How the Fashion Industry Celebrates Lunar New Year


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On Sunday, as Asian-Americans across the country were observing the Lunar New Year, news broke of a tragic shooting in the Asian community of Monterey Park, California. The following day, reports of another California shooting emerged, this time among agriculture workers (many of them Chinese) in Half Moon Bay. For many, the back-to-back incidents felt like a reminder that the recent rise in violence and racism against Asians in America hasn’t gone away. The shock felt especially deep in contrast to the overwhelming sense of joy and excitement seen earlier in the week in celebrations meant to welcome an auspicious new year.

2023 is the Year of the Rabbit, or Cat in Vietnam. Both animals signify peace, hope, and community, sentiments reflected in the large-scale celebrations from lion dances to fireworks displays held across the world. Perhaps designer Phillip Lim described the emotional disconnect best in a recent Instagram post about how to reconcile grief with this joyous time. “Reminder: while we are processing this tragedy, we must also do our best to celebrate life, love, and community. Now is the time to pull up and LOVE even more!” he wrote.

And indeed, it felt like traditions were embraced more enthusiastically this year. Houses were cleaned, new — preferably red — clothes were bought for the occasion, and family- and friend-filled parties and dinners, the most important aspect of the holiday, were back and bigger than ever.

Togetherness was a big topic among the designers, stylists, and fashion people of Asian descent that Harper’s Bazaar spoke with last week. Everyone was eager to reconnect, as reflected in their plans for dinners and parties complete with special, lucky outfits chosen for the occasion. In the spirit of celebrating life, love, and community, read on to hear how they rang in the Year of the Rabbit/Cat.

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The first time I hosted a dinner with Hennessy was last year. It came out of the idea that after years of atrocity and violence, we needed to celebrate. This year, my hope is that we realize how important we are to each other. My heart is bursting because I look at this room and I’m proud of us. It’s not like I only know ten people in this room and the rest are strangers; no, I can tell you a beautiful story about every person here.

My favorite Lunar New Year tradition is the family reunion dinner, tuan yuan fan. When I’m in China, all our family members gather together — the cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents — and nobody is allowed to use their chopsticks to start eating until everyone has arrived. Usually we eat sticky rice balls, called nián gāo (年糕). Nian can also mean year and gao can also mean higher, and a popular phrase that accompanies the dish is 年年高升 (nían nían gāo shēng), which means “to increase prosperity every year.”

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Beverly Nguyen, Stylist

I grew up celebrating the Vietnamese Lunar New Year with my family. Since I’m not always able to make it home, I started hosting a group of friends in the city. Now that I’m older, I’ll also be handing out red envelopes!

I love wearing bright colors for the lunar new year — it’s meant to symbolize happiness, luck and good fortune. I bought a pink outfit from The Attico to wear this year.

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Blake Abbie, Editor and Bling Empire: New York Cast Member

This year, there are so many events uplighting different parts of the community—which is so different compared to years past, where celebrating our culture wasn’t really a thing. I began with the Bling Empire: New York premiere, and there was also Phillip Lim’s dinner, plus Sandy Liang and Bubble T have parties, too. I can’t wait to see all my friends!

This is the biggest holiday in my family and the only one my parents take seriously! We put out food and other offerings to our ancestors at our family altar. For dinner, we sit and eat dishes that were prepared in special ways, just for that night. This year, I’m also hosting a party with my friend Danny Bowein at my family’s dim sum restaurant. Typically this is a family-oriented time but I’m excited to also celebrate with my friends for once.

I’m making dumplings and I’ll be making Korean New Year’s soup while throwing a Bling Empire screening. I’m also hosting a dinner with Tina Craig later in the week. She told me in Chinese tradition that the second part of the new year’s celebrations is when women go home to their families, so it’ll be a girls’ night dinner.

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CeCe Vu, Fashion Creative

My favorite Lunar New Year tradition is giving red envelopes to my parents and wishing them health. It’s a simple yet meaningful act that brings me closer to them and shows my appreciation, making me feel connected to my heritage.

I also love decorating my home with fresh flowers from the downtown flower market. The new life and freshness they bring is believed to bring luck in the new year. It’s also a way to welcome positive energy and good vibes into my home by tidying up.

As for what I’m wearing, I’m thrilled to have a stunning ao dai made by my dear friend Huy Vo’s brand HUYVO Atelier. This traditional Vietnamese garment has been expertly crafted and I feel honored to be able to wear such a beautiful piece.

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Caroline Maguire, Fashion Director at Shopbop

This year I plan to celebrate with my in-laws with a massive dinner. I can’t guarantee all the authentic dishes will be present, but I’ll have my favorite items to keep the tradition going, especially noodles. As far as what I’ll be wearing, it’s absolutely going to be red for good luck and to ward off evil spirits, most likely this cheery Kika Vargas dress.

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Eva Chen, Fashion at Instagram

As a child, of course my favorite tradition was getting the red envelopes – any kid who says otherwise is lying! I’d immediately start plotting how I would spend the money and would usually squander it on fancy gel pens and books within weeks. Now, as a mom, I love sharing the moment and hopefully building memories for my kids full of food and family togetherness.

I’m happy to see how it’s become more common in the mainstream media to share info about Lunar New Year and its traditions. My kids come home with information that I don’t recall ever learning in school, which is so gratifying. One fun way to help share AAPI and API joy, whether or not you are AAPI/API, is to use the Lunar New Year sticker pack on IG, which we collaborated on with the up-and-coming creator Subin Yang. Last year, Lunar New Year was our biggest creator moment in Product, inspiring more than 40 million creations.

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Chloe Flower, Musician

One New Year’s tradition that I used to do all the time is go to my grandparents’ graveyard. We would light a cigarette, leave it on their grave, and then pour beer as an offering. I always order my favorite soup, tteok guk. As for clothes, it’s up in the air but I’ll wear something bright red or hot pink for all my celebrations. I’ll be performing on Saturday Night Live, so my New Year’s will involve music as well.

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Clare Ngai, Designer of Bon Bon Whims

In the past I loved taking an entire afternoon to sit and make dumplings with my mom, Nai Nai (grandma), aunties, and nieces. I cherish the fact that multiple generations of our family get to be together. Sadly, due to Covid, I haven’t been able to go back home to Hong Kong for the last three years. I can’t wait for our reunion! Luckily my husband — who isn’t Chinese himself — has learned to make dishes like nian gao (sweet rice cake) and hong shao rou (red braised pork) to celebrate with me at home.

Lunar New Year often falls during New York Fashion Week when we’re inundated with work, but it’s early this year. I look forward to having a series of good meals. It feels much busier with all of these parties!

As for what I’m wearing, I’ve been obsessed with the brand Lu’u Dan, which is from the same designers as Kwaidan Edition. They explore Asian masculinity and have a lot of iconic cinematic references from ’90s cult gangster movies.

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Han Chong, Designer of Self Portrait

This Lunar New Year, I plan to dress up as much as I can, but to honor new year’s day, it’ll be something new. It’s an important part of the ritual. I was in Japan in December and purchased a pair of very loose-fitting Yohji Yamamoto trousers. I’ll be pairing them with a red shirt from the Raf Simon x Wing Shya exclusive capsule collection that celebrates imagery from Wong Kar-Wai’s film Happy Together. A friend brought it over from Hong Kong for me.

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Tina Leung, Influencer and Cast Member of Bling Empire: New York.

Now that my hair is green, I can’t wear red anymore because it looks too Christmas. So I’m going to either buy the Loewe or Oscar de la Renta rabbit pieces and just paste rabbits all over myself. That’s all I need.

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Humberto Leon, Founder of Opening Ceremony and Restaurateur

This year, because I’m born in the year of the rabbit, I’ll need extra luck and protection, so I’ll be wearing red underwear from now on! But it’s also tradition to wear new clothes and to me, new purchases count even if they’re technically vintage pieces from James Veloria. I bought Jean Paul Gaultier shoes, DKNY brown suede pants, a Comme des Garçons belt, and a Miu Miu men’s sweater with an anorak hood.

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Jeannie Mai, Fashion Personality

It’s about being with good friends and family and also getting to wear fun stuff. I have a funny story about the red hat I’m wearing. I got it from my mom, and she stole it. She was at a swap meet and found this piece, but a woman bought it before she could. So she put $100 on the table and took it instead, before the other woman noticed. It’s been in our family ever since.

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Prabal Gurung, Designer

I just got back from a silent meditation retreat over the holidays. I’m trying to practice that, even though I have a bunch of parties to attend.

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Joe Zee, Fashion Personality

This year will be the first time I can really explain to my daughter the symbolism behind the celebration. Because she’s a bi-racial Asian girl, I want her to understand the longstanding tradition behind Lunar New Year (including all the food!). We’ll be celebrating with friends, albeit it way earlier so the kids can make bedtime.

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Lynn Ban, Designer and Cast Member of Bling Empire: New York

My favorite Lunar New Year tradition is buying something new and red! In years past I’ve worn a Gianni Versace red crystal dress, Alexander McQueen red satin gold brocade dress, a Comme des Garcons red show look, and a John Gallano ruby red bias gown. This year, I bought a vintage Christian Lacroix Haute Couture look from an auction in Paris.

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Phyllis Chan and Suzzy Chung, Co-Founders of YanYan Knits

Phyllis: Growing up, my favorite tradition was when we’d go to the flower markets and get plants and blooms to decorate our home. Now, my new tradition is to walk around Sham Shui Po, an area in Hong Kong where the toy stores sell banners and decorations. As for celebrations, we’re finally able to have a big family reunion at my aunt’s home. I’m excited to wear YanYan since it’s colorful and festive. I’ll either be in the Charlie Wah Kung Fu jacket or my Lara jacket, if it’s cold.

Suzzy:
Lunar New Year celebrations center around food so it’s no surprise that I’m looking forward to eating all the auspicious dishes with my family. We have two big gatherings: 團年飯 aka the reunion dinner which is held on or before Lunar New Year’s Eve as well as 開年, the first meal of the year. I can’t wait to wear the cheongsams that we designed!

We’ll be gathering at my mom’s apartment this year since it’s her turn to host. I’m wearing a custom qipao I had made for my rehearsal dinner last year — it’s deep red satin with golden dragons embroidered. I used to hate wearing them because I wanted to assimilate so badly but now I’m proud of my culture. At my mom’s there will be hot pot, drinking, and mahjong, but it’s the first year where I won’t be getting any hong baos, aka red envelopes. My husband and I got married last October so we now have to be the ones to distribute to the younger kids in the family! RIP cash.


Writer
Diana Tsui is a stylist and writer living in New York City.

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