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The Rise of the Asian Model — A Moment or a Movement?

>> Is the current rise of Asian models a moment or a movement? The latter, Kwok Chan, director of international scouting at Marilyn Agency (which represents Liu Wen), tells Vogue in its December 2010 issue. Curiously, of all the most in-demand Asian models currently, none of them are Asian-American. "The only way I can explain why there are no big Asian-American names is, why are photo shoots done in some exotic locale and it looks like you've shot in someone's backyard?" Chan says. "Fashion is fantasy; it's about perception."


Dick Page, creative director of Shiseido, chalks up Asian models' increased visibility to "most economics. Everybody in the fashion/beauty industry recognizes the importance of global markets, and currently, China, Taiwan, and South Korea are at the forefront. The upshot is that customers want to see some version of themselves represented." And Anita Bitton, a casting director who has worked on Alexander Wang's shows and Gap campaigns, says that an ease in travel restrictions could also be a contributor: "Some of these girls had trouble obtaining work visas."

Liu Wen herself has noted a change within the last two seasons: "The challenge for me, and for Asian models in general, has been convincing editors, stylists, and photographers that we can have mass appeal. "But Asian, especially Chinese, models have become a stronger presence. Just a season or two ago, there weren't many models for me to talk with backstage in my native Mandarin. Now I usually have no trouble finding someone at any show." Du Juan adds: "There still are brands or clients that would not consider using an Asian model, but things are changing dramatically and quickly. I am not so sure if being Asian was or is a hindrance. In fact, I think it is a plus."

Because of the shift, Angelica Cheung, editor in chief of Vogue China, has noticed a shift in the Chinese ideal of beauty: "Traditionally the Chinese favored a classic kind of beauty — big, round eyes, cute small mouth, a high nose, and very fair skin. The Chinese models who have made it internationally are not beauties in the traditional sense, so they are modernizing the concept of beauty in China. When I was growing up in the seventies, everyone wore a blue, gray, or green Mao suit — there was no chance for women to be glamorous or different. Now you see young Chinese trying to be radical by dyeing their hair blonde or blue, sporting tattoos. It is a combination of copying what they see is popular in the Western world and trying to stand out in a nation where almost all of the 1.3 billion population have straight black hair and brown eyes. I like to joke that in less than a decade, China has gone from Karl Marx to Karl Lagerfeld!”

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