the expansive multicultural universe of asai
On the cusp of stepping out onto the LFW schedule without Fashion East, there’s a bright future ahead of A Sai Ta.
For his last show as part of talent incubator Fashion East, A Sai Ta, the designer behind Asai, sharpened his silhouettes and went deeper into an exploration of cultures bumping up against each other, leaking into each other, telling stories about each other.
Graham Greene’s Vietnam-set novel The Quiet American was referenced in Asai’s show notes. “Him being British and then looking at the Americans and the French, it kind of feels almost like my position in a way,” A Sai said backstage post-show, breathless with excitement. The designer grew up in south London, born to a Vietnamese mother and Chinese father. Consequently he’s always instinctively understood the overlapping of cultures, the multifarious narratives that come out of a heritage created from intersecting identities.
A Sai has always viewed his Asian background from a UK setting. Recently he got to go to Vietnam and look at it from a different perspective. “It was just really amazing to be able to observe my culture and be ingrained in my family. It's something I didn't have, growing up in London,” he said. Spending time in Vietnam gave A Sai a new sense of coherence with what he wants to present. But that didn’t mean he was going to pair back his vibrant, expansive experimentation with fabric and colour, throwing standard codes to the wayside.
There was oil-slick shiny animal print, feathery footwear, military-esque khaki suiting, the structure of a jacket subverted through pairing with flowing trousers, cargo pants cut with a sense of elegance, army jackets deconstructed and reimagined as corsets, and fun little off-the-shoulder tops. The Hot Wok top that immediately became Asai’s cult item when he first showed turned up again in lurid green and yellow, and the fabric was used elsewhere to sexy effect with patchworked, cut-out dresses in brown and orange. The military theme continued with long, sheer camo skirts cut to sit super low on the hips. Bullet holes were made beautiful with metal fringing dangling below the perforations. Trousers were given a western flavour as they mimicked cowboy boot lines. Dragons adorning flirty dresses gave a nod to a western lens on Asian culture. Ultra-bright kaleidoscopic colours were given their counterpoint in gentle-toned romantic dresses that came later.
The CSM grad was dealing with heavy topics. Namely, the Vietnam War was on his mind. But it wasn’t the horror of it that he was focused on. Instead he was looking at the beauty of resilience, and the stories of love that somehow manage to transverse tragedy. “The people there just felt really easy and really relaxed and really chilled, I would think after something so traumatic as that war... but there is this kind of guard up as well,” he explained. “I think when you see war you just see terror, pain. I wanted to show the softer side, and love and emotion [that exists during] conflict.”
The young designer himself is feeling positive, renewed. Coming to the end of his time with Fashion East he’s excited for what’s ahead. “I just feel like I’m in a really good happy place, and hopeful.” And he should be -- his immense talent is becoming increasingly clear. There are big things ahead for Asai.
Photography Mitchell Sams
This article originally appeared on i-D UK.