Creative director says her Chinese roots bring her back to China
Updated: 2013-02-18 11:09
By Kelly Chung Dawson in New York (China Daily)
As a creative director and consultant to the international media relations company KCD, Nian Fish has directed hundreds of fashion shows for the world's biggest brands.
On a typical morning, she is up at 6 am for an 18-hour day that includes consultations on set design, model casting, music and styling for designers including Calvin Klein and Tory Burch.
But the whirlwind of activities that now fills her days had humble beginnings: She directed her first talent show at age 10, in the lobby of a tenement building on New York's Broome Street.
Later, she directed shows in Forsyth Park as audiences swelled - and eventually, of course, on the glamorous stages of New York's Fashion Week. But during that time, entrance cost a quarter and "hot hors d'oeuvres" meant potato chips warmed on a radiator under the stairs.
"In most people's lives, there will be a thread somewhere on how you look at the world or who you are," she says. "For me, I love discovering and cultivating talents even then."
Fish, who is also an accomplished filmmaker, hopes to shift her focus to China in the coming years. In 2010, she visited the country for the first time and cried when her plane touched down.
"It was a part of me I had ignored," she says. "It was extremely emotional, because a big part of me felt like I was home."
She hopes to do large-scale "theatrical extravaganza-style" shows there, and cited Fendi's 2007 show on the Great Wall as an example of the Chinese appetite for entertainment.
As in most industries, US fashion companies are increasingly mindful of the Chinese market, she says.
She notes the professionalism of the Chinese production teams. "They absolutely delivered, and the work was impeccable. I think I inherited that work ethic from my mother: In my work, I will not leave until the job is done.
"There's something extremely gratifying about completing what you say you're going to complete. Not everyone feels that, but I saw it in China. They do what they say they're going to do, and they do their best. I relate to that."
Fish has worked with the Council of Fashion Designers of America on various film projects and directed the CFDA Awards.
"What is so refreshing about Nian is the integrity she brings to her work," says Steven Kolb, CEO of the CFDA. "She strives for perfection, but is so respectful of everyone's opinions around her. She is not without compromise and will accept change when it's for the best. Her ideas are big and she can make them happen."
He also noted her leadership role with the CFDA Health Initiative, which promotes healthy eating for models.
Francisco Costa, women's creative director of the Calvin Klein Collection, who has worked closely with Fish says: "I consider Nian to be a beacon of the fashion industry as well as a friend. She has an acute eye for modernity and always brings her unique perspective, experience and invaluable knowledge."
Born in Kobe, Japan, to an American soldier and a half-Japanese and half-Chinese mother, Fish's upbringing as an "army brat" took her to Germany, Hawaii and Norway, among other countries. At 9, her father left her mother, in a move that ultimately proved fortuitous.
"It was one of the most fortunate days of my life, because we moved to New York," she says. "My father still feels guilty sometimes, but I say, 'You know what? I'm so glad that happened because I ended up in New York, exactly where I belong."
In other countries, her bi-racial family had experienced pointed racism, she says. But as a child on New York's Lower East Side, she was suddenly surrounded by diversity.
"I think that's why I cast all these kids of different backgrounds in my talent shows," she says. "Because of my background, I've always really appreciated ethnic diversity, and I'm still very sympathetic to racial issues in fashion today. It's getting better though, and I'm doing what I can to help promote Asian models."
She is currently working on a film about bi-racial families, with a focus on her own.