On the same day London Fashion Week wraps and Milan Fashion Week begins, a new coffee table book has hit shelves featuring the elderly fashion elite of perhaps lesser known runways — the streets of Chinatowns across North America.
Chinatown Pretty is the brainchild of blogger Valerie Luu and photographer Andria Lo who visit various Chinatowns, including Vancouver’s, and photograph savvy seniors they spot rocking style they admire.
The San Francisco-based duo started by posting the street-style images on a blog, but those pictures have now been compiled into a coffee table book that was released Sept. 22.
“The clothes are really a patchwork of different eras, textures, and it really tells the stories of where they came from,” said Luu Tuesday on The Early Edition. “We just wanted to know where did they get their clothes from and who are the people that put together these outfits.”
The book mixes the format of street fashion photography and social documentary photography, both capturing the clothes but also sharing a bit of the subject’s personal story.
Luu said she and Lo would visit each Chinatown for about three hours, scoping out seniors grocery shopping or hanging with friends in the park.
When the pair spied someone they wanted to photograph, they would call out, “Pòh poh lay ho lang ah!” which translates in English to “Grandma, you look so pretty!” (Gùng gungs for grandpa.)
Luu said the tactic scored them a picture about 10 per cent of the time.
The two mimicked this approach in their hometown of San Francisco and in Los Angeles, Oakland, Chicago, Manhattan, and Vancouver. They said they had the most success in Vancouver, where about 90 per cent of people approached were happy to participate.
“People were really welcoming and really open with their lives and stories,” said Luu about the only Canadian city featured in the book.
She said it was inspiring for her and Lo to see in Vancouver how often seniors and younger people spent time together in the city’s Chinatown, from local mahjong social events to lobbying together for affordable housing in the neighbourhood.
“They’re working together to create their future of Chinatown and that’s one of the takeaways we want people to take from the book, which is that you can create the Chinatown you want,” added Luu.
The 200-plus page book is a compilation of material captured by Luu and Lo over the past few years and is available now through Chronicle Books.
Watch Valerie Luu and Andria Lo celebrate people and fashion in San Francisco’s Chinatown: