2013.021.011 Oral History with Thomas Chen
Thomas Chen was born in Wuhan, China and moved to Detroit at 11 because of his father’s job. Chen had trouble speaking English but felt assimilated anyway because of his observations of clothing. Chen believes that New York is the true capitol of American fashion. His background as Chinese-American creates a duality.


THOMAS CHEN: My name is Thomas Chen and I am the designer of Emanuel. I was born in Wuhan, China, and I immigrated to the States when I was 11 with my family.

THOMAS CHEN: I think fashion, uh, instinctively, for me, was a visual language, um, you know, English was my second language, and the visual language of um how people dressed kind of helped me to assimilate into uh the American culture.

THOMAS CHEN: I also have you know a wonderful mentor to-- and Yeohlee who I trained under for three years and um you know I learned a great deal from her um not just from the fashion perspective but also um you know the idea of um that fashion can be more than can be uh more than just clothes it can be an art form in itself.THOMAS CHEN: To start my own line has always been a dream of mine and you know it's a way of giving me a purpose to kind of be examine the world around me and then to kind of organize, a voice, to um you know to be heard in that world. American I feel like there's always a duality in my um way of thinking that maybe that's not so conscious, but um I think un the underlining themes are always you know there's a certain duality you know uh maybe in like just the very simple fact of something like a reversible coat, you want to be Chinese on one a some days and maybe you want to be American some other days, so um so that's, to me, um, the duality of my background I think, really, kind of comes through unconsciously in in my work.THOMAS CHEN: The Albers pocket shirt is um a signature piece, because I've always been interested in playing around with uh graphic elements in uh specifically in stripes, so by engineering and cutting the stripes in a way that's um that uh the stripes become mitered. It's a graphic display um and I think it's uh it's a running thread throughout my um different seasons.

THOMAS CHEN: The reversible coat is another signature of mine um you know on one side is it's could be a plain trench and um when you reverse it is a color blot and um you know very, so you have that versatility from um going from kind of a daytime look to a more of a fun an and evening look if you want.THOMAS CHEN: I think the fashion today is just so um so much on the global level that you know anyone anywhere in the world can relate to it somehow because everyone wears clothe and they can have opinion about you know of clothing and fashion. In a large way that it it's a connection between all the different cultural backgrounds.

THOMAS CHEN: Living in Beijing for a year and working there um you know was a way of finding my roots in you know my Chinese roots and but ironically I think uh what I came out-- out of the-- what I got out of the experience is that I am being Chinese is like you d' you really a umm a choice but being an American you it's a choice, it's an idea. Um so for me that meant um New York is um the place that I really wanted to um come back to.

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