Throughout a current nostalgic flip by my sixth grade yearbook, it dawned on me that dragons had been a ubiquitous a part of my Y2K childhood. We had been raised on Dragon Tales, Eragon and the Harry Potter sequence, so naturally I grew to like the intensive mythology and celestial grandeur round these legendary creatures. The prevalence of dragons prolonged to vogue, as nicely; you couldn’t stroll right into a mall with out seeing a pair of JNCO denims plastered with an undulating embroidered dragon, or a dragon-emblazoned Ed Hardy tee within the designated mall-dad space. Style designers and mass mall manufacturers alike drew inspiration from conventional Chinese language and Japanese depictions of the dragon, which turned a reigning motif of on a regular basis Y2K vogue—it wasn’t solely reserved for the realm of movie star. The dragon hit peak prominence within the 2000s and steadily pale away together with frosted suggestions and mp3 gamers. However now, an ideal storm is waking the slumbering Y2K dragon.
Lunar New Yr, celebrated by Chinese language and different Asian cultures, begins on February 10. Annually is assigned one of many 12 animals from the Chinese language zodiac and 2024 marks the Yr of the Dragon—an emblem of excellent luck, power and imperial authority in Chinese language folklore. Mix that with the continued Y2K vogue fervor and Home of the Dragon Season Two premiering this summer season, and it’s a robust confluence of cultural moments that can catapult the dragon into the highest animal motif of 2024.
The 12-year cycle of Lunar New Yr signifies that if we flip the clock again to 2000, that was additionally the Yr of the Dragon. It was the motif of the brand new millennium. The growth of Chinese language world commerce with Western nations on the time led to a broader change inside popular culture. Dressmaker Daisy Wang of DAWANG grew up in China through the early 2000s and recounts that “the celebration of getting into a brand new millennium and a dragon 12 months made the dragon motif such a standard use in each vogue state of affairs on the time.” Making use of the 20-year vogue development cycle math, 2024 is the primary Yr of the Dragon inside 20 years of 2000. How auspicious.
Cuff: Suzanne Kalan; Necklace: Rahaminov
Cuff and Tennis Necklace: Suzanne Kalan
Lunar New Yr is changing into an more and more important retail calendar occasion on a worldwide scale. Because the Asian luxurious market continues to develop quickly, we see extra manufacturers releasing particular collections impressed by the zodiac animal of the 12 months. In 2023, the Yr of the Rabbit spawned numerous rabbit-themed designer collections from manufacturers like Dior, Miu Miu and Mulberry—which laid the groundwork for Miffy-mania. Luxurious manufacturers began releasing Yr of the Dragon collections as early as December 2023, with a gradual trickle of campaigns going dwell all through January. Whereas almost all luxurious manufacturers middle their collections round dragon-branded signature merchandise, the inventive depiction of the dragon motif varies broadly.
The result’s a sartorial sampler platter of dragons starting from conventional and literal to summary and cartoonish. Even inside the similar assortment—Tory Burch’s for instance—you’ll see stylistic variance between an lovely dragon mini bag that’s successfully a stuffed animal, full with little leather-based strips as a mustache and a basic Tory crossbody with a delicate pavé crystal dragon intertwined on the brand clasp. For a extra conceptual method to the dragon motif, look to Bottega Veneta. Their signature Intrecciato luggage are enhanced with playful references to dragon scales inside the woven patterns (my private favourite is the Jodie, which has just a little “dragon tail” deal with). A hand-drawn dragon reminiscent of a kid’s crayon sketch adorns ready-to-wear knits and outwear in Marni’s assortment, matching the model’s playful spirit.
One notable development, nonetheless, is that manufacturers are collaborating with Chinese language artists to create customized dragon-themed paintings for his or her collections. Coach and BOSS contracted artists Lian Yang and Feng Tang, respectively, to include depictions of dragons aligned with conventional Chinese language artwork types. Yang mixed historical and modern methods to create her illustration for Coach—an ethereal Chinese language dragon with gold foil accents. Equally, Tang’s dragon paintings for BOSS was impressed by the fluid strains of conventional Chinese language calligraphy. Manufacturers using this method are hoping to focus on the cultural authenticity and storytelling of their collections.
Cuff: Suzanne Kalan
Cuff: Suzanne Kalan; Necklace: Rahaminov
Then there’s the nostalgic cartoon route. Simply as Miffy was the unofficial cartoon ambassador for the Yr of the Rabbit in 2023, dragon-type cartoon Pokémon are gracing Fendi’s signature jacquard emblem luggage for the Fendi x Frgmt x Pokémon Lunar New Yr assortment. This assortment straight faucets into the nostalgia amongst Pokémon followers, a lot of whom possible skilled the 1999-2000 period of Pokémania.
There’s a marked shift in how the style group is participating with Chinese language and Asian-inspired imagery by these Lunar New Yr collections. Throughout the 90s and 2000s, Y2K dragon motifs had been linked to a broader chinoiserie development in vogue that usually perpetuated dangerous Orientalist tropes. London-based Inventive Director and TikTok creator Sarah Hiraki remembers that she was “conscious about how standard Asian-inspired symbolism, like dragons, chopsticks, and cherry blossoms, had been within the mainstream media. I noticed everybody from Kate Moss to Lizzie McGuire sporting chinoiserie-inspired motifs, and this in fact coincided with an upswing within the recognition of different Asian imports, like anime, meals, and music.”
Hiraki, who identifies as an individual of blended heritage, elaborates: “the style developments of the time by no means felt like they had been by or for Asian folks; that they had a distinctly white viewers. The instance of this that sticks in my thoughts is an outdated Delia*s catalog […] the place a clearly Chinese language-inspired dragon high and skirt was labeled the ‘sushi’ set. It was all the time abundantly clear that these vogue statements had been extremely shallow, and homogenizing of Asian tradition and the Asian-American expertise.”
So what’s totally different in how vogue manufacturers are treating the dragon motif now?
In these 2024 Lunar New Yr collections, we see manufacturers deliberately collaborating with Chinese language and Asian artists, photographers, and fashions to prioritize their storytelling views. From the copywriting to the artwork, these campaigns emphasize the cultural significance of the dragon.
Hiraki expresses her pleasure about these collections: “I really look ahead to seeing manufacturers launch collections for Lunar New Yr, particularly once they’re working with Asian artists and designers. I hope that manufacturers are listening as a lot as they’re broadcasting, and going past simply pink, gold, and dragons, to inform a narrative about how we embrace and have a good time our traditions in our communities. Chinese language dragons look badass, and I believe folks from all backgrounds will proceed to gravitate towards them as a motif, a lot in the identical method that they did within the 2000’s.” She believes that as our mainstream tradition turned extra conscious of cultural appropriation within the 2010s, we noticed a shift away from caricaturization of Asian-inspired motifs. “Whereas Orientalist vogue definitely hasn’t disappeared, I believe most individuals are extra conscious of the alternatives they’re making when placing on one thing that is tied to cultural expression,” Hiraki concludes.
Compared to the 2000s, Wang feels that manufacturers nonetheless apply the identical design template by “including a dragon motif to a mass market (secure) product” quite than branching out to “check extra distinctive merchandise.” Taking a look at this 12 months’s luxurious model collections, it’s true that the majority showcase purses and ready-to-wear which are core to the model—with a dragon on them. Nonetheless, Wang attracts the excellence that now “there’s extra respect and assist” proven in direction of Asian artists from the posh model group. She predicts that vogue’s love for the dragon will return, and encourages Asian creatives to “inform extra tales behind the dragon motif and the meanings behind it.”
Exterior of the posh model sphere, classic and archive lovers are additionally bringing again the Y2K dragon. Vivienne Tam archive collector Amanda Walujono explains that dragons are among the many Chinese language-American designer’s hottest “China Stylish” motifs: “they had been prominently featured in quite a few collections, however particularly the S/S 2000 runway collections.”