After making Hollywood history last year, Warner Bros.’ “Crazy Rich Asians” is headed to the Smithsonian, just in time for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month.
The blue gown worn by Constance Wu in the film is being donated by Marchesa to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington and will be presented on Saturday in Los Angeles at the first annual “The Party: A Smithsonian Celebration of Asian Pacific Americans.”
Reached by phone, “Crazy Rich Asians” director Jon M. Chu, who is in prep on his next film, an adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s stage musical “In The Heights,” was speechless over the honor. He described the elation of seeing fans replicate the dress, worn by Wu in one of the film’s pivotal scenes.
“It became a Cinderella dress for people,” he said. “I remember seeing moms make it for their little girls, I remember seeing women wear it with a sense of pride. It became literally a fairy-tale dress for people. We talked about how this would make her feel and how powerful it would be for her — and that it’s also her choice to wear.”
The gown joins a collection of entertainment artifacts including Dorothy’s ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” and a handmaid’s costume from Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Adapted from Kevin Kwan’s bestseller of the same name, the 2018 romantic comedy told the story of Rachel Chu (Wu, who also stars on the recently renewed “Fresh Off the Boat,”), a professor from New York who travels to Singapore with her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) and meets his wealthy relatives.
With an ensemble including Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan and Awkwafina, “Crazy Rich Asians” marked the first modern-set Hollywood film in 25 years to star an all-Asian cast. It went on to earn two Golden Globe nominations and grossed $238 million worldwide.
Theodore S. Gonzalves, curator in the Division of Culture and Community Life at the National Museum of American History, was instrumental in procuring the piece.
“The film’s use of fashion is not merely decorative or secondary,” Gonzalves said in a statement. “The cast’s clothing plays a crucial role in marking social class among its characters — from multi-generational moneyed elites of Peranakan (Straits-born Chinese immigrants), to the nouveau riche strivers of Singapore, to working-class Chinese immigrants in the United States and their Asian American model minority progeny.”
The dress makes a memorable impression in the film when Rachel makes her grand entrance at a swanky Singaporean wedding in the floor-length Marchesa, a Grecian style tulle number with a floral applique that debuted in the designer’s fall 2016 collection. Costume designer Mary E. Vogt won a Costume Designers Guild award for her work on the film.
For filming, which occurred before sexual abuse allegations broke surrounding Marchesa designer Georgina Chapman’s now-ex-husband Harvey Weinstein, the gown was tailored to Wu’s height and its original long, billowing sleeves were removed. Wu attended the 2019 Met Gala in Marchesa, accompanied by Chapman.
“I think that it represents this moment of arrival,” said Lisa Sasaki, director of the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Center, who teamed with Gonzalves to track down the gown. “There’s a sense of arrival for Asian Americans into the mainstream.”
Hosted by the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Center and held at City Market Social House, the event will recognize honorees for their historic and cultural contributions to music, film, sports and the culinary arts, including hip-hop musician Jay Park, Sacramento Kings owner Vivek Ranadivé, jazz pioneers Hiroshima and Helene An and the An family.
The Party will also launch the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Keystone Initiative, an effort to raise funds and support for the Smithsonian’s first permanent Asian Pacific American Gallery. Sasaki hopes to follow in the footsteps of the Smithsonian Latino Center’s Molina Family Latino Gallery dedicated to the experiences of Latino Americans, which is set to open in 2021.
Her vision is of a presence within the Smithsonian that broadens understanding of the diversity and span of Asian American and Pacific Islander culture, history and experience. The crucial first steps toward that goal, she reminds, will not be possible without community support.
“We can’t make this happen without all of our communities — plural — coming together and working to support this, not just financially but with their stories and their expertise,” she said. “These are the things we’re going to need in order to build a gallery or an exhibition that truly is reflective of all of the diversity of the APA community.”