“Prabal Gurung and Phillip Lim Transition into Costume Designers for Disney+ Series ‘American Born Chinese’.”

Prabal Gurung and Phillip Lim

Disney+ is set to release a highly anticipated new series called “American Born Chinese” later this month. The show features three stars from the acclaimed film “Everything Everywhere All at Once” – Michelle Wu, Ke Huy Quan, and Stephanie Hsu. Based on a graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang, the series tells the story of a regular high school student who becomes entangled in a conflict with Chinese mythological gods. Adding to the excitement, renowned New York fashion designers Prabal Gurung and Phillip Lim have created costumes for two of the main characters in their first Hollywood project – Yeoh’s Goddess of Mercy Guanyin and Daniel Wu’s Monkey King.

Although Gurung and Lim have extensive experience in designing for runways and red carpets, this was their first venture into television. It is quite rare for such collaborations to happen, as the fashion and TV production cycles often clash and are challenging to synchronize.

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However, as prominent members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, Gurung and Lim felt they had a unique perspective to offer to this project. Gurung, a co-founder of Goldhouse, a non-profit organization promoting AAPI leadership and cultural representation, and Lim, who has raised funds to combat anti-Asian violence through the AAPI Community Fund, saw this as an opportunity to showcase their heritage and make a statement. For Gurung, it was also a chance to continue dressing Yeoh, whom he had previously worked with for the Met Gala and other events. They wanted to demonstrate that Asians and Asian Americans deserve recognition and a platform to tell their stories.

In a conversation involving Gurung, Lim, and Joy Cretton, the show’s costume designer, the designers expressed their motivations for joining the project. Lim shared his desire to find his place and belonging, not only within the fashion industry but also in representing the Chinese American experience through the Monkey King story. Gurung emphasized the power of coming together as a community and having their voices heard.

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Designing for television presented unique challenges compared to runway fashion. The aesthetics were different, requiring the designers to embrace ostentatiousness and gilded elements, unlike their usual focus on functionality and reality. Gurung found it easier to design for Michelle Yeoh’s character, staying within his signature style of floaty and beautiful garments. They could also avoid the pressures of sales and reviews, allowing for more creative freedom.

Collaborating with fashion designers on a TV show was a fairly unique experience for Cretton. She acknowledged the fast-paced nature of television production, which often necessitated improvisation and finding solutions on the go. While fashion designers strive for perfection, TV costume design requires flexibility and prioritizes camera angles and immediate visual impact.

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Gurung and Lim reflected on what they learned from the process. Gurung saw it as an opportunity to explore femininity and strength in his designs, particularly when working with Michelle Yeoh. For Lim, collaborating with Cretton offered a broader perspective beyond their own vantage point, realizing the significance of supporting characters and the role their clothing plays in storytelling.

The premiere of “American Born Chinese” on Disney+ on May 24 is eagerly awaited by fans and industry observers alike. This collaboration between renowned fashion designers and the AAPI community promises to bring a fresh perspective and cultural representation to the screen.