Byline: Jaimie Wilson, Times-Union staff writer
Blair Woolverton walked out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon inspired. But it wasn't the film's stunning cinematography or gravity-defying action that captured her, it was the vivid costumes.
Woolverton, a local clothing designer and retailer, headed straight for Bistro Aix after the movie and sketched clothing designs on the paper tablecloth as she dined. By the time she left, with the tablecloth in hand, Woolverton had a new Asian-inspired design for one of her customers.
Crouching Tiger, a Chinese film, took this country by storm. It won rave reviews from critics, plus four Oscars, and has become the most financially successful foreign film of all time, grossing more than $100 million. Americans have also fallen in love with another Asian film, In the Mood for Love.
Suddenly, all things Asian are hot.
The Asian influence is noticeable in home decor, from high-end designer stores to the home section in your local Target. (And more is coming: Asian looks dominated the recent spring wholesale furniture market in High Point, N.C.) It can be seen in women's clothes -- walk into Belk or Stein Mart, and it won't take long to find the shiny fabrics, bold prints and frog clasps of traditional Asian garb. It's even earning its place in popular entertainment -- for example, in the classes in Japanese cooking and flower arranging that Koko's Japanese Restaurant on Fleming Island offers.
This isn't the first time Asian influences have ridden a popular trend.
"We saw a lot of Asian influences in the 16th century when trading started with the East," said Vibha Hutchins of Vibha Hutchins Design in Jacksonville.
"Now what you are seeing is quite a mix. A lot of brave designers and people have become more confident and are incorporating pure Oriental forms and Asian influences into their lives and are getting quite proud of having that mix," she said. "You can see that again in decorative elements. You even have major catalog companies that will carry reproductions of Chinese burial figures. It used to just be the jars and little boxes, accents, but now you've got the Tang horses, the old Chinese pottery, the Ceylon wares. . . . That shows how mass acceptance has been so wide."
Where has the latest Asian infusion come from?
Allison Arieff, senior editor of dwell, a modern home magazine, said it's impossible to pinpoint one specific cause. She attributes it in part to the fact that the Asian population in the United States is growing exponentially. She also points to the growing popularity of contemporary Asian artists and filmmakers, but even more factors are in the mix.
"A few years ago, there seemed to be this widespread quest for new sorts of spiritual fulfilment that was really pervasive," Arieff said. "That certainly helped to bring various Asian influences over here vis-a-vis watered-down pursuits of Buddhism or Taoism. . . .
"I think the influence is, of course, an effect of globalization -- how much traveling people are doing today, what people are seeing online, on film, in magazines, in galleries. This affects everything from fashion to cuisine."
Asian influences have certainly made their way into local cuisine. Not only are there more sushi spots and Thai restaurants, but more non-Asian restaurants are incorporating soy sauce, sesame seeds and oils, and ginger and wasabi dressings into their foods.
And adults aren't the only ones indulging in Asian styles. Young people are having fun with it, too, wearing shoes built to house a Nintendo Game-Boy and sporting items featuring cartoonish Sanrio creations such as Hello Kitty.
"And what about all those nose rings and piercings and all the henna decorations? …