Designer Claudia Li casts ONLY Asian models for her New York Fashion Week runway show

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A lack of diversity in the fashion world means that all too often, their might be just a handful of non-white models to take the runway at a Fashion Week show.

But not at the first-ever runway show for Claudia Li this weekend. The New Zealand-born designer showed her Spring 2019 collection at New York Fashion Week and cast a line-up of exclusively Asian models to show it off.

The designer’s statement-making show was a win for diversity in the industry, and Li says it was a particularly important move for her first runway show. 

In the past, Li has done presentations, but this was the first time she sent models down the catwalk, picking 25 Asian women to do so.  

‘The casting is quite personal and I’ve been talking to my casting director about doing something like this for a while now,’ she told Refinery29.

‘For me, I think this collection is the right time to do it because it’s our first official runway show, and this collection is all about memories of how I grew up in New Zealand as an Asian woman.

‘I remember being perceived in a singular way, you know, If you’re Asian you’re good at math and science. No, I played field hockey and I ran away from home with a boy, and my dad had to drag me back [laughs].’

‘People are starting to realize that there is diversity within the Asian group … not just a single … perspective [or]kind of beauty,’ she added in an interview with Yahoo Lifestyle.

‘I had maybe three Asian girls in my high school, and so people always thought, you’re good at math, you’re good at science, you’re smart, you don’t go out at night,’ she said. ‘Well, guess what, I drove without a license. … I played field hockey. … I sang in a metal band.

‘We all have different personalities. There are Asian girls [who]listen to punk; Asian girls who listen to hip-hop.’ 

Showing others that Asians don’t fall into neat stereotypes is important to the designer. 

‘It’s about representation within Asian women — there are so many different types of us, and we haven’t been represented in a diverse way,’ she told Refinery29. 

‘I just really want to show the personalities of who I am and who these girls are, and I think that’s so important right now, and right now is the time to do it. 

‘Asians aren’t just one nationality — it’s not just Chinese, it’s not just Japanese, there are girls from everywhere [in the show]. Within the community of Asian women, we are diverse. It’s time to break free from that singular definition of Asian beauty.’

As for the collection, the designs were inspired by Li’s memories of her childhood in New Zealand. She took colors from the sky and ocean, Mount Cook lilies, and her mother’s house.

She worked in oversized blooms in tribute to her mother’s garden, hand-drawing the patterns herself as they were applied in prints, embroideries, and hand-stitched appliques.

There was some star power in the front row, too: Rapper and actress Awkwafina, who currently stars in Crazy Rich Asians, was on hand for the show. 

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