Yu Lee and Tiffany Liu
Bridging the East-West Fashion Gap
Taiwanese fashionistas Yu Lee and Tiffany Liu feel that Europe could use a dose of creative input from up-and-coming fashion labels from Taiwan and other Asian countries.
Bridging the East-West Fashion GapBy Yueh-lin Ma
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 584 )
As always, Lee is dressed in the latest fashion wearing a chic outfit in a bold color combination. Completing her signature “smiling eye” look, Lee uses black eyeliner to draw an elongated winged line on her upper lid that ends in an upward flick. The 27-year-old, who has lived in Milan for five years, launched her career as a fashion journalist and blogger while still a student. Upon graduation from the Italian language department at Fu-jen Catholic University in Taipei, Lee went to Milan to study fashion styling and portfolios at the Istituto Marangoni, a private fashion and design school. While still studying, Lee began to report about the local fashion scene as the Milan correspondent for various Taiwanese fashion media.
In contrast to the average fashion blog, which typically features popular trends and provides mix and match suggestions and styling tips, Lee’s articles blend in-depth fashion knowledge with her observations of the Milan fashion industry. She delves into the fashion history, conveys brand stories and provides background information about the featured designers.
Some two years ago, Lee founded the media platform Yutopia, originally as her graduation project, which enabled her to showcase her diverse skills in writing, editing, photographing, filming and desktop publishing. The online platform not only attracted a large following from the Chinese-speaking community, but Lee also won praise from her professors. As a result, she became the first person of Asian descent to be featured on the Istituto Marangoni’s student recruitment poster.
“Actually, the area of expertise that I studied tends more toward overall design and image creation; abroad they all call it ‘styling’,” Lee explains. During her time in Milan, Lee had the opportunity to gain ample insider knowledge about the designers and public relations in the Milan fashion circle. Now she hopes to use her connections to introduce Taiwanese designer brands to Italy. Last year, i-D Magazine, a trendsetting British fashion magazine and website, hired Lee as correspondent for its Italian edition.
In recent years, fashion bloggers with a large social media audience have made it into the front row at the major fashion weeks alongside fashion editors, celebrities, large buyers and fashion brand owners.
Around the globe, millions of loyal fans follow The Blonde Salad of Chiara Ferragni, Italy’s most famous and influential fashion blogger. Meanwhile, Ferragni has launched her own shoe line and collaborates with the major fashion houses for her digital media site. However, getting there is not easy. It takes effort, vision and brains to build a fashion blogger career.
Formerly, Lee had to wait outside the fashion show venues in the winter snow to try and snag interviews, and scrounging invitations that departing guests had discarded. Now she gets her own invitations from different fashion labels, and is attending the Milan Fashion Week shows for the fifth year in a row.
Lee, who returned to Taipei this year, admits that running a fashion blog is quite demanding. She now serves as creative art director at Maison Noir Boutique, the Taipei concept store of the Taichung-based luxury accessory retailer Maison Noir. “But I will continue to shuttle between Europe and Asia, since there still is also VIA Showroom,” Lee says. The showroom was founded in Milan in February by Lee’s good friend Tiffany Liu as the first-ever Taiwanese-run showroom in Italy.
In recent years, the influence of directly managed designer label shops and original brand specialty stores in the fashion world has declined, while so-called select shops – independent boutiques that carry a wide selection of products from different fashion brands – have become the most critical players in the market. As a result, trade shows and showrooms are playing an increasingly important role, serving as a go-between for buyers from around the world and fashion designers.
The VIA Showroom is located right next to the prestigious White Trade Show, one of the most important events during the Milan Fashion Week. In the three-story high glass shop front hang four clothes rails with pieces from the 2016 spring/summer collection of Taiwanese designer Athena Chuang’s label of the same name.
On display on the first floor are ornamental scarfs and painted canvas shoes designed by Daniel Wong, an ethnic Chinese designer from Canada. Homegrown Taiwanese brands are shown on the second floor such as Rawpiece leather bags and colorful, quirky JumpFromPaper satchels.
The 26-year-old Liu has been living in Milan for three years now. After graduating from the Department of Public Administration at Tamkang University in Taipei, Liu earned a master’s degree in strategic management of luxury businesses at the SDA Bocconi School of Management in Milan. The year of her graduation, Liu took a job at a buying office, an agency that brings together buyers and showrooms, accompanying Asian and European buyers as they toured Milan showrooms.
“Back then I felt that it was very regrettable that design by us Asians didn’t have a chance of getting noticed by the Europeans,” recalls Liu. She often vented her frustration in chats with her friend Lee. They both thought that Europe needs fresh input while Asia wants to step out into the fashion limelight. Encouragement from good friend emboldened Liu to decide to open a showroom to introduce Taiwanese designer brands to a European audience.
Go for it!
Opening a business in Italy as a foreigner is a challenge, not only because half a year’s rent has to be paid in advance, but also because of time-consuming red tape. "Ah, you won’t believe how slow Italian paperwork is; it’s truly terrible," notes Liu with an exasperated sigh. Originally, Liu had also toyed with the idea of returning to her native Taiwan. But then she changed her mind, telling herself, "When you are young you should go for it; that’s what you should do.”
She hired two Italian sales people and a Taiwanese assistant. Her showroom finally opened its doors for business this June. Liu needs to come up with complete design concepts and well-worded presentations of the materials used in the stylish outfits and accessories in order to impress the notoriously fashion-conscious and design-loving Italians.
The soft autumn sun shines through the glass façade, and ripples of laughter echo through the VIA Showroom. Liu and Lee belong to a new generation of young Taiwanese who, regardless of their personal backgrounds, are bold enough to step out into the European fashion world, eager to act as a go-betweens to let the world notice Taiwan’s creative fashion talent.
Translated from the Chinese by Susanne Ganz