In an industry saturated with British, American and Russian models, Asian models were once confined to representing designers from their native countries. With the modelling industry taking a dramatic turn over the last few years though, Asian models have begun to make quite a name for themselves internationally, bringing their unique beauty, poise and cultural heritage to runways around the world.
Heralding a new era for fashion, these five Asian faces have been especially impressing international audiences, sweeping their Western competition from the runway to shape major fashion campaigns.
With the likes of H&M, Kenzo and Givenchy choosing Liu Wen to be the face of their brand, the Chinese model has become a major player in the fashion sphere, being easily recognisable alongside many of the industry’s most well-known (Western) models.
In 2012, The New York Times named her ‘China’s first bona fide supermodel’, holding a strong reputation in the industry for being professional and gracious. Her career began properly though when she walked her first international stage at the Paris Spring 2008 shows for Chanel and Jean Paul Gaultier.
The model has plenty of accolades, being the first Asian face of global cosmetics giant, Estée Lauder and the first Chinese model to walk the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show (in 2009). She also beat the likes of Russian-born Natalia Vodianova and fellow Victoria’s Secret models Karlie Kloss and Alessandro Ambrosio to become the first Asian model ever to make Forbes magazine’s annual highest-paid models list (in 2014).
Xiao Wen Ju
Doll-faced Xiao Wen Ju rose to fame in 2012 when she became the first model of Chinese descent to front a Marc Jacobs campaign. As the face of the world-renowned brand, Wen Ju was placed in the spotlight internationally, soon becoming sought after by other big fashion houses, including Louis Vuitton, Dior and Kenzo.
Reminiscent of the baby-doll beauties of the noughties (Gemma Ward is in fact one her idols), Wen Ju has since charmed designers and fashion followers alike, with her ethereal looks and lithe build.
The model is well-known across her native country after winning the much-coveted honour of covering Vogue China, as well as Numero China, inspiring young girls across China to pursue an interest or career in fashion.
In February, her radiant, fresh-faced beauty led her to become the newest face of L’Oréal Paris, citing a healthy vegetable-rich diet as her number one beauty tip, in an interview with British Vogue.
Mengyao ‘Ming’ Xi’s wide eyes and pixie face kick-started her modelling career in 2009 when she represented China in the Elite Model Look contest. She won third in the international final, impressing judges with her versatility to switch between high-fashion and high-street editorials, as well as with her strong runway walk.
Riccardo Tisci handpicked her in 2011 to walk exclusively for both Givenchy’s haute couture and ready-to-wear collections, as well as appearing as the face of the brand’s Fall/Winter publicity campaign.
The young, Shanghai-born model has become high in demand among some of the biggest fashion houses, including Zac Posen and Jeremy Scott, and was one of the first (and few) Asian models to walk for Victoria’s Secret (in 2013 and 2014). She even made the list of the top 50 supermodels of the world when she was just 24.
Sun Fei Fei
Just like Ming Xi, Sun Fei Fei made her modelling debut in the 2008 Elite Model Look contest, before walking in her first international runway, for Christopher Kane, at London Fashion Week two years later in February 2010.
Her elfin features have made her a familiar face at fashion weeks around the world, walking for a huge variety of names including Jil Sander, Prada, and Tom Ford. Karl Lagerfeld also chose her personally to walk for Chanel’s Paris-Shanghai fashion show in December 2009.
More recently, in 2013, she became the first model of East Asian decent to grace a solo cover of Vogue Italia, as well as joining eight other models to become the first East Asian model on the cover of American Vogue, in September 2014. The major fashion publication can’t get enough of her either, as she’s been the cover girl on Vogue China, British Vogue, Vogue Paris and Vogue Japan too.
Soo Joo Park
With her signature bleached hair, an act she describes as her way to avoid becoming an Asian model typecast, Soo Joo Park has received a lot of attention stateside. Working a cali-cool vibe, the model has spent a lot of her life in America after being born in Seoul, and currently calls California her home.
She has become a favourite face of Chanel, Moschino, and Jeremy Scott, rising to fame during a Chanel haute couture show, which saw her chiselled cheekbones and uniquely unusual looks spark conversation among designers and the FROW.
As if she wasn’t busy enough wowing the runway and editorials for Vogue Korea, Harper’s Bazaar Korea, and Elle Korea, among others, Park is also in a band called Ore.
That’s not to forget male models though. Many male Asian models are also picking up a lot of attention, proving that it’s not just female models who can carry the fashion crown, with the likes of Chinese-born Zhao Lei and Alex Manning, and South Korean Dae Na becoming highly sought after, both on the runway and for editorials.