I am not typically brand loyal and I hardly ever pay attention to designer labels. I watch fashion shows as the colors and silhouettes are usually good indicators of what will be trending in the optical industry, but I never watch for a specific designer. This search for aesthetics over designer labels is a practice I use in my own personal clothing shopping, and led me to an unintentional purchase that has influenced my designs.
I am addicted to a plain T-shirt that costs $130.
I don’t have the most exciting closet. It consists mostly of shades of white, gray, blue, and especially black. Since my daughters are old enough to start eyeing my closet, they often ask why I own clothes that are so plain and black. “Black clothing makes my life easier,” I
reply. When I’m on the go, I don’t have time to be thinking about which colors will match, so I simply go with one that can withstand the test of time and occasions.
I don’t have a favorite designer. When I shop, I look at the quality of the material, the cut, and whether the style is one that suits my own. I hardly have any time to shop, so when I do, I go straight for a few stores that are known for quality, and search for pieces that are similar to the tried and true styles that I previously owned. I never have been one to go for any particular label or designer. Until I found these T-shirts.
I discovered these incredible T-shirts by pure coincidence, as I never intentionally seek them out. One day I was in a rush to find some plain T-shirts, and Neiman Marcus was the closest store near me. I ran in, asked the sales lady where I could find some plain shirts, and she pointed to a rack in the corner. I quickly grabbed three: a black, gray, and navy blue, and darted to the cashier. When she told me the amount I had to pay, I was shocked. I instantly regretted not looking at the price tags, but I didn’t have time to shop elsewhere, so I dutifully but painfully paid.
What made those T-shirts different from inexpensive alternatives was not immediately apparent to me. Yes, the cut was great; they felt as if they were tailored specifically for me, but I am no stranger to clothing with a proper fit, so I still thought I made a mistake for not being a more careful shopper. But years went by and I finally took notice. I became aware of the fact that those three T-shirts are the ones I always reach for. I also noticed that after years of countless washing, they have not faded and have not lost their shape. They feel as comfortable as when I first bought them. I also finally understand what “feels like your second skin” means. Not because they are skin-tight, but it means they are so utterly comfortable that I always feel at ease while I’m wearing them.
I will probably wear tees by Neiman Marcus’ Luxury Essentials until the day I die or they stop the collection, whichever comes first. I came to accept the fact that paying such an exuberant amount for a plain T-shirt is my guilty pleasure. I wear them all the time, and they work well with either dress up or down: with jeans, with long skirts, layered under a blazer, and especially when I fly as they are thick enough to keep me warm while on the plane.
Four years after I bought those tees, I went back to NM and got a couple more black ones. I brought them home, put them side by side with the old one, and found no difference whatsoever between them. They are exactly the same shade of black and look and feel identical.
This is an era when fast and cheap fashion such as H&M and Zara are all the rage. But I refuse to shop from them because their clothing cannot withstand the test of time so one ends up creating more wastes in the landfills. I will always prefer paying more for quality and styles that actually last as I believe it’s actually better value in the long run and better for our environment.
No fashion runway shows have inspired me as much as these plain black T-shirts. It shall always be my goal to create versatile, understated, and timeless elegant eyewear with quality that lasts.
I often question what it really means to be a designer.
Take the fashion industry for example: for the last few decades, most of the runway-worthy designers package their latest whims and ideas with dramatic theatrical elements tailored for the media hoping to make headlines and glossy magazine covers. But the more regarded the fashion designer, the less likely we will ever see their clothes sold at retailers, as they are deemed “unsellable.” So, in order to recover the exuberant price tag of runway shows, the fashion houses will request the designers to create a simplified “ready to wear” collection. The glorified fashion kings and queens will eventually cater to department stores and the down-to-earth needs of regular consumers to recoup costs in order to remain profitable.
Then what is fashion but a form of self-indulgence of the fashion houses and of the designers? It is all done in the name of creating an image and to satisfy the press with article-worthy materials. The consumers merely get a watered-down version of the designer’s aesthetics. They are buying the label of the designer whose name was in the news, but the clothes they get from Neiman Marcus or Saks Fifth Avenue have barely any resemblance of designers’ original creativity.
Yet the shows go on season after season. Millions and millions of revenue is spent and lost. The fashion the world once knew is being reduced to serve only a select few. Couture is alive only on runways and red carpets.
Gone are the days that men need to be all suited-up in order to look professional and credible. Most women ditched their pencil skirts and stockings for good. People want clothes that can take them from day to night, and consequently, most people hardly ever pay attention to current fashion. People just want to wear what suits their personality, budget, and lifestyle. The smarter and savvier the consumer, the less likely he or she will care to chase what’s trending in fashion.
I am such consumer. I will pay for quality, but never for a label. I am a working mom who needs to go from the office to the grocery store, and then home to whip up dinner in 30 minutes flat. My weekends are filled with cooking, catching up on movies, and lounging in my backyard while I read and listen to my kids’ laughter. I hardly have an occasion that requires fancy clothes. Even when I attend business expos, my outfit has to be able to take me from a 10 hour work day to a business dinner, and withstand the occasional coffee spill.
Before I launched TC CHARTON, I used to work with 20-30 collections of “designer eyewear” each year. For each collection, I always tried to stay focus on each brand’s theme or the colors of the season. But that’s where the consistency of the brand ends. Most license brands would request that the styles sacrifice functionality or cut costs on the materials in favor of the placement of a big logo—which means all temples have to have a certain height or thickness to accommodate such logo. Worst of all, they want to “recycle” eye shapes. Once certain eye shapes are proven good sellers, they wanted me to reuse the same shape over and over again. The end result? All collections look strikingly similar and the uniqueness of each label is lost.
So, when I design my own collection, one thing I try to always keep in mind is “What do real people want.” (Let’s keep this sentence in order to provide some kind of transition). Once I forgo the types of styles that are meant to “wow” but have little practicality, I focus solely on the consumers’ needs and draw my inspiration from real faces. There’s no ego behind my label, and therefore no styles are ever meant to create headlines. They are, nevertheless, carefully crafted with simple and minute details to maximize comfort and durability while looking great on an Asian face.
My customers may never know who’s behind the frames they are wearing, because being famous as a designer was never part of my agenda. What’s important is for them to get to wear products that were sincerely created for them; one face and one style at a time.
We are always excited to be part of Vision Expo East (VEE) the largest optical show here in the Big Apple every March, drawing over 30,000 eye care professionals, the movers and shakers of the optical industry. This year VEE was not different but yet, it was, since Asian in New York hosted a media reception so I could meet the Chinese news media.
I still cannot believe we were able to pull this off—as Diana had just a few days to put together a press release, contact journalists from different news organizations, and prepare the media reception. Little did I know that the turnout would be many of the invited press—-including ALL of the biggest names in Chinese news media? I thought we might end up having 3 or 4 journalists, at most, so we had set aside one hour for me to give a brief product presentation and Q&A. But after the introduction, each media outlet wanted a separate interview and the reception lasted almost 4 hours!
I did not take this opportunity to tell them how great our products are. What I did, however, was to really emphasize my journey—how I came to the realization that wearing an ill-fitted pair of glasses could actually impact how one sees her self-image, from a beauty standpoint; it is not our facial features that are at fault, and no, we do not need plastic surgery to reshape ourselves. Also, there are functional reasons why glasses need to fit, such as the importance of fitting children with glasses that won’t slide down, in order to truly correct their vision, and also wearing a pair of sunglasses that won’t slide down from your bridge since there is less protection from the UV rays around the delicate eye area.
I spoke to them about my passion, and I hope they heard and felt what I was trying to convey. This is not about creating just another brand of eyewear. It is NOT about ME, as a designer. This is bigger than me. It is about how we see ourselves in a world where the beauty standard is still largely Eurocentric. This is about being able to see better, and feel better.
The very next day, each one of those interviews turned into a feature story: MSN.com, Yahoo news, Sing Tao Daily, ETTV, The Epoch Times, WZRC Station, The Central News Agency of China, World Journal and more. The TV footage also aired in Taiwan and China the day after the media reception. I was thrilled to have the chance to be able to speak directly to the Chinese speaking consumers in my mother tongue, their own language. I hope some of them heard me, and will remember to demand their opticians for a pair of glasses that truly fit.
By Alexandra Peng
Founder of Prolouge Vision / Designer of TC CHARTON & Alexandra Peng Collections
When I first envisioned the TC CHARTON collection, I had only one simple mission in mind — I wanted to offer beautiful and chic eyewear products to Asian Americans. More precisely, all Asian people who reside in this great country. As one of them, I want to do something for my fellow Asian Americans who work so hard to be an integral part of this nation, and call this land our own, even if we are only 12 % of its entire population. Sometimes, we must work harder to prove ourselves. Sometimes, we must face conflicting sets of values that are different than our ancestors’ cultural heritages. As much as we feel just as American as everyone else, we look different than a Caucasian person. Being a “minority” is challenging at times, but feeling bad about how we look shouldn’t be one of them. We are simply built differently.
TC CHARTON is here to offer you glasses that are designed with your specific facial structure in mind. So when you wear them, you don’t have to wish you had Caucasian features just so the glasses won’t slide down or sit on your cheeks. You no longer need to secretly wish for plastic surgery every time you feel frustrated while shopping for glasses!
Of course, diversity is a beautiful thing. It is what makes this nation so great, and it is the inevitable future. As the world gets smaller, people from different parts of the world mingle, interracial marriages are becoming more and more common, and we are witnessing a shift from what used to be “normal” and the so called “standard”. We are creating the new norms, and the world is a better place because of it. Esthetically TC CHARTON is true to the American sense of style, but technically they are shaped and built to NOT fit the same as conventional eyewear.
I am not here to exclude, I am here to include ALL of us who used to feel excluded and forgotten by the eyewear industry.
The old “standard fit” is still good for the majority, but it is not for me, nor you. Every season, I try to offer different designs that can serve a specific need: faces with extremely low bridges, faces that are very wide, faces with very high arches, faces with very small PDs…For 2014, we are including some sophisticated styles for petite men and women, and more styles for people with low but wider bridges.
Only recently I started to notice that we have a following of Black Americans and Blasians (Black American and Asian mix) and also Latinos. We even have some Caucasian fans! While I am extremely happy about the fact that my products are serving a much wider demography that I hadn’t thought of before, it also makes me wonder whether I was wrong all along to call this collection “Asian Fit”.
I didn’t mean to exclude. I want my products to be worn by anybody who needs them. Everybody deserves glasses that fit and are beautiful at the same time.
After months of pondering over this and even taking online polls through our Facebook page, I am finally at peace with myself. I know my collection is the antithesis of exclusion, and my fans know it too. While I must not forget that most of my inspiration comes from Asian faces, and therefore TC CHARTON is foremost an Asian Fit collection, I am thrilled and happy to know that our products are also serving some of my fellow Americans of other ethnicities.
This photo shoot is my response to all of our fans that are NOT Asians — I present to you, Eldridge Henderson, my incredibly handsome Black model, who flew in from San Francisco to be part of our shoot.
Among hundreds of models’ portfolios, Eldridge caught my eye because I saw a picture of him wearing a pair of Ray Ban frames and while his wardrobe and pose were impeccable, I noticed that the frames were not sitting properly on his nose bridge. That’s when I knew he would be perfect in this photoshoot. This is not the first time that I have designed styles to fit nose bridges that are wide and low, but it is the first time that we found the right model to showcase this style.
This is my way of saying Thank You to ALL of You.
Asians all across the land, I know you’ve probably got a happening thing going on tonight for the 4th…but while you’re resting your feet somewhere drinking a spritzer, tune into the debut of the A-Style, a reality show shot in NYC featuring Asian Americans who didn’t listen to their moms and dads to become lawyers and doctors. We’re talking about Asian Americans striving to make it in show biz.
NYU’s ACE (Asian Cultural Expressions) Fashion Show concluded last night. Sadly, I had to miss it due to family obligations but from what I hear from our model Danielle Yu,
(yeah, you remember her! She modeled for us at Style360 at the TC Charton booth) who was in the show, it went off without a hitch. Our TC Charton eyewear rocked the runway. Super exciting! Pictures to follow once we get them!
Not to date myself, but I remember attending the ACE Fashion Show as a young NYU student back in the day. That was like centuries ago and it took place in the decrepit Loeb Student Center which has since been demolished and turned into the sleek Kimmel Center. See? Totally dating myself.
ACE is in its 29th year, and it looks like they are continuing the tradition of empowering young Asians, by highlighting our cultures, our achievements and yes, our unique beauty. I remember watching my first ACE show back in the day.
At the time, Asians in mainstream media were a rarity (still are, imho, but a bit better now). In the late 80’s and early 90’s, Asian roles in movies/TV shows were relegated to the “mystical Asian man,” i.e. Mr. Miyagi of Karate Kid fame, or “my Kung Fu is better than yours” roles or bit pieces with over-sexualized Asian females.
(Don’t get me started on the “Asians are weird/nerdy” roles like “Long Duck Dong” from “Sixteen Candles.”
Or “Asian families are weird,” a la Margaret Cho’s show “All-American Girl.”) Please don’t get me wrong; I respect all these actors and actresses who have paved a difficult path. I just wonder why it’s taking so long for Asians to find a firm foothold in mainstream media.
But I digress.
At my first ACE show as an NYU freshman, I was struck by how gorgeous these student models were, as they walked down the runway with supreme confidence in beautiful clothing. It helped that I actually knew some of the models from classes and clubs, and I knew they had brains to back up the looks. In many ways, it was eye opening.
As a shy Asian who grew up in a primarily white suburb, finding my place was a bit difficult. I was always labeled as the “smart one” or “the one who gets it done.” While those are definitely great labels to have, I always wondered if it also meant, “unattractive.”
I now know that it was just my insecurity talking, reinforced by meaningless bits of pop culture at a time when standards of beauty were different.
Today, I see:
-Danielle Yu (our TC Charton model) taping The A-Style, an all Asian reality show which highlights aspiring Asians trying to get ahead in the entertainment industry (whoa, what?!). http://www.facebook.com/theastyletv
-Supermodel Liu Wen as Victoria’s Secret’s first Asian Angel
-Queens Assemblywoman Grace Meng well on her way to becoming New York’s first Asian American member of Congress
-Fashion Designers Jason Wu, Richard Chai, Alexander Wang, Derek Lam and Eugenia Kim, just to name a few
– The proliferation of authoris like Amy Tan, Marjorie Liu (one of the few female writers for Marvel Comics, with several successful series under her belt) and Charles Yu, acclaimed author of “How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe,” who now has a movie deal. And can’t forget “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua.
The list of successes goes on and on, certainly a lot longer than when I was growing up. I am heartened to think that Asian youth have such a wide range of role models to look up to and mold themselves after. Creativity, passion, drive, hard work, responsibility, beauty and brains.
Asians are in an exciting time and place. I truly feel it. My only question: when will everyone else figure it out.
And… we still have a long way to go.
How will you contribute?