Guest blog post by Melody Stein.
Fashion and textile designer Sana Chen Aloui’s work is an embodiment of her own experiences. An American of Chinese and Tunisian descent, Aloui grew up everywhere but her home country. Aloui’s multi-cultural identity is based on a childhood spent moving between Benin, Macedonia, Egypt, Bangladesh, and Zimbabwe. Annual visits back to her grandmother’s home in the Bay Area of California became the lens through which she found eloquence and meaning in the shifting spaces between ethnicity, nationality, race, and culture.
Her collection, What Makes an American is a poignant reflection on the Chinese-American lifestyle of Aloui’s grandmother. Each garment reframes American nostalgia within the intricate fractures of cultural assimilation; in all of its aching loss, confusion, and eternal optimism. What Makes an American posits perceived opposites and argues not for homogeneity, but instead a more complex harmony. In the form of ric-rac trimmed bonnets, 1970’s inspired red and white striped tunics, and the well-worn patina of old denim, contexts are scrambled, upending expectations of “how things should be” and instead offering a collage of artful juxtaposition. The collection consists of seven looks featuring Aloui’s knit, printed, and draped designs reminiscent of thrift stores, DIY, and the gracefully worn silhouettes of old age.
While shown originally on the runway at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the collection is presented here modeled by Aloui’s grandmother, Cheng Borchert and photographed by her younger sister Ranya Aloui, currently a sophomore studying film at NYU. What Makes an American is about identity in the face of scale: from the process of bringing a family together to the recognition of a cultural past greater than a single individual.
Sana Chen Aloui is a recent graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Fashion and Textiles program. For more information: