updated 8 Nov 2013, 09:15
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Fri, Nov 08, 2013
China Daily/Asia News Network
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More than just exotica
by Gan Tian

Although the fashion world has still not recovered fully from the impact of the economic recession, Chinese models are getting a firm foothold on the international runway.

More than just exotica

Pei Bei is fashion designer John Galliano's favorite model.

The just ended New York and Milan fashion weeks saw not only old faces, such as those of Liu Wen, Du Juan and Pei Bei, but also some new ones, such as those of Qin Shupei, Sun Feifei and Huang Xiaomeng.

More than just exotica
 "Race is not an issue," on the international catwalk, says China's supermodel Du Juan

"The number of Chinese models appearing at the four major fashion weeks (New York, Milan, Paris, London) may peak this year. In previous years, they have usually been three or four models, but (this year) there may be six to eight," Yi Lingna, former fashion editor at and now editor-in-chief of fashion website, predicts.

The industry has grown most significantly in the past two years. Even as recently as 2008, Du Juan was complaining to the media that she was too "lonely" during the fashion weeks.

Another model, Mo Wandan, also said: "I met only one or two models from China during fashion weeks."

Talk of Chinese models may bring to most Westerners' minds Lu Yan, but it is Du Juan who really is China's first supermodel.

Lu entered the fashion industry in 1999, winning the second prize at the Supermodel Contest in Beijing in 2000, and moved to Paris. Although considered extremely pretty in the West, this sentiment was not shared by most Chinese.

The world's fashion stage opened up to Du after she made it as the first Asian cover girl of Vogue magazine in 2006.

The very next year, she took to the catwalk for the spring/summer shows of the biggest names in fashion, including Louis Vuitton, YSL, Chanel, Valentino and Givenchy. She was also chosen to feature in the LV, YSL and Swarovski ad campaigns. The same year, she became the first Asian model to be featured in Time Magazine, leaving the Chinese fashion media slack-jawed.

But she's not resting on her laurels. So far this year, she has done ad campaigns for Giorgio Armani, top jewelry brand David Yurman and popular brand H&M. Du was also selected to pose for the lookbook of Barney's New York department store.

"I work hard to make sure I represent Chinese models well on the world stage. I really don't think race is important," she says.

Liu Wen, who made her name as the first Asian model for Victoria's Secret, stood tall among her peers when she did 24 shows in four days - from Feb 14-18 - at the Fall 2010 Ready-to-Wear New York Fashion Week. She is now in Milan, scorching the catwalk for Fendi and Bottega Veneta.

At last year's autumn/winter fashion season, Liu did 74 catwalk shows in one month, more than any other model worldwide. At the same time, she became the second Chinese girl (after Du Juan) to be included in the World's Top 50 Supermodels, ranking 44th.

More than just exotica

(Left): Liu Wen is fashion's "good girl never gone bad". Provided to China Daily (Right): Mo Wandan always has a translator traveling with her.

Liu was dubbed the "good girl never gone bad" in Western fashion circles. She has a stellar record of never being late for interviews and shows. Despite getting barely three hours of sleep most nights, she manages to appear fresh and energetic, much to others' amazement.

Pei Bei first appeared at Paris Fashion Week in 2007 and has risen fast. At the Dior Haute Couture spring/summer fashion show in 2008, John Galliano, the Gibraltarian-British fashion designer, took Pei's hand, walked out, and announced that she was his favorite model. At DKNY's show this year in New York, Pei donned three outfits.

In just one year, Qin Shupei, 20, has become a well-known face after signing on with New York model agency Next Management in 2007.

The year 2008 was a breakthrough one for her when she walked in 22 shows at New York Fashion Week. Last year, featured Qin as a top-10 newcomer. At this January's Paris couture shows, her client's list included heavyweights, such as Valentino, Chanel and Givenchy.

But these young models still have a long way to go. They are mostly handicapped by their language skills. Most of them, who are in their 20s, have never received any systematic language training.

After Liu Wen made her way into the Victoria's Secret show last year, a video clip began to make the rounds online. In it, Liu introduced herself in English. Though not fluent, she won much praise for her efforts.

Mo Wandan is reported to take a translator wherever she goes. "My Western workmates all think I am super rich, but that is the only way I can communicate with others," she says.

Secondly, whether it is Du Juan, Pei Bei, or Mo Wandan, they are all represent what the Westerners call the "oriental look".

"They lack versatility," says's Yi. She also points out that there are few Chinese male models on the world stage.

Last but not the least, the world fashion stage is still dominated by Brazilian, American and European models. "Western brands and agencies might need a few (Chinese models), but not many. It is just the way they use a few black models at every show, as some kind of exotica," says fashion editor Shi Zhiqiang at Time Out Beijing.

But the mood among Chinese fashion media remains upbeat. The March issue of Harper's Bazaar has six models on its cover for the first time, including Lu Yan, Mo Wandan, Qin Shupei, Li Danni, Sun Feifei and Ju Xiaopei. It has a 50-page feature story titled China's Supermodels, Here They Come about their lives and careers.

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