #AllLivesMatter, the one thing we can all probably agree on is that the past year has been an unsettling one—Forcing society to address prejudice while being held accountable. So, it wasn’t surprising that fashion designers—many of whom have migrated to America or are first-generation children of immigrants—looked to their roots for inspiration during New York Fashion Week’s Fall 2019 presentations.

After all, where would we be had the industry’s finest not made their paramount contributions to American fashion? Belgian-American designer Diane Von Furstenberg is to thank for the easy-breezy jersey wrap dress that has allowed working women the ability to look effortlessly put together while surviving summer’s heat wave. Raf Simons, another Belgian, revived minimalism via Calvin Klein. Proud Dominican Oscar de la Renta provided the fit-and-flared party dresses worn with grace and charm by first lady Jaqueline Kennedy. Alexander Wang, American-born but of Taiwanese descent, gave new meaning to street style with his fresh perspective on millennial culture and the fusion of high-low fashion. Not to mention fashion’s biggest trailblazer Norma Kamali (of Lebanese and Spanish heritage) who invented high-heeled sneakers, the famed sleeping bag coats worn by Studio 54 bouncers and introduced the notion of athleisure as everyday wear.

Isn’t that why everyone loves the United States of America to begin with? For being the land of opportunity? Where anyone, no matter where you came from or how much you arrived with, can start anew, work hard and live freely. Rather than focus on the struggle to find equal footing, these collections were a celebration of our ancestors. Each proud, honorary item of clothing was a testament that America has always been great because we draw our strength from what makes us special—Our colourful melting pot of diverse style, varied beliefs, vast traditions and differing perspectives.

Here’s a look at the designers who referenced their heritage during New York Fashion Week:

Jonathan Simkhai

Jonathan Simkhai’s collections have often referenced his Iranian background (on his father’s side). This Fall 2019, the designer focuses on his mother’s Ukrainian ancestry. In particular, the traditional dresses, folky prints and chic scarves his grandmother would wear.


Adeam designer Hanako Maeda found inspiration in the ancient Ainu tribe of Hokkaido, Japan—Reflecting on the natives’ respect for nature. Maeda tried to mimic the thoughtful handcraft, artisanal design and natural dyes (used from plants and earthen materials) that the Ainu tribe adopted in order to leave as little impact on their environment as possible.

Prabal Gurung

Prabal Gurung regularly returns to his hometown of Kathmandu, Nepal where he still produces some of his collections. On a recent trip, he detoured to India where he was tasked with dressing a bride-to-be and her wedding party. The influence from Gurung’s multi-racial background (he was born in Singapore to Nepalese parents, brought up in Nepal and later moved to India, Australia and London before settling in New York) was evident through his line’s vibrant colours, exotic brocades (woven in Varanasi, India), Ikat prints, desi drapes and hand painted global references like the Taj Mahal. Gurung couldn’t have said it better when he quipped backstage, “All of us are more similar than we are different.”

Opening Ceremony

Leon and Carol Lim looked to their Asian heritage not only for design but for their muses as well. Their lookbook models included designer Anna Sui, actress Greta Lee, artist Chella Man and many other talented and inspiring Asians who’ve made contributions to society and culture (Leon’s mother included). In typical New York fashion, the duo threw a three-day party titled “Pig Out” to coincide with the Chinese New Year festivities.

Alexander Wang

While Wang has removed himself from the New York Fashion Week roster, his Fall 2019 Ready-to-Wear collection (which debuted in December 2018), was aptly described as a “celebration of the American Hustle.” Growing up as a Chinese-American in a well-to-do private school in California often made the designer question exactly where he fit in. “We’re taking stereotypes of class and wealth and trying to remix them, giving status symbols a new sensibility,” he shared.

Photos courtesy of  Adeam, Alexander Wang, Jonathan Simkhai, Opening Ceremony & Prabal Gurung

Related Posts