DAWANG celebrates modern chinoiserie – Daily Trojan

Daisy Jingwen Wang founded DAWANG in 2018 to create authentic fusions of Western and Eastern fashion. While the nickname is a portmanteau of his name, it is also 大王 (dàwáng) – the great king in Chinese. (Photo courtesy of DAWANG/Astrid Ji Photography)

The intertwining of cultural elements, especially in fashion, has long been problematic in America. The line between appropriation and appreciation can be stark for designers looking to celebrate their overlap, especially when big corporations so frequently cannibalize traditional clothing with no respect or input from their cultures.

As difficult as it may be to toe that line, DAWANG struts fearlessly on the tightrope.

DAWANG, a New York-based contemporary streetwear brand, has been dedicated to honoring and modernizing Chinese aesthetics since its inception in 2018. Founder Jingwen Wang – whom her friends call her Daisy – has long loved fashion, but never hadn’t chosen a creative direction until his final project before graduating from The New School’s Parsons School of Design.

“My senior thesis was in 2017, and it was my first mini collection on how I wanted to interpret modern Chinese,” Wang said. “After that, I was heading towards graduation and I was like, ‘I’m not sure what I’m doing; I know how to design, I know how to make clothes, but I don’t know how to express my aesthetic, my culture, to others.

To hone this skill, Wang spent a fifth year at Parsons to pursue a minor in fashion studies, specifically seeking to develop her understanding of streetwear subcultures. Studying the hype around brands like Supreme, Wang saw parallels to the growing popularity of Asian culture in the city around her.

“When I came here in 2013, we had a boba store within 20 blocks of Manhattan. And when I graduated from Parsons, we had about 10 different boba stores within a 20-block radius. We feel that Asian culture, our food, everything is becoming more and more accepted and becoming mainstream… so why not fashion.

Studying the qipao, a garment dating back to the 16th-century Qing dynasty, Wang continued to observe the combination of Eastern and Western design, but was frustrated by a perceived imbalance between how Chinese and American cultures accepted each other.

“As a Chinese [person]I didn’t even know specifically that our qipao was a mixture of West and East – it was the representation of early 20th century Chinese people starting to accept Western culture, starting to think “Oh, we don’t have not to hide all of our body parts, we can show a little skin, we can open the slits a little bit’… From that point of view, I was like, ‘Wow, look how western we are now… if we can accept western culture in such a large volume, why can’t western culture accept us?”

Wang describes this struggle to create clothing that authentically accepts and celebrates the combination of Chinese and American design elements, as a driving intention behind her work on DAWANG.

“I want to show people from all cultural backgrounds what modern Chinese can be, how we can appreciate each other’s culture as long as you know what we’re talking about. But it’s still a problem, a line that we’re slowly trying to remove, that people say ‘Why are you wearing our stuff? Do you appreciate it? Or are you just, you know, finding it as a costume? … we want to represent modern Chinese in [more of] a lifestyle, more streetwear, more accessible.

A model fanning herself with a large gray feather poses in a patchwork DAWANG shirt against a red background.
The DAWANG collection includes qipaos, a Chinese garment whose roots date back to the 16th century. As the DAWANG website explains, “the qipao is more than a dress – it’s a symbol of versatility, resilience, and growth.” (Photo courtesy of DAWANG/Gu Yuenai)

In just four years, Wang’s brand has built a prominent reputation on the Chinese scenes in New York and Los Angeles, with a polished online presence one would expect from such a young designer. On the DAWANG website, with beautiful velvets and shiny patchwork, blog posts on the history of qipao and brocade.

Journalism graduate Julia Lin spent about a year helping Wang with these blog posts, but was first introduced to DAWANG when she was looking for an article that matched Wang’s vision. His mother, Judge Tana Lin, who became the first Asian-American federal judge in Washington state after being sworn in last December, was looking to “make a statement” during her Senate nomination hearings with a bespoke suit.

“[My mom] wanted to represent Chinese Americans because she was the first in our state to hold that position. And so I just DMed Daisy, and I was like, ‘Hey, like, here’s the situation,’ and Daisy was super excited about it,” Lin said.

Lin’s work with Wang revolved around the “storytelling” aspects of DAWANG – blog posts and a social media presence that further describe the brand’s mission. While she found the experience rewarding in many ways, it particularly resonated with Wang’s aspirations behind her designs.

“Work with [Daisy] was a great opportunity for me,” Lin said. “I’m obviously passionate about the Asian American experience and representing our culture. I feel like you don’t see that in the media, you don’t necessarily see it in fashion, the way Daisy does it. Or if you do, it’s not by an Asian designer, or there’s some kind of weird cultural appropriation innuendo. So to work directly with Daisy and help her tell what these clothes mean to her and how she wants them to be accessible to everyone has been really cool.

A model in a DAWANG top poses in a green velvet curtain.
(Photo courtesy of DAWANG/@aaarkam)

While the brand remains modest in size for now, fans in Wang’s circles and beyond have expressed their appreciation for DAWANG’s work.

“I really love seeing a refreshed look on Chinese-inspired clothes and clothes,” said Annalee Swagerman, a freshman at The New School. “I know some of the work is in older styles from mainland China, but it’s really nice to see an urban take on older styles.

Most valuable to her, Wang describes receiving immense support from New York’s Asian community around her work — and not just from other designers. Founders and makers of everything from seltzers to authors have offered Wang advice, collaboration, and even home-cooked meals based on their shared interest in representation.

“Because I’m building a startup that’s tied to our culture, I have the opportunity to meet many different founders – within the industry or not – who work towards much the same goal: to celebrate Asian cultural aesthetics. …everyone has been so supportive, even though we are from different countries like Korea, China, Japan, but here we feel like we belong together, like we belong to one community.

Wang said that sense of belonging has been particularly important during the rise in anti-Asian hatred in recent years. Although appalled by the prevalence of such racism in America, Wang credits the celebratory intent of her work and that of others as helping her find peace — a sentiment shared by fans.

“Coming from someone who is Asian and has been hated for our culture, to see it urbanized and really appreciated and celebrated and brought back…it’s really exciting,” Swagerman said. “I really like what they are doing as an Asian person.”

Even beyond its roots in the Chinese-American community, DAWANG has much to contribute to the cultural exchange trend.

“I think what DAWANG has to offer is a really fresh perspective on what it means to wear and share their culture,” Lin said. “Especially in mainstream fashion, often when you see designs made by Asian Americans, it’s more traditional clothing or it’s this qipao style, but taken by big companies – like PrettyLittleThing or a boohoo – and done in a way where the story and cultural sensitivity are lacking. But for Daisy, I think she brings a unique, honest, and youthful point of view.

A model in a DAWANG outfit poses against a white background on a city rooftop.
(Photo courtesy of DAWANG/Casper Yen)

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