Judith Ann Moriarty

Right or Wong?

By - Aug 6th, 2011 04:00 am
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Anna May Wong, seen here in a Paramount Pictures handout from the 1920s.

Perhaps you remember Anna May Wong, a Chinese movie star known for her black hair and lacquered look — does Shanghai Express ring a bell? Just when I thought that my “look” this coming fall would be that of a “dandy” (read: fedora, ruffles, etc.), I switched oars and am now rowing toward Ralph Lauren’s Fall 2011 collection.

They’re heavy on the Chinese influence, China being where Lauren and others of his fashion ilk have goods produced. For many years, Lauren has given us the “Western” look (made in China), i.e. a kind of faux all-American garb to hang on ladies who want to resemble a rodeo queen or a prairie cattle-driver. Not that I could afford his prices, but his outfits can easily be translated via Goodwill and vintage stores. I’ve been wondering… do I have any clothing that even remotely suggests China? Denim won’t do this year.

What’s hot are fabrics of shining black and glistening jet black hair that appears to be sliced to the skull, with pendants of black jade dangling from each ear. Throw in lips of screaming red, a pair of matching heels (of the high kind), and you’re Wong redux.

Somehow I can’t picture this in Wisconsin, or anywhere else for that matter (including China), though I did buy a bright red linen kimono-style top from Another Look, a resale shop in Shorewood. The price was greatly reduced. Paired with cropped navy blue linen pants, the outfit makes me look like a 19th century laborer.

Or an old lady gone wrong.

In concert with Lauren’s demands is a superb show, Summer of China at the Milwaukee Art Museum, with various items that cover 3,000 years of Chinese art and culture. (Did I mention that Harley Davidson is one of the major sponsors of the museum extravaganza? Their brand is said to be growing in China. I guess at least some of their citizens are weary of bicycles.)


Chinese artist Ai Weiwei

It’s a grand cultural exchange, but leave it to a few local artists to throw their ire into the mix. To wit, they are calling for a mass boycott of the exhibition. Why? It’s the human rights issue focused on Ai Weiwei, a Chinese artist who offended their government with his work and was subsequently imprisoned. Needless to say, Weiwei has gained worldwide attention. The MAM has remained mum on the flap, save for an intriguing panel discussion to address the Weiwei controversy, held last month (read Kat Murrell’s notes here). Mike Brenner, a local artist/brewer, shaved his head as he stood on the bridge leading to the museum prior to the show’s opening. It was a media moment in bald support of Weiwei, but it’s doubtful that the diversion will dent attendance at the China bash this summer. In the 80s, I shaved my head in support of Ireland, but other than having no hair, my stance didn’t change a thing.

Anyway, in referencing Anna May Wong of long ago flicks, she had the look that Lauren has copied, and what was once old is new again. Then again, compared to genuine concerns, what’s in my wardrobe doesn’t matter, does it?

Categories: Art, Fashion

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