updated 15 Mar 2011, 06:16
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Mon, Dec 06, 2010
China Daily/ANN
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From tourism student to Victoria's Secret model

Four years ago, Joseph Carle, a creative director for Marie Claire at the time, found what he had been clamouring for at a small Beijing fashion show.

As he sat watching the show, a long-legged 18-year-old stunned Carle. He immediately asked the show's stylist for the model's name.

Liu Wen, a beginner," the stylist answered. "No, no. She is no beginner, she is a star," Carle remembered replying.

His discovery came at a time when Carle was in desperate need of a new face to inspire his methods of expressing beauty, fashion and style in China. He says that he found everything in Liu.

It also came at the most unexpected time for Liu, now 22 and one of the most booked models in Paris and New York. She recently became the first and only Chinese model to walk the Victoria's Secret lingerie fashion show for two years straight.

After a photoshoot for Marie Claire in London, Liu made her professional debut in Milan in 2008. She has since walked for the fashion world's who's who: Anna Sui, Dolce & Gabbana, Alexander McQueen, Chloe and Lanvin. In April, Liu signed with Estee Lauder to become one of the first Asian models to represent a global cosmetic company.

She is also the leading face for a growing roster of Chinese women models who are crowding international runways, a phenomenon that many fashion experts say goes hand-in-hand with the growing number of Chinese fashion consumers as the nation's government pushes for more domestic spending.

"Over the last few years, China has become not just an emerging market, but a viable market with millions of consumers. So it makes sense that you want to include more Chinese models whom the consumers can identify with," says Carle, now the creative director for NUMERO China.
Growing up in Yongzhou, a city in Hunan province in Central China, Liu says she never dreamed of walking on an international runway. In her teens, Liu thought about becoming a teacher. She entered a local tourism college where she trained to be a tour guide.

Liu, now 1.81 metres tall, was 1.68m at middle school. She said that her parents, both of whom are average height, never expected she would become a professional model.

"They never expected me to be this tall, and I always thought that being a model, you have to be pretty. I am not that pretty," she says humbly.

In 2005, she entered a modeling contest in her hometown, hoping to win a laptop computer. She won.

"Having a laptop was the first step to get me connected to the world and I was so happy I won it," she says.

But in late 2006, Liu was unemployed. She says she often sat in her Beijing apartment that she shared with some other models, waiting to be called.

"I was very stressed out. I even thought maybe I should just give up," she recalls. "But I believe in hard work and I wanted to keep trying."

Then came her discovery by Carle.

"I never expected (meeting Carle) would happen," Liu says at her New York agency in Lower Manhattan.

"Liu is an exceptional model. For the Victoria's Secret show, it is not enough to be just beautiful, and to have a great body, you have to have incredible presence, you have to have the ability to project yourself from the runway," says John Pfeiffer, the head casting director for Victoria's Secret lingerie show.

To Carle, whom Liu calls bole (which means "the judge of talents"), Liu is more than beautiful. She is unique and breaks the cliches about Asian models.

"When you see her on the runway or in magazines, you don't say 'Wow, this Chinese girl is so this or so that.' You say, 'Wow, this girl is stunning.' ... She escapes all the cliches of East and West, and she defines a new attitude, a new kind of women's power, too," Carle says.

"Fashion tends to embrace the exception, not the norm, and that helps push an ever expansive view of beauty," says Chris Gay, president of Marilyn Agency in New York, one of Liu's agencies.

Liu thinks that Chinese models can contribute a lot to the international fashion industry.

She says she is grateful to the Chinese models in the 1980s and 1990s who first appeared in international fashion shows.

"We are now better off and have more opportunities because those models opened the market for us."

For Liu, the Victoria's Secret lingerie fashion show is one of the pillars of her success. The show, which was taped in New York and broadcast on Nov 30, is the biggest runway show in the world. It is seen on TV in more than 80 countries by more than 30 million people, Pfeiffer says.

Although Victoria's Secret has shot Asian models for its catalogue for many years, Liu was the first Asian model to be selected for its runway show when she appeared last year.
"It is not just about including an Asian girl or a black girl, we live in a world where everything is seen by everybody," Pfeiffer says. "We try to be as inclusive as possible but it has to be the right model."

Despite her near-immediate fame, Liu didn't always have the easiest of times after she became a professional model.

"Modeling is a busy life. I don't get to eat and rest properly during fashion weeks. But at the end of the day, it is rewarding," she says.

Two years ago, Liu's biggest challenge in her career was the language barrier.
"During the day, I was modeling, but at night, I was learning English. This industry requires us to meet more people, and communicate with designers and photographers. Communication is very important," she says.

Liu says she is thankful to her parents in Yongzhou, both of whom know little about fashion and modeling but gave her tremendous support when she was thinking about quitting a few years back.
"I miss home a lot. And I haven't spent the Chinese New Year with my parents in three years."
The best part of her career, she says, is traveling.

"I have always wanted to travel. Every time I watched the TV show Animal Planet when I was little, I thought it must be nice to travel to different parts of the world to see different cultures," Liu says.

Now she partly has realised her dream - she travels between Paris, New York, London and Milan for fashion shows and rarely has much spare time.

She says that spending a day in her apartment in Lower Manhattan doing absolutely nothing is like a vacation.


More stories and pictures:

Spotted at the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show 2010
Models ham it up at the Victoria Secret's Fashion Show 2010
Victoria Secret's Fashion Show 2010
Faces to look out for in 2010
China rising


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