Chinatown Lookbook focuses on Chinese youth living in Prato — my hometown and home to one of Italy’s largest Chinese communities — and their use of fashion as an exploration of their self-identities.
My work stems from a personal sense of belonging to the local Chinatown, a district of Prato that is today considered derelict and a no-go area by a vast majority of Italians.
Prato was once a model Italian city famed for its textile industry, but in the 1980s the city entered a steep and dramatic decline. As the final act of Prato’s industrial evolution played out, a new actor — the Chinese migrant — arrived from Wenzhou into this most Italian city and as of now, the Chinese population is estimated to be around 15.000 people, about 10% of the overall population. Most of them are small company owners or employed as workers what has become of the largest fast-fashion production district in Italy, supplying low quality garments to the fast fashion chains all over Europe, often disregarding rules on legal employment, safety and taxation. The local Italian community came to view their Chinese neighbours as unwelcome intruders and illegal Chinese workshops as blights on the city's proud industrial heritage. In response, the Chinese community refused to fully engage with the Pratese community and because of this, they are still seen as secretive, secluded and unwelcome settlers.
For me, an Italian Chinatown local, photography has always been a tool to connect with the community, especially the younger generations. Growing up around their family's fast-fashion companies and shops, many second and third generation Chinese have developed a keen eye for fashion. Chinatown has become the place where the local Chinese fashionistas showcase the latest looks. Inspired by both Asian trends, which are mostly obscure to the Italian audience, and the more familiar glamour of European and American fashion, sought after by the new wealthy of the Chinese community, a new and unique fashion identity is emerging in Prato's Chinatown and it tells a story of migration, consumerism, longing and belonging. It tells the story of Prato, an unlikely (fast) fashion capital of the suburbs, a border town between East and West.