Fashion and Power Forum at CUNY

Members of ThreeASFOUR in their Chinatown studio. Photo: Mara Catalan

Last night’s talk, which was part of the Graduate Center Great Issues Series on Culture and Power, evolved into a discussion on the homogenization of fashion and the role the economy might have in spurring greater creativity in cities like New York through renewed affordability. Moderated by fashion theorist and historian Eugenia Paulicelli, the panel included designers Gabi Asfour (of ThreeASFOUR) and Anna Sui, and New York Times cultural critic Guy Trebay.

Anna Sui gave a candid account of the way the economy changed her company’s situation, in some ways for the better: She was able to retain the lease on her garment district work space, thanks to the fall of the housing market in New York, which stopped the ongoing conversion of industrial spaces in the area into condos. Trebay seemed less sanguine about the creative future of New York, resigned to the fact that the level of affordability and the other elements which allowed the flourishing of New York cultures in decades past (in particular the 1970s ) is behind us for good. Gabi Asfour found New York cultural centrality indispensable to his work—the reason he chose the city over Paris as the basis for the company, despite its lack of support for experimental fashion. Interestingly, what they all agreed on was that collaborations could be a way forward—both collaborations between creative individuals and between companies (i.e. Uniqlo and H&M tapping into designer’s fashion).

Another thread of the discussion was the homogenization of fashion across cities and countries, which the three speaker saw epitomized at international airports, where the pervasiveness of casual clothes can be observed: What Anna Sui saw as the Californization of the world’s wardrobe.