Where the Asian models at?

Models present creations by Chinese designer Zheng Luo at the Omnialuo Zheng Luo designer spring/summer 2009 collection during New York Fashion Week September 12. Photo by Hou Jun, provided by Xinhua News Agency.

By Amy He
Northwest Asian Weekly

The beginning of September marked the start of the spring/summer runways showcasing fashion for the next year. The fashion capitals of the world — New York, Paris, Milan — are taking note of all the upcoming trends and everything will eventually precipitate in next year’s Vogues.

A model presents a creation during the first day of 2008/2009 China Fashion Week collections in Beijing, March 25. Photo by Yin Bogu, provided by Xinhua News Agency.

On the other side of the globe, other highly fashion-conscious cities are just as invested in fashion, such as Tokyo and Seoul. But are Asian models walking the runways?

Every year, the shows in February and September display hundreds of fashion lines and several thousand pieces of clothing and accessories. There are more than 300 top models on register at Style.com – the online fashion mecca – yet only a handful are Asian.

On the blog “Asian Models,” the writer documents the total number of Asian models who walked the runways and the number of shows each walked in New York’s fashion week. In the final tally, there were only 17 Asian models who walked the shows. Liu Wen was in the most, clocking in 24 shows. Both Joshua Ku and Shunei Hoshimi worked the least, only walking in one show each.

Models present creations from the Anna Sui Spring 2009 collection at New York Fashion Week in the Bryant Park in New York, Sept. 10. Photo by Hou Jun, provided by Xinhua News Agency.

In a West-dominated industry that is as lucrative as fashion, it would make sense to appeal to an audience with predominantly Caucasian models if the majority of consumers happen to be Caucasian. But according to “Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster,” author Dana Thomas writes, “Analysts estimate that 20 percent of all luxury goods are sold in Japan and another 30 percent to Japanese traveling abroad – meaning Japanese buy half of all luxury goods.”

Model present autumn and winter creations of the Italian brand Maxmara during a fashion show in Changchun, northeast China's Jilin Province, Sept. 20. Photo by Shao Shouzhi, provided by Xinhua News Agency.

This is not to say there are no top Asian models at all: Ai Tominaga and Anne Watanabe from Japan, Du Juan from China, Hye Park and Han from South Korea, Eugenia Mandzhieva from Russia, of Mongolian descent. There are also some rising stars, such as Emma Pei, Daul Kim and Liu Wen.

But while there may be these top models, the scant numbers are not proportionate to the number of Asian consumers who have such a huge influence over the fashion economy.

The lack of Asian models in the industry is not reflective of a lack of interest in Asian culture. Christian Dior’s spring 2007 haute couture line was one of the most recently applauded shows. It drew inspiration from the classic “Madame Butterfly.” All the couture pieces were modern takes on traditional Japanese-wear.

Additionally, Patrick Demarchelier photographed for the 2008 Pirelli calendar based on an “East meets West” theme. This was the first ever Pirelli calendar shot in Asia, and Demarchelier said, “The casting was a fascinating mix between the West and the Orient … an interesting group of faces.”

Karl Lagerfeld created a riot in the fashion world when he showed the spring 2008 Fendi line using China’s Great Wall as the runway.

A model presents a creation at the Ports 1961 spring/summer 2009 collection at New York Fashion Week, Sept. 8. Photo by Cao Tang, provided by Xinhua News Agency.

There are also the historical implications of beauty. Beauty has been defined in the past by pale skin, and this idea is still carried onto the worldwide platform today. In numerous international fashion publications aimed at the East Asian public, the majority of campaigns are executed by Caucasian models. Looking away from well-established fashion houses based in Europe, smaller clothing companies based in Asia still use white models. The number of ads featuring all Caucasian models from publications like Vogue Girl Korea and Elle China average about three times more than ads featuring Asian models.

Vogue Italia recently had “The Black Issue” with editorials featuring only Black models to highlight the issue of lack of diversity in the fashion world. Whether any magazine will have an “all Asian” issue in the near future remains a mystery, but maybe it would be a good first step. ♦

The blog, asianmodelsblog.blogspot.com, contributed to this report.

Amy He is the writer and owner of the blog, evacuatewithstyle.org/blog.

Amy He can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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