Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Celebrating Anna May Wong in Fashion and Film on her Birthday

Anna May Wong

Anna May Wong.

Happy Birthday to Anna May Wong (January 3, 1905 – February 3, 1961), our first Chinese American film star, a fashion icon who was a muse to many artists, photographers and fashion designers. Thank you for paving the way for all of us.

Anna May Wong Certificate of Identity, August 28, 1924. Starting in 1909, Chinese entering or residing in the U.S. were required to carry a government-issued Certificate of Identity at all times. Even movie stars like Anna May Wong were subject to the law. CREDIT LINE: National Archives at San Francisco (54099). Photo by Lia Chang

Anna May Wong Certificate of Identity, August 28, 1924.
Starting in 1909, Chinese entering or residing in the U.S. were required to carry a government-issued Certificate of Identity at all times. Even movie stars like Anna May Wong were subject to the law.
CREDIT LINE: National Archives at San Francisco (54099). Photo by Lia Chang

Last summer, The Costume Institute’s blockbuster fashion exhibition China: Through the Looking Glass at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, had an entire room devoted to the fabulous Miss Anna May Wong, introducing her filmography and fashion icon status to a whole new generation.

Gallery View Chinese Galleries, Astor Forecourt. Photo by Lia Chang

Gallery View Chinese Galleries, Astor Forecourt. Photo by Lia Chang

In terms of shaping Western fantasies of China, no figure has had a greater impact on fashion than Ms. Wong. Born in Los Angeles in 1905 as Huang Liushuang (”yellow willow frost”), she was fated to play opposing stereotypes of the Enigmatic Oriental, namely the docile, obedient, submissive Lotus Flower and the wily, predatory, calculating Dragon Lady.

Yves Saint Laurent (French, 1936-2008) Evening ensemble, spring/summer 1980 Jacket of black silk gazar embroidered with gold metallic thread, gold beads, and silver sequins; skirt of black silk satin with gold lamé, Gift of Diana Vreeland, 1984 (1984.607.28a-c). Photo by Lia Chang “Anna May Wong in Picadilly,” 1929 Film still courtesy of the Kobal Collection

Yves Saint Laurent (French, 1936-2008)
Evening ensemble, spring/summer 1980
Jacket of black silk gazar embroidered with gold metallic thread, gold beads, and silver sequins; skirt of black silk satin with gold lamé, Gift of Diana Vreeland, 1984
(1984.607.28a-c). Photo by Lia Chang
“Anna May Wong in Picadilly,” 1929 Film still courtesy of the Kobal Collection

Vintage film stills and photographs by Edward Sheriff Curtis and Nickolas Muray, were paired with Haute Couture designs by Yves Saint Laurent, Ralph Lauren and John Galliano for the House of Dior inspired by Ms. Wong.

The montage of rare film clips edited by Wong Kar-Wai which played on screens overhead included Anna May Wong starring in The Toll of the Sea (1922) directed by Chester M. Franklin (Metro Pictures Corporation, UCLA Film & Television Archive); Piccadilly (1929) directed by E. A. Dupont (British International Pictures, Courtesy of Milestone Film & Video and British Film Institute); Daughter of the Dragon, 1931 directed by Lloyd Corrigan (Paramount Pictures, Courtesy of Universal Studios Licensing LLC); Shanghai Express, (1932) directed by Josef von Sternberg (Paramount Pictures, Courtesy of Universal Studios Licensing LLC); and Limehouse Blues (1934) directed by Alexander Hall (Paramount Pictures UCLA Film & Television Archive).

Also on display, a Travis Banton gown that Anna May Wong wore in Limehouse Blues (1934).

Gallery View Chinese Galleries, Astor Forecourt. Travis Banton (American, 1894–1958) Evening dress, 1934, worn by Anna May Wong, Black silk charmeuse embroidered with gold and silver sequins, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Anna May Wong, 1956; Film Still of Anna May Wong in “Limehouse Blues,”1934, courtesy of Paramount Pictures, Archive Photos, and Getty Images. Photo by Lia Chang

Gallery View Chinese Galleries, Astor Forecourt. Travis Banton (American, 1894–1958) Evening dress, 1934, worn by Anna May Wong, Black silk charmeuse embroidered with gold and silver sequins, Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Anna May Wong, 1956; Film Still of Anna May Wong in “Limehouse Blues,”1934, courtesy of Paramount Pictures, Archive Photos, and Getty Images. Photo by Lia Chang

Limited by race and social norms in America and constrained by one- dimensional caricatures in Hollywood, she moved to Europe, where the artistic avant-garde embraced her as a symbol of modernity.

Anna May Wong

Anna May Wong

 

Gallery View Chinese Galleries, Astor Forecourt. House of Dior (French, founded 1947) John Galliano (British, born Gibraltar, 1960) Dress, autumn/winter 1998–99 haute couture Pink silk jacquard and black silk satin embroidered with polychrome silk thread Courtesy of Christian Dior Couture. Photo by Lia Chang. Anna May Wong, 1931 Photograph by Nickolas Muray (American, born Hungary, 1892-1965), courtesy of Paramount/The Kobal Collection. Photo by Lia Chang

Gallery View Chinese Galleries, Astor Forecourt. House of Dior (French, founded 1947)
John Galliano (British, born Gibraltar, 1960)
Dress, autumn/winter 1998–99 haute couture
Pink silk jacquard and black silk satin embroidered with polychrome silk thread Courtesy of Christian Dior Couture. Photo by Lia Chang.
Anna May Wong, 1931
Photograph by Nickolas Muray (American, born Hungary, 1892-1965), courtesy of Paramount/The Kobal Collection. Photo by Lia Chang

The artists Marianne Brandt and Edward Steichen found a muse in Anna May Wong, as did the theorist Walter Benjamin, who in a 1928 essay describes her in a richly evocative manner: “May Wong the name sounds colorfully margined, packed like marrow-bone yet light like tiny sticks that unfold to become a moon-filled, fragranceless blossom in a cup of tea”.

Paul Smith (British, born 1946)
, Ensemble, autumn/winter 2011-12 Dress of black silk charmeuse embroidered with polychrome silk thread; pants of gray wool sharkskin, 
Courtesy of Paul Smith. Anna May Wong, 1933 
Photograph by Paul Tanqueray (British, 1905-1991), courtesy of © estate of Paul Tanqueray/National Portrait Gallery, London

Paul Smith (British, born 1946)
, Ensemble, autumn/winter 2011-12 Dress of black silk charmeuse embroidered with polychrome silk thread; pants of gray wool sharkskin, 
Courtesy of Paul Smith.
Anna May Wong, 1933 
Photograph by Paul Tanqueray (British, 1905-1991), courtesy of © estate of Paul Tanqueray/National Portrait Gallery, London

Gallery View Chinese Galleries, Astor Forecourt. Ralph Lauren (American, born 1939), Evening dress, autumn/winter 2011–12 Black synthetic double georgette and net embroidered with black silk thread and beads Courtesy of Ralph Lauren Collection. Photo by Lia Chang; Film still of Anna May Wong in “Daughter of the Dragon,” 1931, courtesy of Paramount/The Kobal Collection.

Gallery View Chinese Galleries, Astor Forecourt. Ralph Lauren (American, born 1939), Evening dress, autumn/winter 2011–12 Black synthetic double georgette and net embroidered with black silk thread and beads Courtesy of Ralph Lauren Collection. Photo by Lia Chang; Film still of Anna May Wong in “Daughter of the Dragon,” 1931, courtesy of Paramount/The Kobal Collection.

Gallery View Chinese Galleries, Astor Forecourt, Anna May Wong Evening dress, John Galliano (British, born Gibraltar, 1960) for House of Dior (French, founded 1947), autumn/winter 1998–99 haute couture; Courtesy of Christian Dior Couture. Photo by Lia Chang; Anna May Wong, 1925 Photograph by Edward Sheriff Curtis (American, 1868-1952)

Gallery View Chinese Galleries, Astor Forecourt, Anna May Wong Evening dress, John Galliano (British, born Gibraltar, 1960) for House of Dior (French, founded 1947), autumn/winter 1998–99 haute couture; Courtesy of Christian Dior Couture. Photo by Lia Chang; Anna May Wong, 1925 Photograph by Edward Sheriff Curtis (American, 1868-1952)

Watch the trailer of ANNA MAY WONG: IN HER OWN WORDS, a film by Yunah Hong.

Anna May Wong Wikipedia

Arlan Huang poses in front of his painting, "Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love" of Philip Ahn and Anna May Wong, at the home of Marilynn K. Yee and George Chew on September 13, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Arlan Huang poses in front of his painting, “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love” of Philip Ahn and Anna May Wong, at the home of Marilynn K. Yee and George Chew on September 13, 2014. Photo by Lia Chang

Photos: Inside “China: Through the Looking Glass” at The Met with Wong Kar-Wai, Vivienne Tam, Wendi Murdoch, Anna Wintour and More

Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

Lia Chang. Photo by Garth Kravits

Lia Chang. Photo by Garth Kravits

Lia Chang is an award-winning filmmaker, a Best Actress nominee, a photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Examiner.comJade Magazine and Playbill.com.

All text, graphics, articles & photographs: © 2000-2016 Lia Chang Multimedia. All rights reserved. All materials contained on this site are protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written permission of Lia Chang. You may not alter or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the content. For permission, please contact Lia at lia@liachang.com

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