Shanghai Social Diary in New York: Museum of Chinese in America

The Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) is currently presenting two fashion exhibitions highlighting Chinese designs, like this red Vera Wang wedding dress.

New York – The recently relocated Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) in Chinatown here has two wonderful fashioned-themed exhibits on view until September 29. I was among the guests Board Chair Patty Tang and Executive Director Helen Koh invited to a preview.

The sleek new MOCA, located at 211-215 Centre Street, turned out to be a hidden jewel—a former machine shop transformed into museum space by Chinese-American architect Maya Lin, the acclaimed designer of Washington’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial (she was just a 21-year-old Yale senior when she won the memorial’s design competition in 1982).

Ms. Lin, Ms. Koh, and guest curator Mei Mei Rado accompanied us through a tour of the two exhibits, Shanghai Glamour: New Women 1910s-40s and Front Row: Chinese American Designers.

MOCA’s Front Row exhibit features modern garments by Chinese-American designers, such as these reinterpreted qipaos by (l. to r.) Zang Toi, Peter Som, and Vivienne Tam.

MOCA has relocated to a former factory redesigned by architect and Vietnam Veterans Memorial designer Maya Lin in New York’s Chinatown.


The Shanghai Glamour exhibit includes clothing, accessories, posters, and other ephemera associated with Shanghai fashions of the ’20s worn by different strata of society.

At a time when the city was considered the “Paris of the East,” female fashion represented quintessentially modern Chinese style.

Twelve dresses in the exhibition are from the China National Silk Museum in Hangzhou, and three are from private collections in New York, passed on to the descendants of prominent Shanghai families who immigrated to the U.S. after World War II.

Guest curator Mei Mei Rado stands in front of one of the many posters that represent life in Shanghai in the first part of the 20th century, when the city was at its most glamorous.

Shanghai Glamour displays accessories, posters, and lifestyle and period images from a time when the city was considered “the Paris of the East.”

The exhibit includes fashion items from private collections in New York that have been inherited by the descendants of Shanghai matriarchs who resettled in the U.S.


The Front Row exhibit showcased the creations of sixteen acclaimed Chinese-American fashion designers: Thomas Chen, David Chu, Melinda Eng, Jade Lai, Derek Lam, Wayne Lee, Humberto Leon & Carol Lim, Phillip Lim, Mary Ping, Peter Som, Anna Sui, Vivienne Tam, Yeohlee Teng, Zang Toi, Vera Wang, and Jason Wu.

Front Row and Shanghai Glamour at the MOCA draw parallels between 20th-century Shanghai and 21st-century New York, both centers of fashion innovation with worldwide influence.

MOCA Executive Director Helen Koh gave us a private tour of the exhibition.

Luke Yang and Sharon Bush admire Vera Wang’s extravagant wedding dress in red, a symbol of good fortune in China.

Judy Price, founder of The National Jewelry Institute and Avenue Magazine, with Diane Shaffer, docent of Asian art at the Metropolitan Museum.

Keiko Nishida and Jeanne Lawrence.

In video interviews, Jason Wu (seen here) and other designers showcased at MOCA discuss the cultural impact of contemporary fashion.

MOCA Executive Director Helen Koh next to three reinterpreted modern qipaos.

Vivienne Tam’s red and black felted wool cut-out dress.

L. to r.: Evening gown by Jason Wu, ensemble by Mary Ping, suit by David Chu, and dress by Jade Lai.

A display of outfits by Nautica founder David Chu (left) and Opening Ceremony’s Humberto Leon and Carol Lim.

Men’s and women’s garments by Phillip Lim.

A studded leather ensemble by Anna Sui.

After the tour, we lunched across the street at the Mondrian Hotel.

We dined under the restaurant’s skylight and chandeliers.

MOCA Board Chair Patty Tang and Executive Director Helen Koh.

Keiko Nishida, architect Maya Lin, and Rennie Taylor.

We enjoyed our lunch in this lovely setting after viewing MOCA’s enchanting fashion exhibits.


On November 14, 2013, MOCA will hold its annual Legacy Awards Gala at Cipriani 42nd Street, honoring individuals for their outstanding achievements and contributions to the ongoing legacy of the Chinese in America.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and former Vice Chairman of Citicorp Pei-Yuan Chia will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award, and celebrity chef Ming Tsai will be honored with the Legacy Award.


Photos by Jeanne Lawrence.

*Urbanite Jeanne Lawrence reports on lifestyle and travel from her homes in San Francisco, Shanghai, and New York, and wherever else she finds a good story.

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