December 4, 2015 - April 17, 2016
CHINATOWN PRETTY aims to celebrate the ingenuity, flair, and beauty of Chinatown and its longtime residents. The exhibition features large format photographic portraits and stories of the residents. CHINATOWN PRETTY is accompanied by a street-style blog and Instagram, which continues “Chinatown Sartorialist,” a story they produced for The Bold Italic.
Andria Lo and Valerie Luu spent the last year scouting the hills of Chinatown, stopping and chatting with seniors as they went about their daily routines. “We captured individuals whose outfits brought us joy,” said Lo. “Everyone we spoke to tended to be over the age of 70.”
One such subject included Shi Ping Tay, an 80-year-old resident who donned a silver bob with bangs she cut herself. Her outfit consisted of acid wash jeans and plaid scarf tied over a floral blouse -- “all of which were given to me,” Tay said.
Clothes can tell a story -- and in the case of Chinatown, it’s a story about a generation of men and women who emigrated from China to Chinatown, and their fashion philosophy (staying warm) and economic ideals (making their own clothes or preserving the ones they already have). Short biographies based on interviews, conducted with the help of Cantonese-speaking translators, will be displayed next to the photos.
“Chinatown fashion has touches of ‘Accidental Chinese Hipster’ and ‘Advanced Style’ (a reference to popular street fashion blogs), Hong Kong chic, and modern-day minimalism,” said Luu. “It’s really interesting how our subjects didn’t view their outfits as anything special, but once you start to notice Chinatown fashion, you’ll see that it’s very intentional and inspiring.”
Many of the looks combined urban utilitarianism with unexpected sartorial choices: customizing pants with interior hand-stitched pockets to hide grocery money or layering eight different shirts and sweaters to stay warm - each layer with its own fabric and color. Floral was also a common motif -- it was found on canes, baseball caps, patterned outdoor pajama sets and embroidered on Mandarin collars.
Another common thread were the subjects’ resourcefulness: many wore gifted clothes or retained pieces that they sewed themselves over thirty years ago.
Lo and Luu came to realize that money might have been a factor as to why many Chinatown seniors dress the way they do, but the outcome is undeniable: their fashion sense is unexpected, economical, functional and not just pretty, but Chinatown Pretty.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS:
Photographer Andria Lo and writer Valerie Luu are the duo behind Chinatown Pretty, a street-style blog and Instagram (@chinatownpretty). Chinatown Pretty celebrates the street-style of seniors living (and grocery shopping) in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
This exhibit is their second collaboration with CCDC telling neighborhood stories from San Francisco’s Chinatown. In early 2016, they did a self-titled photo exhibit focused on Chinatown fashion.
Andria Lo is a freelance documentary and editorial photographer whose work can be found in Lucky Peach, SF Magazine and Jarry. She was formerly the photo director of the Asian American arts and culture publication, Hyphen Magazine. In 2015, she received a public art grant to feature her collaborations with San Francisco Botanical Garden on Muni buses. Find her online at andrialo.com.
Valerie Luu writes about San Francisco. Past projects include Sublet SF, where she subletted in eight neighborhoods in two years (including a six-month stint in Chinatown.) She’s currently working #100drinksdivis, a series of Instagram portraits where she has a drink with 100 different neighbors around Divisadero. She is also 1/2 of Rice Paper Scissors, a Vietnamese pop-up restaurant.