The first time Liu Wen walked down the runway of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, she wore a high-tech bikini (you heard it here first in WiC). The costume, said the lingerie maker, was intended to make Liu look like the “girl from the future” (see WiC44).
Now the future is here. Liu – a tour guide in Hunan before she was spotted – is one of the most booked models in Paris and New York this season, appearing in some of the most influential shows. She again walked the runway at this year’s Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show – the first and only Chinese model to tread its catwalk for two years straight. Earlier this year, Liu confirmed her rising status by inking a deal to become the first Chinese model to represent the classically American beauty giant, Estee Lauder.
Ann Wu, communications director for Estee Lauder China, says Liu represents “beauty that can go beyond borders”. And then perhaps a little more hard-headedly: “Indeed, Estee Lauder values the Chinese market very much.”
In a fashion world traditionally dominated by Caucasian models, the rise of more Asians is still a relatively new trend, led by a growing roster of Chinese models. According to a seasonal survey by Jezebel.com, a fashion blog, Chinese models made a total of 296 appearances at this year’s New York Fashion Week.
“The challenge for me, and for Asian models in general, has been convincing editors, stylists, and photographers that we can have mass appeal,” Liu recently told the fashion magazine Vogue. “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.”
The phenomenon, industry observers say, has less to do with racial diversity but more with economics. Big fashion brands are hiring more Chinese models for their runway shows to create an emotional connection with consumers.
“Over the last few years, China has become not just an emerging market, but a viable market with millions of customers. So it makes sense that you want to include more Chinese models whom the consumers can identify with,” Joseph Carle, creative director for NUMERO China, told the China Daily.
Milan fashion house Ermenegildo Zegna agrees. In August, Zegna hosted its 100th anniversary party in Shanghai instead of Italy. The company already has 75 stores in China and identifies the mainland as its biggest market worldwide.
“If you don’t get (China), I think you go backward,” says Zegna’s chief designer Alessandro Sartori. “Milan is where we were born and Shanghai is where our future lies.”
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