47 Canal in NYC’s Chinatown is a small gallery that is a gathering place for Asian artists in the Big Apple. According to VOGUE, it also just served as the venue for CFGNY’s (Concept Foreign Garments New York) first fashion show. The label was started by two Asian-American artists/designers, Tin Nguyen and Daniel Chew, and uses Vietnamese materials and Ho Chih Minh City tailoring in a fresh and unexpected way for an American market.
The scope of their project is vast and densely layered. Chew points to their use of unexpected Asian materials: A jacket whose leather was sourced from a motorbike seat producer in the industrial sector of Ho Chih Minh City, bags and pants made from recycled woven plastics that are used to create plant canopies. There are familiar fabrics sourced from local bedding and pajama factories, who stock rolls of ugly dotted florals or popular children’s cartoons. In CFGNY’s hands, they become a baseball shirt covered in Pokémon. “When you think of Asian fabrics, you think of dragons, brocade, silk, however we’re using unconventional materials in weird ways that do come from Vietnam, but don’t read as Asian,” Nguyen says. “Our references are very specific to Asians growing up, but don’t necessarily read Asian to people.” The name Concept Foreign Garments “perfectly encapsulates the ideas,” Chew adds. “It’s more the idea that it’s foreign, even though it might not be. We as Asian-American people can be considered foreign.”
The pair sees their fashion as a starting point for a discussion of deeper issues in gay and Asian American identity.
“We make the clothes and use those moments to help tell the story,” Nguyen says. “We see fashion as a vessel for us to have this dialogue we’re interested in, about race, about sexuality, about identity.” Specifically, Chew explains, they hope to explore those common Asian-American experiences: reinforced racial and sexual stereotypes of gay Asian men on Grindr, the intraracial competition stoked by tokenism, or the pain of not fully belonging in America or Asia. “We all feel that alienation and we understand each other in a very specific way,” Nguyen says. “That’s a very big common bond, the alienation that we feel.”
Their artsy and tongue-in-cheek viewpoint is winning them an audience they feel right at home with.
Thus far, they have been supported by pre-orders from the Asian-American arts and fashion community that has happily swelled around them. (“A big dream of ours,” Chew admits, “was to get a big group of gaysians to roll up to the club together, and that’s actually happened.”) The next run will be distributed on their website, as they begin to ramp up production to meet the demand that has rocketed following the 47 Canal show—the collection’s many tongue-in-cheek details (i.e. the Pokémon shirt) have instant social media appeal. That brings us to the brand’s secondary “bootleg” name: Cute Fucking Gay New York, which sums things up nicely.