BEIJING, May 24 -- Former Miss China Du Juan has
proved her appeal in her native Shanghai. But how well does her charm translate
to the catwalks of New York?
Not too badly, apparently.
"I saw her once while out to lunch walking down the
street, and every head turned as she floated by," US website Models.com's
editorial director Wayne Sterling said in an e-mail message.
Since appearing with Australian model Gemma Ward on
the cover of Vogue China's premiere issue last September, Du has been in
constant motion. She has graced Paris and Italian Vogue, too. In Paris and Milan
earlier this year, Du sizzled on the catwalk at Marc Jacob's Louis Vuitton show,
as well as for Hermes, Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta and a few others. That
led the editors at Style.com Vogue and W Magazine's website to name her as one
of autumn's top 10 new faces.
But Du Juan is more than just the next big Asian
Her success, in many ways, reflects the changing
attitude towards Asian beauty in a globalizing world. Buoyed by interest in Asia
and movie stars with a growing international presence, China's potential as a
land of buyers of luxury goods has made Chinese beauty matter. The daughters of
the East, therefore, have an even more prominent role to play in the fashion
industry, in which a convergence of taste has been emerging. All this makes Du
Juan hot property.
More proof of the 178-centimetre model's rising
status was her appearance in Models.com's top-50 female models' list in April.
And she's not alone.
While the concept of beauty in the fashion world
doesn't usually heed geopolitical currents, Asians have received more and more
exposure in the West in recent years .
Earlier, one Asian may have been enough for the
blue-chip runways of the most prestigious brands but their numbers have
quadrupled now. The latest wave also comprises Korean-American Hye Park and
Japan's Anne Watanabe, among others.
So why the interest in Asian fashion?
Interest in the Asian region has grown. China's rise,
Japanese economic resurgence and the spreading popularity of Korean pop culture
have had attractions: More people want to read about, write about and watch
Asia. In the United States, the number of Asian women in the news, commercials
and TV shows has risen, even if only slightly.
Then there's the rise of Asian actresses. Lucy Liu is
the most famous Asian-American actress today, with several blockbusters on her
Riding on more mainstream movies such as "Crouching
Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Memoirs of a Geisha," and the proliferation of Asian
film festivals across the world, China-born actresses such as Zhang Ziyi, Gong
Li and Maggie Cheung have been propelled into international magazines and
Zhang Ziyi and Gong Li both have appeared in People
magazine's 100 most beautiful people list, with Zhang making her third
appearance this year.
The rise of these Chinese actresses has helped fuel a
surge of Western interest in Asia, Hong Kong-born New York-based designer
Vivienne Tam said.
Perceptions are changing, says Kyeyoung Park,
associate professor of anthropology and Asian-American studies in University of
California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
"In general people in the United States are more
accepting of Asian aesthetics and Asian beauty," she said, although people are
quite confused about what exactly being Asian and beautiful means.
Still, all this has indirectly benefited Asian
"Because of globalization, in particular of Chinese
actresses, we have a trend pulling for more and more Chinese models," says Alain
Deroche, executive director, publishing, Asia-Pacific for Hachette Filipacchi
Media, which licenses several titles in China, including the fashion magazine
But this only partly explains the emerging trend. A
more important driver is big business. "Fundamentally, the attraction is the
market," Vogue China's editorial director Angelica Cheung said.
Models.com's Sterling puts it more bluntly: "The
wider acceptance of Asian models comes down to one thing: dollar signs. All of
[New York], London, Paris and Milan is buzzing right now about the possibilities
of the Asian luxury goods market."
According to a 2005 Ernst and Young's report, "China:
The New Lap of Luxury," China is already the third-largest consumer of luxury
goods, accounting for 14 per cent of global sales, behind only Japan (41 per
cent) and the United States (17 per cent). The report says that by 2015, Chinese
consumers could match the Japanese in influence.
"We don't think it's mere optimism," Ernst &
Young partner Conway Lee said in an e-mail message.
"First of all, one should take consideration of
China's vast population, which is also a huge consumer base of luxury products.
Second, one should take consideration of the growth rate of the luxury goods
market in China."
Lee cites estimates, one of which comes from the US
Department of Agriculture, to show that by 2020 China's middle class could
expand to more than 500 million and that China could equal the size of the
entire US middle class if only 8 per cent more of its population could achieve
the standard for middle class.
Market growth predictions are also tantalizing.
China's luxury goods market will grow by 20 per cent a year till 2008, then slow
down to 10 per cent till 2015.
So far, many luxury goods firms share the idea that
good times are coming. LVMH is expected to add two to four stores a year to its
100 that already operate in China.
Giorgio Armani intends to set up 20 to 30 stores by
2008, when Saks Fifth Avenue also will open a store in Shanghai.
Seibu, controlled by Dickson Concepts (International)
Limited, is opening a five-floor 140,000-square-foot department store in Chengdu
later this year. High-profile tenants will include Louis Vuitton, Dior, Tod's
and Michael Kors, whose presence in second-tier cities reflects their confidence
in the growing Chinese market.
All this has meant more work for the Asian models.
"Before, [they] might not do a show in China, but now
they come every year," says Wing Wong, model movement executive at Elite HK
China Model Management in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
More importantly, Chinese models now have a certain
cache, as companies strive to appeal to the Chinese market by incorporating more
Asian looks in their brands.
"Many luxury goods brands rapidly open stores in
Asia, and it is a natural move for these companies to add Asian faces in their
advertising campaigns to fit in with the market need," designer Tam said. "It is
part of their business strategy."
"Brands want Chinese women to represent their
values," said Hachette Filipacchi's Deroche. This is already evident in this
year's Fashion Week in Europe. Last October, Louis Vuitton's runway featured
three Asian models, including Du Juan.
In 2005, Hye Park was part of advertisement campaigns
for Cavalli and D&G, and Du "has already booked some pretty massive
campaigns for fall 2006," said Sterling, of Models.com.
This courtship of Asian and especially Chinese buyers
could mean this is only the beginning for Asian-born models with international
Unlike in Japan, Chinese fashion magazine readers
respond both to international and local models and celebrities. "Asian models
are becoming more popular because they are interesting to Chinese readers, who
are also consumers," Deroche said.
This is not the case in Japan, which partly explains
why there haven't been more top international Japanese models, even though Japan
accounts for such a large percentage of the worldwide luxury goods market.
"Japan is very different from China, though they are
both Asian, because the Japanese market is very westernized," says Vogue China's
Cheung, though she concedes not being an expert on the subject. "My impression
from my Japanese colleagues is that the Japanese Vogue readers prefer to see
Western faces in the magazine."
The impact could dramatically affect not only the
number of Asian models likely to find work internationally, but also on the look
of the Asian models who will succeed there.
Tellingly, Vogue China has set its eye on finding and
developing models with qualities considered good locally and internationally.
"We are producing a magazine for the Chinese market, but at the same time,
fashion is an international language, so we need to consider models who are
appealing to our Chinese readers but have the kind of looks that can carry
international fashion trends," Cheung said.
She cites Du Juan as an example. Unlike previous
Chinese models, such as Lu Yan, whom mainlanders found unattractive, Du has a
cross-border beauty. "She is considered pretty (not only) by the Chinese, but
also to the international fashion community," Cheung said.
The search for Asian models with transcendent looks
is likely to continue as companies become more familiar with the region and as
China and the rest of Asia build new wealth.
"Not many designers know exactly how to court and
cultivate this audience, but this awareness has translated into a need for more
models representative of that market. And we think it's only going to increase
in the coming years," Sterling said.
Yet while UCLA's Park believes the trend of greater
acceptance of Asian aesthetics to be "irreversible," the demand for Asian models
could still be dampened.
China must still fulfil predictions, which could be
derailed by an economic downturn. China's publishing regulators said earlier
this month that no new foreign magazines, except those on science and
technology, would be licensed.
International fashion magazines have played an
important role in facilitating interaction between the world's fashion industry
and China. That has been possible through access to information such as Chinese
and US or European editions' exchanging materials or co-operating for a photo
shoot and also raising the bar of work done in China.
By using top-level fashion photographers, stylists
and supermodels to create original and exclusive shoots and covers, Vogue China
has developed a good reputation among the international fashion community, said
Vogue China's Cheung, with many top fashion talents wanting to work for the
"This is why Vogue China has such a great influence
in terms of promoting Chinese models internationally," she said. "Because of the
quality standard we have set, when we use any model in a big way, the
international fashion community takes notice."
Another challenge will be finding the next Du Juan.
Chinese models face a language barrier and, far from home, must learn
And even with about a half-billion women in China,
finding the right look isn't easy. "We have a lot of beautiful girls in China,
and it is a big country," Cheung said. "The difficulty is in finding those who
also appeal to the international fashion community."
It would also be premature to assume too much from
Du's growing popularity. Though its markets can be anywhere, fashion capitals
are in New York, Paris and Milan. Ultimately, Asian models' fortunes are tied to
"I think it's too early to say Asian models will
dominate," Cheung said. "I don't think that will happen until Asia develops its
own fashion brands and really goes global."
One designer leading this wave is Tam, whose clothes
are sold in the United States by such high-end retailers as Saks Fifth Avenue
and Neiman Marcus.
Asian models have always been part of Tam's
advertising campaigns and catwalks. And Tam's reason for including Asian faces
is obvious. "It is my root and culture," she said. "It is who I am."
(Source: China Daily)