Meet the senior style stars that rule Chinatowns across the US

Chinatown is known for its food, its shopping and its history. But two friends want it to be celebrated for something else — its utterly unique street style.

San Francisco-based photographer Andria Lo and writer and caterer Valerie Luu met through the food scene more than six years ago, and loved getting together in the Bay Area’s Chinatown. And the more time they spent there, Lo said, “we noticed this really special style amongst the senior citizens.”

What started as a pet project — snapping pictures and interviewing snazzy seniors — became a passion, as the pair traveled the country to visit bustling Chinatowns in Oakland, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Chicago and New York. Now, their photographs and interviews are compiled into a book, “Chinatown Pretty” (Chronicle Books), out Sept. 22.

“We have photos and scenes from all of the Chinatowns we visited,” Lo said. “It’s about the people in it and their profiles, and it’s also sort of this love letter to historic Chinatowns across the country. We’re trying to capture the energy and the spirit in each of the cities.”

To do this, they ventured out on Sunday mornings, when people were grocery shopping and when Chinatown is the “most alive,” Luu said.

They would spend hours trying to find the perfect subjects, and many smartly dressed locals resisted the attention. Luu estimates they had about a 10% success rate getting people to talk; oftentimes, a language barrier made it difficult to communicate. Asian seniors can be private, and don’t love being photographed, Lo said. More, many potential subjects didn’t understand what was special about what they were wearing, despite the pair’s best efforts to convince them otherwise.

But their clothing is highly specific to Chinese culture, Luu said. It’s often a mix of different eras — pairing vintage with modern pieces — as well as a blend of bright colors and florals.

Chinatown Pretty by Andria Lo and Valerie Luu, published by Chronicle Books 2020.Chinatown Pretty by Andria Lo and Valerie Luu, published by Chronicle Books 2020.Chinatown Pretty by Andria Lo and Valerie Luu, published by Chronicle Books 2020.Chinatown Pretty by Andria Lo and Valerie Luu, published by Chronicle Books 2020.Chinatown Pretty by Andria Lo and Valerie Luu, published by Chronicle Books 2020.Chinatown Pretty by Andria Lo and Valerie Luu, published by Chronicle Books 2020.Chinatown Pretty by Andria Lo and Valerie Luu, published by Chronicle Books 2020.Chinatown Pretty by Andria Lo and Valerie Luu, published by Chronicle Books 2020.Chinatown Pretty by Andria Lo and Valerie Luu, published by Chronicle Books 2020.Chinatown Pretty by Andria Lo and Valerie Luu, published by Chronicle Books 2020.chinatown-pretty-book-cover

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