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Chinatown Pretty: fashion, culture and migration through street style

This book and digital project recreates the unique style of the elderly in the Chinatowns of the United States and Canada and what lies behind their manifestations.

Luz Lancheros, MWN

In a time where the pre-produced (and super-produced) street style for catwalks is already irrelevant and also, in a time of many negative manifestations towards the Asian community in the United States, a fashion project that began in 2014 shows how fashion it can tell life stories and vindicate them through its pieces and who uses it. Chinatown Pretty: fashion, culture and migration through street style

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This one, now converted into a book, is called “Chinatown Pretty”, (which is also an Instagram account) and portrays the powerful and very spontaneous style of the elderly people of the Chinatowns of five cities in the United States and one in Canada.

It also tells their stories of migration and adaptation in a country that has been forged by their compatriots since the 19th century.

Valerie Luu, writer, and Andria Lo, photographer, are the ones who have told these stories. They started with a blog called Chinatown Sartorialist, where they began interviewing older people whose looks reminded them of their own grandmothers.

Chinatown Pretty: fashion, culture and migration through street style

Inspired by their bold and unique style, they developed a digital social media platform that has allowed them to write a book about clothing and their stories. This was launched in September of last year and there you can see the compilation of more than 100 people who show with their carefree styles, that clothing has an origin and says a lot about its wearers.

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Metro spoke with the authors about the book and the project.

How did the project start?

Valerie: We knew each other before, but the project started in 2014. Andria was a street style photography and I was a writer and we realized that the looks of Chinatown generated a great visual reaction for us.

In this way, we wanted to tell why they dressed like this and also their stories.

Why did they have to be helped with translators in the beginning?

Andria: Many older people in Chinatown speak Chinese as their first language, not English.

Valerie and I don’t speak Chinese as our first language, so we had to use translators to communicate better.

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What is the most fascinating thing about the clothes of the elderly people who photograph and also about their stories?

Valerie: What we find most interesting about these outfits is that it is a patchwork of different times, colors and textures.

They combine garments that may have been worn a long time ago, with current brands and current garments. That is the most interesting.

Chinatown Pretty: fashion, culture and migration through street style

Andria: Now, another thing that attracted us was the immigration stories. Their struggles to adapt to the country, to learn the language, to have jobs, careers and to struggle with the few opportunities they had, because the matter was very limited by the language barrier.

Also, how they felt working in the new country and struggling to establish themselves. The book goes much deeper into these stories.

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We spoke with at least 100 older citizens of Chinatowns and the book is a good place to see all these experiences, where there are many similarities.

“The fabulous thing about their outfits is that they think about functionality and they don’t dress or combine the pieces as we think, but naturally. And that is beautiful ”.

Valerie Luu, co-autora de “Chinatown Pretty”.

How did you approach your subjects? Because for many people it is quite uncomfortable to be approached and asked for a photo.

Valerie: We usually say hello and give a complement about a detail of the look that has caught our attention, accessory, piece of clothing, etc., and we ask them to tell us the story of how they got it.

Thus, we asked them for a photo, after talking about the project. We have had 90% rejections, but we have been very lucky to interview more than 100 people for the book.

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How did you choose the stories and what was the process for making the book?

Andria: the process to make the book took us two years. We include stories from the Chinatowns of San Francisco, Auckland, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Vancouver.

We wanted to cover the Chinatowns in the United States and Canada with the largest population, to represent them in all these places. And the process is very slow compared to the digital project that we have.

Chinatown Pretty: fashion, culture and migration through street style

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Why do you think older people are so free and unique with their style?

Valerie: After six years of taking photos seeing their style on the streets, we have realized that their outfits mostly obey functionality, and that is why they have pockets, and layers.

They do many activities with her, as well as what they wear protects them from the changing weather.

They are also recursive, having used some pieces for a long time. They think about those factors and combine them creatively and when we tell them they look amazing they react modestly, because they don’t necessarily do that for the beauty of the look. That really is a sight to behold because they don’t think about it when dressing like we do.

And that is beautiful.

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How do you think the book vindicates older people in a culture that overvalues ​​youth?

There are many cultural, social, demographic, even generational barriers between us. What we want with the project is to make these stories known and offer humanity within the lives of older people who migrated from China and settled here.

I hope this generates more empathy and understanding and it would be wonderful if people connect more with each other with our project.

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