Concept Foreign Garments New York may sound like a mouthful of a name, but it accurately describes the authenticity of Asian-American heritage behind the designer label. Created by Tin Nguyen and Daniel Chew, CFGNY was showcased not on a runway, but in a small Manhattan LES gallery called 47 Canal that gathers a community of local Asian artists.
In creating their label, Nguyen and Chew wanted to explore the complexities of Asian-American identity through a fusion of performance art and fashion. The showcase allows an audience to reflect on some of the key concepts and images represent experiences of growing up in America with an Asian background, while also displaying clothing that serves as symbols of these concepts. Whether it’s an art-inspired fashion label or fashion-inspired art exhibit, it’s hard to tell–but the concept is clearly evident and the message powerful.
Many of the eccentric pieces found in the collection channel bits and pieces of the unique Asian-American experience. Materials used to make the clothing are unexpected imports from different parts of Asia, such as a scrap of motorbike seat leather from Ho Chih Minh City or recycled plastic used in plant canopies. The surprise factor reinforces the designers’ fight against some stereotypical “Asian” materials and concepts. Other stereotypes are embraced in poking humor, like with their Pokémon baseball shirt, seafood appliqués, and chess-board clutch.
Even the props like the keyboard piano and ring familiar to anyone who grew up in an Asian-American household and had their share of labels laid upon them: musical virtuoso, math genius, science geek, video game and anime lover…
In a light-hearted but genuine manner, the designers explain one of the key concepts of the collection, “Vaguely Asian”–pertaining to the broad-sweeping conventions generally placed on people of Asian background. Born on opposite ends of the country, Nguyen (New England Vietnamese) and Chew (Californian Burmese-Chinese) are examples of the differences that can lie even between West Coast and East Coast Asians. Yet both designers share the experience of growing up in a minority Eastern culture within a Western country. Their hope is to break stereotypes placed on Asian Americans through their combined efforts in a project designed to compare the pre-conceived notions versus the true diversity within Asian communities all over America.
The label also pushes boundaries set by Western culture on the notion of masculinity in men’s fashion. Asian men’s fashion has often been categorized as too “cutesy” or “feminine” by the West, leading to the label of the stereotypical “gaysian” (gay Asian). CFGNY defies the rules of what makes men’s clothing appealing by incorporating this aura of cuteness into their pieces.