Wondering what to wear to AAWAA’s Jubilee Celebration? Get some fashion inspiration from the vintage looks of some of the most prolific Asian women!
By: Elisa Gyotoku
Pioneering actress NANCY KWAN first gained stardom starring in the film
The World of Suzie Wong, with William Holden in 1960. An instant hit, the film catapulted her to movie star status and she soon found herself as a fashion icon. Even her haircut in the film spawned it’s own nickname, “The Kwan” and found its way into the pages of American and British Vogue magazine. Born in 1939 in Hong Kong to a Cantonese father and English and Scottish mother, Kwan’s family escaped from Hong Kong to China due to the fear of Japanese invasion during World War II. While studying ballet in London, Kwan submitted an application to play the character of Suzie Wong and shortly thereafter, she travelled to the U.S. to begin preparing for the role. After Suzie Wong, Kwan starred in numerous films and television shows including Flower Drum Song, Hawaii Five-O and Hollywood Chinese, a well-known documentary film focusing on the depiction of Chinese in mainstream Hollywood. Kwan has left an impenetrable mark in Hollywood, some considered her role of Suzie to be the most significant since those of Anna May Wong, and her eloquent style still strikes a pose today.
ANNA MAY WONG has many affiliations; the first Chinese American movie star, the first Asian American actress to gain international stardom and perhaps the first Asian American badass of film. Born in Los Angeles in 1905, her infatuation with movies started at a very young age. She began acting in silent films in the 1920s and starred in one of the first movies made in color, The Toll of the Sea (1922). After starring in The Thief of Baghdad in 1924 with Douglas Fairbanks, Wong quickly became a fashion icon. With her signature bangs and classic style, she was a natural choice for modeling and photographers fawned over her. Fed up with the typecasting in Hollywood, she moved to Europe in 1928 and cemented her image as an international star. During her career, she helped to “humanize” Asian Americans to white film audiences during a period of blatant racism and discrimination. Anna May wong is perhaps the most notable Asian American actress to ever live and has inspired generations of performers.
Japanese actress and singer MEIKO KAJI is mostly known for acting in in Japanese western films in the 1970s. Fans were fascinated with her mysterious looks and her rebellious characters and she became a beauty and fashion icon in Japan. In some of the 100 plus films she has appeared in, she also sang the title songs, encouraging a solo music career. Her early music reappeared and regained its popularity in 2003 when it was featured in Quentin Tarantino’s cult film Kill Bill Vol.1. Tarantino also featured her music in Kill Bill Vol. 2 (2004)which prompted numerous Hollywood roles being offered to Kaji. She turned down all opportunities saying she could not give a good performance in any other language than in her native Japanese.
Born in France in 1939, Vietnamese-French model and actress, FRANCE NUYEN was discovered by a photographer while working as a seamstress in 1955. She was featured on the cover of Life in 1958 and thus began her career as a model. Revered for her beauty and sense of style, Nuyen found major success in fashion modeling, which eventually led to eventually led to an acting career spanding over 30 years. Her credits include South Pacific (1958), Diamond Head (1963) and Battle of the Planet of the Apes (1973). Her most notable role came in the 1993 adaptation of the Amy Tan novel,
The Joy Luck Club, in which she portrayed “Ying-Ying St. Clair”. One of the most successful Asian American novels and films, The Joy Luck Club grossed over $32 million at the box office and was praised for representing Asian Americans outside of stereotypes and its stars, including Nuyen, have paved the way for future Asian American artists and projects.
ROS SEREY SOTHEA was a quite possibly the greatest female figure in the Cambodian music scene of the 1960s and early 1970s. Born in 1948 in Cambodia, she expressed a vocal talent as a child and listened extensively to early Cambodian singers. After winning a regional singing contest in 1963, she began to catch people’s attention this leading to national music career. She became a regular singing partner of Sinn Sisamouth, the most popular singer of this era. She instantly became an icon during this prolific period of music in Cambodia and she quickly influenced the style and culture of the time. Sadly, during the Fall of Phnom Penh and the upheaval by the
Khmer Rouge in 1975, many high profile artists such as Serey Sothea were killed due to fear of uprising. Her legacy and influence has reemerged and has been making its way to the U.S. with Los Angeles based band, Dengue Fever, who have covered some of her famous songs and the documentary, Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll, highlighting Cambodian musical history and its relationship to the past and present society.
Rock your classiest threads at AAWAA’s 25th year Jubilee tomorrow, November 14th at the Chinese Culture Center San Francisco! 25 years of the arts and of commemorating the organization’s vibrant legacy!
Join us for an evening of delicious bites featuring local Asian American pop-up stands, silent art auction, music, and entertainment! It’s the last day to get presale tickets, so visit aawaajubilee.bpt.me for more info!