Allure Editor-In-Chief: Fashion Industry Still Thinks Of Asians As A Monolith

Michelle Lee spoke to HuffPost about where progress is needed, as well as her optimism about representation.
Allure Editor-in-Chief Michelle Lee attends the Apex for Youth 27th annual Inspiration Awards gala at Cipriani Wall Street on
Allure Editor-in-Chief Michelle Lee attends the Apex for Youth 27th annual Inspiration Awards gala at Cipriani Wall Street on April 17 in New York City.

Michelle Lee got real about some areas where the fashion industry needs work. 

The Allure editor-in-chief made history last year by putting three Asian models on the cover of the magazine. Prior to that, the outlet had only featured two people of Asian descent on the cover in its almost three decades of existence. But Lee told HuffPost at the Apex for Youth Inspiration Awards gala last week that the industry has a “misunderstanding” when it comes to Asians, and the fashion world has yet to understand the group is not a monolith.

Lee acknowledged the criticism her own magazine received after putting the models, who were of East Asian descent, on the cover last year.

“If you even think about South Asians ― that was a big comment we got a lot on our cover with the three Asian models. People were like, ‘Well where are the South Asians?’ And similarly with ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ too I think that was one of the big comments: ‘Where are the South Asians in it?’” Lee recalled. 

But the editor-in-chief argued that the public shouldn’t “put that much emphasis on the one movie, the one magazine cover to represent everyone.” These moments need to be a springboard for further representation and more projects that showcase diversity across Asian America, Lee said.

“We’re gonna start to see more and more projects, more and more covers, more and more representation around, and then there’s going to be less emphasis on this one movie having to have everyone represented,” she said.

Featuring Asians as cover models was a groundbreaking move in itself considering a cultural landscape that’s long been hesitant to paint Asians as stars. A 2017 study of more than 3,700 magazine covers from U.K.- and U.S.-based publications found that Asians made up less than 1% of cover models.

Lee said that the entire “ecosystem” has evolved to become just a bit more aware of gaps in representation, and she expects the fashion industry to become more inclusive toward Asians. The calls for increased diversity and the success of last year’s “Crazy Rich Asians” proved to the world that there are many Asian “coverworthy stars,” she said. But she acknowledged that “someone has to be the person to take the leap and do it” first.

“I think people in the media follow others’ examples. They like to see things that are successful,” she told HuffPost. “I think the fact that we put three Asian models on the cover this year, we put Gemma Chan on the cover recently, I think that when people see things like that, and they see it’s successful, it proves to everyone else that it can work too.”