Chinese model Liu Wen is currently earning 26 million yuan per year, making her the fifth highest paid model in the world. But with a Chinese luxury market that is expected to triple in size to 784 billion yuan by 2020, will she soon be usurping Gisele Bundchen’s seven year-long #1 streak?
“In the last couple of seasons you have seen a sudden increase [in Asian models]” Angelica Cheung, editor of Vogue China, told The Guardian. “Even in the last two or three years it was pretty much about Du Juan: she was the only one going big. Now they have all appeared.”
Blogger Jenny Zhang, who has written about fashion’s representations of east Asian women, said: “I don’t think this is just a fad because Asia is such a big luxury market. It doesn’t seem to be a cultural shift, but a market shift – and maybe a cultural shift will come from that.”
Liu Wen notably became Estee Lauder’s spokeswoman last year, the face of the best selling beauty brand in China at the moment and was dubbed “China’s first bona fide supermodel” by the New York Times.
But she’s no longer the only one. There has been a spate of international debuts for Chinese models in recent years. Fei Fei Sun was the first Chinese model to grace the front cover of Vogue Italia in January this year.
Sui He became the first Asian face of Shiseido and went on to follow Liu Wen’s footsteps in becoming the second Chinese model to walk the hallowed Victoria’s Secret runway.
However, as the Telegraph points out that international fashion houses are bending to the economic will of the Chinese market – which has a seemingly unquenchable craving for luxury goods – Western archetypes of the ‘Asian beauty’ has been spurned by local ideals.
For instance, Du Juan was one of the first Chinese models to gain international recognition around the time Vogue China’s first issue was published. She was chosen to feature on the magazine’s first issue, with stylistic advice from the editor of French Vogue, Carine Roitfeld and photographs captured by Patrick Demarchelier, internationally renowned French photographer.
Angelica Cheung from Vogue China contended with them over the fact that they wanted Du Juan to be captured with long, thin eyes, with make-up which emphasized a narrowed squint. She told the FT, “I can understand that this represents Chinese beauty to them, but Chinese women want the opposite. They want big, round eyes.”
The contention did not stop there, with Frenchman Patrick Dermarchelier wanting the photo shoot to take place in an old style courtyard. China Vogue staffers frequently asked Angela how she could put up with the way that foreigners thought they knew better.
Another Chinese model who has gained international recognition in recent years is Ming Xi. Huge names in the luxury fashion market such as Givenchy, Diane Von Furstenberg, Christian Dior, Vivienne Westwood and Alexander Wang have all been quite taken by her prominent cheekbones and playfully protruding ears.
Chinese netizens on the other hand, have taken to fashion forums to comment on how weird-looking she is.
Simon Lock, IMG Asia Pacific’s Managing Director concedes that international agencies still don’t give much consideration to Chinese standards of beauty. “Right or wrong, our staff are choosing models from a Caucasian perspective.” Lock says, “I hear that some Chinese look at our models and think they’re ugly, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Fashion however, is an industry, and beauty is dictated by beholders’ wallets, not their eyes. Increasingly those with the largest wallets, are Chinese.