The Beautiful Generation

Asian Americans and the Cultural Economy of Fashion

The Beautiful Generation

Book Pages: 272 Illustrations: 24 illustrations Published: December 2010

American Studies, Art and Visual Culture > Fashion, Asian American Studies

Since the 1990s, young Asian Americans including Doo-Ri Chung, Derek Lam, Thakoon Panichgul, Alexander Wang, and Jason Wu have emerged as leading fashion designers. They have won prestigious awards, been chosen to head major clothing labels, and had their designs featured in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and other fashion magazines. At the same time that these designers were rising to prominence, the fashion world was embracing Asian chic. During the 1990s, “Asian” shapes, fabrics, iconography, and colors filled couture runways and mass-market clothing racks. In The Beautiful Generation, Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu explores the role of Asian American designers in New York’s fashion industry, paying particular attention to how they relate to the garment workers who produce their goods and to Asianness as a fashionable commodity. She draws on conversations with design students, fashion curators, and fashion publicists; interviews with nearly thirty Asian American designers who have their own labels; and time spent with those designers in their shops and studios, on their factory visits, and at their fashion shows. The Beautiful Generation links the rise of Asian American designers to historical patterns of immigration, racial formation, and globalized labor, and to familial and family-like connections between designers and garment workers.


“[A] book that brilliantly explores the ascent of fashion’s Asian/American young guns and anchors their success in how they’ve made resourceful use of their connections to the bottom of fashion’s pyramid—the cutters and sewers who assemble the clothes imagined in couture’s luxe halls.” — Jeff Yang, Wall Street Journal "Tao Jones" blog

The Beautiful Generation exemplifies emerging cultural studies scholarship in that it theorizes the complex intersections of race, immigration, globalization, and culture's contributions to our current neoliberal economy. This highly original study demonstrates the author's strength in navigating interdisciplinarity. . . . Offering new ways to think about meanings of family, the production and consumption of Asianness, and the inequalities built in fashion as it relates to manufacturing and globalization, this book is ideal for teaching and serves as a model for future research.” — Nhi Lieu, Journal of Asian American Studies

The Beautiful Generation, as much a fashion history as a cultural study, gracefully takes us . . . from Gaultier’s introduction of luxe Chinese coats in seventeenth century Paris, to American Vogue’s strategic establishment of ‘fashion designer as cultural anthropologist’ in the mid-‘90s, and finally to the curiously successfully rise of Asian American designers in the present decade. While it’s all a good read, the last is arguably the highlight of the book; Nguyen Tu’s compelling examination of Asian American designers, whose precarious positions in the industry are plainly defined by their historic exclusion from it, is clearly a point of personal connection for her.” — Catherine A. Traywick, Hyphen

“[An] ambitious exploration of the contemporary contemporary significance of Asian-American designers. . . . Using anecdotes and interviews to support her thesis of intimacy, she details a network of kinship and gifts that create ‘families’ out of ordinarily distant, detached sweatshop stitchers and the hardworking but nevertheless privileged creatives who employ them.” — Kimberly Chun, Bitch

“It should be said right at the start that this book is unusual among academic products in being very lucidly written, self-critical, and sympathetic to the subjects under survey in a way that doesn’t exclude expressions of doubt about, for example, interviewees’ motives and indeed truthfulness. . . . Above all, the author is writing about her own kind, and as an Asian-American herself she shows great insight into this particular social group, and into this now rather characteristic Asian-American occupation.” — Bradley Winterton, Taipei Times

“[Tu’s] project provides an alternative framework from which to not only critique the material and symbolic divisions that structure the fashion industry, but also emphasize the ways in which the act of cultural production can attempt to challenge them.” — Hee-Jung Serenity Joo, American Studies

“With the academic equivalent of military prowess, assistant professor of Asian Pacific Studies at New York University Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu flanks the topic of Asian Americans in fashion...Tu’s work illustrates interdisciplinary academia at its best, not only conquering the topic from all angles but also exploring it through multiple methodologies.”  — E.P. Cutler, Women's Studies Quarterly

"Tu combines political economy with smart readings of design, crafting a racialized gendered analysis fully cognizant of the workings of the fashion industry and capitalism.... Tu offers one of the best discussions yet of the mechanics of the fashion industry." — Eileen Boris, Feminist Studies

The Beautiful Generation is a pleasure to read and a model of how cultural studies ought to be done. Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu’s elegant, well-crafted account of the fashion industry demonstrates the impossibility of separating the aesthetic from the material, or the cultural from the economic. It shows how the changing roles of culture in the global economy can be luminously traced through a focused, interdisciplinary methodology.” — Kandice Chuh, author of Imagine Otherwise: On Asian Americanist Critique

“Exciting and original, The Beautiful Generation exemplifies the best work in the field of cultural studies. Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu reveals the material and ideological struggles behind the constructions of Asianness incorporated into the design, production, and marketing of fashion. She describes how the U.S. fashion industry has been built around racialized, gendered, and sexualized streams of migrants, as well as the complex transnational flows of capital, and she brilliantly argues that it is the ‘architecture and aesthetics of intimacy,’ the fictive and biological kin relations between designers and garment workers, that fuels Asian American fashion design.” — Martin F. Manalansan IV, author of Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora


Availability: In stock
Price: $26.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu is Assistant Professor of Asian Pacific American Studies at New York University. She is a co-editor of Alien Encounters: Popular Culture in Asian America, also published by Duke University Press, and TechniColor: Race, Technology, and Everyday Life.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction: Fashion, Free Trade, and the "Rise of the Asian Designer" 1

Part I

1. Crossing the Assembly Line: Skills, Knowledge, and the Borders of Fashion 31

2. All in the Family? Kin, Gifts, and the Networks of Fashion 63

Part II

3. The Cultural Economy of Asian Chic 99

4. "Material Mao": Fashioning Histories Out of Icons 133

5. Asia on My Mind: Transnational Intimacies and Cultural Genealogies 169

Epilogue 203

Notes 209

Bibliography 239

Index 253
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4913-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4890-0
Publicity material