It Is Time To Discover Asian Street Fashion

By Tag Christof |

©2014 James Bent/ Courtesy Refinery 29

This piece originally appeared on

We tend to speak in sweeping statements about globalization. After all, the very concept is all-encompassing: it implies an everything, everywhere mass-homogenization. But despite the Golden Arches’ reach to every cranny of the planet, we’re still a ways off from true mass-homogenization. Nowhere is this more evident than in fashion, where regional and national differences in taste have killed companies unwilling to adapt.

Part of the problem is the presumed total eminence of “fashion cities”—the idea that if it’s relevant, it’s happening on the runways and streets of Paris, New York, London, Milan, Copenhagen or Tokyo. Those cities are diverse and vibrant and influential, but to look only to them is terribly myopic, and might indeed be partly responsible for the lack of innovation bemoaned by Angelo Flaccavento and others after the SS15 runways. ‘Milan fashion’ and ‘Paris fashion’ and ‘Tokyo fashion’ are, to some extent, so codified that they’ve become almost static and unchangeable.

So, if it’s innovation we’re after, we need only open our eyes to any number of growing cities around the world. The streets of Eastern Europe are teeming with over-the-top ostentation, clashy and intense palates are commonplace in India and Africa and the flair and daring of Latin America is nothing like Italy’s. But nowhere is this synthesis of style and cultural renaissance on better display than in the eastern Asia—technology everywhere, films and music from every corner of the globe and jetsetting middle classes. Millennials in these cities are also less anchored to a recent past and have a totally blank canvas on which to invent themselves.

Asian Street Fashion, a new book by British photographer James Bent gives us the most comprehensive look yet at the street style of the region, from Korea to Indonesia and everywhere in between. And while street fashion books (and images around the web) seem to have become a dime a dozen since the Nylon’s seminal Street books hit shelves about a decade ago, this book—a compilation of years of work—is an excellent and focused look at region too-often overlooked by editors and designers alike.

It progresses nicely, from sleek to adventurous, with a nice look at the gamut of menswear. While there’s a fair bit of too-obvious nods to the West, it’s those looks that mix quintessential Asian detailing and silhouettes with brash western cues that really make the book—the kimono worn with Doc Martens, the tan trench and slicked-back hair worn with mean looking metallic shoes. And there’s something rather democratic about the whole thing. The palpable pretense that pervades Western street fashion—pouty lips and $7000 empty handbag positioned just right—is noticeably absent here. These are young people, making magic from a mix of indifferent pieces of fast-fashion and vintage. Scary environmental implications of global hyperconsumption aside (that’s another story), there is such creativity on display that to worry about any “lack of innovation” on the runway seems only to be a reflection of our unwillingness to look beyond ourselves.

All images ©2014 James Bent, from his book Asian Street Fashion, published by Thames & Hudson. Special thanks to Kait Howard.

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