An Intimate Portrait Series to Uplift the Asian Community

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Yan and ZanePhotography by Katsu Naito, Styling by Jason Rider

The rising label Commission, photographer Katsu Naito and stylist Jason Rider combine forces to create a special charity photo book of the collection featuring a cast of all-Asian, streetcast men

When I first discovered Commission, I immediately thought of Asia in the 90s – the frenetic energy of big, cosmopolitan cities tempered by the chic, impeccably tailored workwear worn by city folks, who could be plucked right out from a Wong Kar-wai film or a Japanese city pop music video.

You see, it was always the intention at the birth of the label to “bring Asian beauty and culture to the forefront of the [fashion] industry and spotlight that through the most authentic and personal lens possible,” say the founders and designers Dylan Cao, Huy Luong and Jin Kay.

The three friends, with respective cultural heritage backgrounds from Vietnam and South Korea, created a roadmap for their designs by first drawing inspiration from the multi-faceted lives of their mothers. (Judging by photos, these women were boss ass ladies who ran their workplaces and households). From there, Commission has grown significantly in just a few years, nabbing a semi-finalist spot for the LVMH Prize with a collection of neat and sleek womenswear highlighted by sumptuous leather jackets, a Southeast Asian sensibility of mixing and matching textured prints, and structured shirts, skirts and trouser with strong masculine overtones.

As a natural extension of their brand, Commission recently debuted their much-anticipated menswear line. In conjunction, they collaborated with New York City photographer Katsu Naito and stylist Jason Rider to create a special charity photo book of the collection featuring a cast of all-Asian, streetcast men. All the proceeds from the book’s sales will help support APEX for Youth and AALDEF (The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund).

“By supporting AALDEF and Apex for Youth, hopefully, we can contribute to better equipping future generations of Asian Americans and immigrants with better resources to navigate through any potential challenges of living in America. We wanted to take part in nurturing those potential talents and creatives,” says Commission.

This project could not have come at a more crucial time, given the dramatic increase of hate crimes against Asians in the US and other parts of the western world. And as immigrants themselves, Cao, Luong and Kay understand the trials and tribulations of being perceived as foreign, coupled with misconceptions and stereotypes attached solely to race. “We think a project like this is just a small but necessary effort towards that heavy-lifting of defying these deep and loaded constructs around not just Asian men but Asian people in general in America. So not only featuring Asian male faces but working among and collaborating with a crew full of Asian creatives was also important to us,” they say.

To be sure though, the menswear was not a reaction to the current state of racial tension but a proactive approach toward furthering the narrative for better, more accurate representation and equity within the industry. “Having all come from Asia, we’re not as privy to the western-centric cultural trends related to racial representation that often conveniently result from times of turmoil; our menswear and its first collection are really about the world we know, grew up in and are inspired by.”

The images in the book counter any notion of caricature or diminishing depictions of Asian men often found in media and fashion. For Naito, his objective was to “create a natural environment to shoot, pull emotional qualities from each subject and focus on their humanity”. The expression, the tones and tender touches to the portraits echo his most known work, Once in Harlem, which brought a sense of social awareness and consciousness to an overlooked, predominantly Black community and neighbourhood.

With Commission, Naito achieves similar results, seeing this group of Asian men as who they are and not what outdated perceptions confine them to be. This collaboration with Commission is allowing us the opportunity to have a second look at the excellence and stylish dress of Asian men in the 80s and 90s because we probably overlooked them the first time around.

Buy a copy of Commission by Katsu Naito and Jason Rider here.