When I was at Leo Burnett New York, I sat next to a Japanese designer and one day, he had an epiphany and told Skyler and me, “I just realized why I like Chipotle. It’s because it has rice! So good, man…so good.” Years later I realized that was true for me, too. I’ll eat anything if it has rice: burrito bowls, pilaf, halal chicken over yellow rice, Rice Krispies Treats, anything. And though I’ve never tried “cauliflower rice,” I’d give it a shot.
If you grew up in a Southeast Asian home or ate in Chinatown or went grocery shopping in an Asian market, you surely saw on one of these ubiquitous patterns, adorned on plates, bowls, spoons and chopsticks, sometimes referred to as a longevity pattern. I mean – I ate all my rice out of this bowl my whole life. I don’t anymore, but I do get nostalgic for them. And that’s when I had an idea:
THIS, I thought to myself, NEEDS TO BE ON AN ALL-OVER PRINT SWEATER.
And as I thought that, I accidentally shared the thought with a friend. And like any song that gets stuck in your head, the only way you can get it out is to express it, or in this case, put it on paper and eventually design the whole thing and get it printed and made into an actual thing that you can hold in your hands.
So that’s what I did.
It took a while, to clear the other projects off my to-do list, but with Tết looming, I skipped my usual Procreate process and went straight to Photoshop via Astropad Studio using Kyle’s brushes. I tried to find an Asian movie or show to watch to help me get in the right headspace, but the closest thing available was Murder on the Orient Express (2017), which was…fine.
Getting the balance and spacing between all the pattern lines was tough and took a while, and after fudging and shifting them around, I got it in a good place. Now I just had to do it three more times for the backside, right arm, and left arm templates. I decided that instead of just using the same front.psd file for the other three templates, I’d retrace it, because although this sweater is inspired by the “longevity” pattern, which is a mass-produced to the point that ensures its longevity long after this planet melts and drowns, each side has to be special.
I also wanted to replace the Chinese character in the center which said “longevity,” with “đặc biệt” (“special” in Vietnamese), because anyone who wears this is đặc biệt.
If you’ve ever seen a longevity plate or bought a Supreme one for $100, you’ll notice that there are other floral accents on the edges. I couldn’t put this flower on the sides of the sweater because the template has bleed, trim, and safety areas, so I painted them onto the elbows, and that’s how we ended up with this look:
And before we have a bad reaction to the cultural appropriating model, the sweater website uploads my images onto this stock man’s body so I can see it mocked up.
It’s strange. I was never big on AZN Pryde [sic] when I was growing up in middle school, but I thought the song “Got Rice,” was pretty good, and that was probably the closest I got to showing pride in being Asian. So the recent uptick in Asian-inspired projects has been out of the norm for me. It’s either because of the current political climate where the Trump administration wants to limit refugees and end birthright citizenship; or the smash hit movie, Crazy Rich Asians; or growing older and realizing that I have to understand my culture and traditions to pass it on to my cat or dog or whatever; or maybe it was after watching Ali Wong’s last stand-up special.
It’s hard to tell.