The terms “China” and “Model” have been heavily highlighted in global headlines over the past four weeks. Sparked by the unfortunate death of 14-year-old model Vlada Dzyuba, China’s model mayhem was followed by the ever so politically entertaining Duck Duck Goose game that was the Victoria’s Secret Fashion 2017 Shanghai Show. Now, Temper hosts a casting of its own in a bid to scribble down a few answers and expectations in regards to that burning question at hand: What is the truth behind China’s modeling scene?
“Many of those moving to China to take a shot at modeling may not possess that ‘special something’ and then it’s a spiral into low budgets and competitive behaviours.” G
Out With The New
In with the “old”? Elite Model Shanghai, Model Management, Esee Model Management and Vision Scouting Shanghai — just to name a few — are among those (legit) agencies pulling in young and eagerly aspiring models who, as a common denominator, share the same hopes and dreams of making a buck in the Middle Kingdom modeling setting. The agencies find work for the models by pitching and presenting them to local designers, glocal photographers and global China-based ad agencies often serving as the meeting point tying together East and West. Responsible for booking the gigs, billing for the jobs and eventually paying the models for their time and effort, an agency in theory allows a model to focus solely on the modeling and not on the business end. From Taobao to Tagheuer, there’s an ad to star in for all, whether it concerns the “new” foreign face or the “old” Chinese one.
Compared to the highly competitive and overcrowded Western market, China’s growing modeling industry offers foreign models the chance to go home with a decent paycheck in hand at the end of the shoot. “Back in the day, and I hereby refer to the 1990s, there were fewer local brands in China,” Max Liu, CEO of Beijing-based modeling agency Fun Models, tells NPR in a September 2017 interview. “All the famous brands were international; and they all used Caucasian models. As China has developed, local brands now seek to feature a more local image, but not ‘too’ local. Within that framework, they’ve turned to models who boast half-Asian, half-European looks — such as the Uyghur — to convey their brand identity.”
Chinese companies in the past few years have in point of fact gone from randomly employing models with foreign faces to considering whether the model actually suits and boosts both their product and image. Subsequently, the China modeling scene has witnessed a significant shift towards a higher number of Chinese models taking to China’s catwalks in the past two years.
Still. Whether we’re talking (and perhaps controversially so) Uyghur or Ukrainian, the demand for models boasting a double eyelid was soaring high between 2010 and 2015, as Chinese e-commerce flourished and locals tended to prefer a foreign look and concept to the domestic counterpart. Browsing through online shopping spree instigator Taobao, one wonders who exactly these foreigners modeling for Chinese companies are.
Many of the pictures used on this highly successful platform are in fact shot by fashion photography “factories” that have in turn been contracted by companies such as cashmere and knitwear producer Xiongling Clothing (Tongxiang, Zhejiang Province). Having experienced rapid (“rabid”, even) online growth in the past five years, companies such as Xiongling are continually in need of “new” models. The latest arrivals immediately become part of a bigger brand inventory that rallies up 100-plus well-earning foreign models from more than 20 countries — including Brazil, Ireland and Finland. Just to name a few. As they say: Variety is the spice of life.
In keeping with a “glocalized” state of mind, we now head on over to Shanghai for a rendez-vous with our native English speaking and China-knowledgeable model as we go back to modeling basics and ignite the ever-gleaming debate on what (not) to do!
“The biggest issue we face as/with newcomers is no one knowing what price they should quote. We’re surrounded by the countless stories saying such and such ‘will work for this price or lower’,” G
Back To Basics
Temper put out a casting call and ended up on the phone with one very seasoned China-based model whose name shall forever remain for you to guess and for us to know. For this interview, let us refer to her as “G” — after “Gisele” Bundchen, aka The Last Supermodel, aka The First Billionaire Supermodel, aka a Forever Favorite. G, guide us through the stomp!
Temper: Tell us about yourself: Why work as a model in China? What sparked this career?
G: A part of my choice to be in China is because of my marriage, but I have created such an interesting life here which I think would be hard to compete with in many other cities. It’s not just about parties and restaurants; we have so many things to do here and because it is a busy city, we can usually enjoy them at any hour without pre-booking. As far as the modeling is concerned, then… Modeling has been my job since I was 16, traveling to a new country every few months. I felt a sense of comfort in China, having a place to spread my roots and call home.
Temper: Beating around the bush, we deem a no-go at Temper. And in such fashion, we wonder… The phenomenon of girls leaving school to pursue such a career and ending up being duped is rife. No parental/management supervision, no education, and so the list goes on. What are the pitfalls, what is the reality, what street skills should you acquire and what is the positive side of modeling in China / Asia?
G: Countless preparation has gone into becoming, let alone being, a model and learning the basics before your very first job. However, it is seen constantly that girls and boys from these countries have just been told of the potentials here in China in terms of money. They often just move right in without knowing what to do and perhaps not even knowing the language — Chinese or English, I mean. Many of them also may not have that special something to be recognised — not just the tall and thin assets — and then it’s simply a spiral into low budgets and competitive behaviours.
The latter often results in a lack of confidence in the hearts and minds of those who have put in the real effort and do deserve more recognition. Being a freelance model does not mean you should have no talent. It means you arrange your schedule yourself and that you perhaps are not full-time industry-orientated, with many freelancers taking classes or training to improve their skills or move into the television industry.
The biggest issue we face as/with newcomers is no one knowing what price they should quote. Meanwhile, you’re surrounded by the circulating of countless stories saying such and such “will work for this price or lower” …
Temper: When are you actually and in all honesty fit to be a model in China?
G: You need at least two years of modeling experience and a good understanding of the English language. Furthermore, you need to understand your body, have some knowledge in the field of nutrition and always choose a good night’s sleep over a night on the town before a job.
Temper: How should you as a model communicate with people? How open are you to client requirements? Where do you draw the line?
G: Communication is key and personal feelings should be left at home. A clear mind is always open and welcomes discussion. Learn to appreciate the client’s side and not just your own. Last, but certainly not least, remaining down to earth ensures you will never be shocked by environmental changes — which in this industry and this country may occur at any given time.
I personally draw the line at clothing and situations I was not previously told about. And cut!
Agencies are there to protect you and monitor the fashion environment and economy. Nowadays, with the freelance market, the China modeling scene is unregulated and messy.
The Asia Factor
Temper: What goals should you set for yourself as a model in Asia? What should you always keep in the back of your mind?
G: It’s all about two words: Price and fairness. Time is money, but experience is priceless. Experience saves time and therefore money. That is what you should always keep in mind!
Temper: How did you personally prepare yourself for your Asia modeling stint?
G: As always, there are high seasons and low seasons. During the low seasons, I will repair myself physically, mentally and — of course — I will get out there to socialize and network!
Temper: About those Chinese modeling agencies…
G: Agencies are there to protect you and monitor the [or rather “your”] fashion environment and economy. Nowadays, with the freelance market, the China modeling scene has become unregulated and quite a mess. As the scene is fast-paced and becoming more competitive by the day, one must always be prepared for the unexpected and never limited to one field. Your attention is required at all times.
Temper: One for the in-crowd, i.e. the LaWo App modeling group. How can being part of/signing up for this WeChat group help a new or experienced model?
G: The LaWo group was a Godsent for me personally when I started modeling in China without an agency to back me up for the first time in my whole career. I didn’t know anyone outside of the agencies! LaWo introduced me to and connected me with a bunch of incredibly talented foreigners and local talents. We are a great community and, as goes for any non-profit organisation, the heart is there before the ego.
Temper: Mandatory closing argument: The China Fashion and Design scene in the 21st Century. Your two cents, please!
G: China Fashion is becoming very independent! Out with the past years of copying old American classic styles and in with many new talented local designers who have traveled the world and found their own niches within the industry. My favorites are the eco-friendly designs such as those by Joyce Wang.
In leaving all personal feelings at the door, any talk of China/Model friendship or foe-ness becomes irrelevant. Only one real relevance remains: The China models mean business. And that’s a wrap!