Asian models have appeared before, but the numbers never reached a critical mass. The ones who shot to fame in the 1980s and ’90s, including Filipina Anna Bayle, Korean-African-American Kimora Lee Simmons, Eurasian Devon Aoki and Siberian Irina Pantaeva, were of mixed-race heritage or had extreme features that the industry embraced as exotic.
Rising stars such as Du Juan from China, Korean-American Hye Park and Eugenia Mandzhieva, a Russian of Asian descent, are breaking into the industry, walking runway shows for big names like Dior and Oscar de la Renta, and landing advertising campaigns with Louis Vuitton, Dolce & Gabbana and Moschino.
This year’s winner of the Ford Supermodel of the World, 20-year-old Hyoni from South Korea, underlined a change in the fashion/modeling industry that has been notoriously slow to embrace diversity. Hyoni, whose real name is Kang Seung-hyun, is the first Asian winner in the 27-year history of the competition. Since her victory, which earned her a $250,000 contract with Ford Models, Kang has walked in nearly 20 shows and shot ads for Benetton and Lacoste. “Fashion is changing,” she says. “Many designers know Asian girls can be high-fashion models too.”
The face leading the Asian wave is Du Juan, a 21-year-old ballerina from Shanghai. One year after winning Model of the Year at the China Fashion Awards in 2004, Du became the first Asian to grace the cover of French Vogue. Now she walks an average of 50 runway shows a season and has appeared in advertising campaigns for Louis Vuitton and Yves Saint Laurent.
Japan and China, the world’s second and fourth largest economies, have become forces that luxury brands can no longer afford to ignore. Spending on luxury goods in China is expected to grow 12% a year and total $44 billion in 2016, according to figures from MasterCard. By 2015, China will make up 29% of the global luxury market, putting it on track to overtake Japan as the world’s biggest luxury market, according to research from Goldman Sachs. At top fashion houses like LVMH, Asia already contributes a third of total revenue. Luxury-goods purveyors want to cater to Asian tastes on the runway, and more and more have started to use Asian faces to do so. Today, the visuals for ads and runways are increasingly being called by Asians/Asian Americans, including top designers Vivienne Tam, Anna Sui, Derek Lam and Phillip Lim. Look for more Asians/Asian Americans on the fashion runways soon.
A diverse group of beauties is finally breaking through in the fashion industry. Meet Eugenia Mandzhieva, Hye Park, and Du Juan.