“I don’t care what my teachers say, I’m gonna be a supermodel. And everyone is gonna dress like me, wait and see…” C(l)ue taken? Time to strut your stuff on the catwalk with three of China’s trailblazing supers.
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Supermodel: a successful fashion model who has reached celebrity status, often with a background in haute couture and commercial modeling. The supermodel (or just “super”) phenomenon first took flight in the late 1980s. Suddenly there were six head-turning glamazonian women, who all looked different and all of whom were known worldwide by their first names–Linda, Christy, Claudia, Cindy, Naomi, Helena.
Two decades on, we see the likes of Insta-models and Chinese virtual idol slash metahumans like e-commerce giant Alibaba’s AYAYI and Noah generate conversation, drive engagement, and set cultural trends. They’re considered more “relatable”– or something like that. Yet, like the Clueless reference above and the fashion revival that once again entered our wardrobes from late 2019 onwards, the supermodel definition is one 90s happening we stand by.
High Temper time to take a look at three Chinese models who redefine(d) the Asian image from runway to fashion editorial review.
DU JUAN — THE FRONTIER PIONEER
Years in the industry: 17
Hailed as China’s first international supermodel, Shanghai-born Du Juan (杜鹃 | Dù Juān in Chinese) burst onto the scene in 2005, breaking down the barriers for a new generation of Asian top models and gracing the cover of Vogue Paris (back then under the all-knowing and -spotting eye of editorial mistress Carine Roitfeld) that very same year — as its first-ever Asian cover girl. Her career then went on to include many more “firsts” and “onlys.”
Du trained in classical ballet for almost a decade before hitting her striding stomp as a model. She, to this day, holds the record for the most appearances on the cover of Vogue China, with a record 14 covers to her name– more than any other model or celebrity.
China’s women’s “solutionwear” label Neiwai (内外| nèi wài or “inside and out”) in 2018 appointed her as brand ambassador, further creating a line of 500 pieces inspired by the model–including lingerie, pajamas and sleeping masks in distinctive patterns and high-end fabrics. After a seven-year fashion stage hiatus, Du subsequently made her return to the runway at the Chinese lingerie brand’s art and fashion show in Shanghai that same year.
“The new generation of Chinese women are independent,” Du told Women’s Wear Daily on the occasion. “They have their own standards and they want to take care of themselves inside and out, which is what the brand name stands for. Neiwai is not just a lingerie brand; it’s more a new type of lifestyle and a new type of attitude for the new generation of Chinese women.”
Considering Du’s global success, this super by the 90s definition has always kept a surprisingly low profile, shunning the use of social media and instead opting for a more under-the-radar lifestyle. This has not dampened her star power, however, and since 2013 she has plunged herself into a new career in the movie industry. That year, Du made her acting debut in American Dreams in China, directed by Peter Chan, winning her nominations at the 33rd Hong Kong Film Awards for best supporting actress and best new performer.
Du’s film most recent film project, Bude Road, premiered in Beijing in September 2021. In this rather “patriotic” piece of work telling the story of Tibet Autonomous Region from the 1950s onward, Du takes on the part of the only non-Tibetan girl– who also happens to be a soldier, Du told one reporter lining the red carpet, “I hope everyone watching the movie can get a real feel of the tremendous changes that have taken place in Tibet over the years!”
Lensed by Nick Yang, Du greeted the world of fashion once again in Marie Claire China‘s April 2022 issue, promoted as “The Future Is Now.” As far as Temper’s concerned, Du is past, present and future.
We reiterate, this one shuns social media — freedom!(c(l)ue taken? — and we heart her for it.
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LIU WEN — THE FORBES DARLING
Years in the industry: 17
Following Liu Wen’s (刘雯| Liú Wén) first international appearance at Paris Fashion Week in 2006, her footprint became a favorite on the Paris, London, Milan and New York catwalks for more than a decade to come. Her face can be found in prestigious fashion magazines as well as in the ad campaigns of global brands such as Calvin Klein and Lane Crawford.
Minor detail: Liu was the first and only Chinese model to appear in the Victoria’s Secret fashion show for two years running, 2009 and 2010.
Liu was in her teens when she began working as a model after losing out on the top spot in the New Silk Road World Model Contest. Since then, Liu has been associated with household names like Burberry, Chanel, Hermes, H&M, Alexander Wang, Tiffany & Co., Louis Vuitton, and Calvin Klein.
In 2010, Liu signed with Estée Lauder, becoming the beauty giant’s first Asian spokesperson as well as the first Asian model to reel in an international cosmetics contract. In 2013, the 超模 (chāo mó| “super model”) was named the first Asian model on Forbes’ list of highest-paid models in the world, Four years later, she broke another record and became the first Chinese model to appear on the cover of Vogue US.
In August 2019, Coach (among other brands) issued an apology for selling T-shirts that depicted certain Chinese territories as independent countries. Liu, a Coach ambassador, distanced herself from the brand in a statement posted to her official Weibo account. “At all times, China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must not be violated. Because of the inaccuracy of the brand I chose and the hurt it has brought to everyone, I apologize to everyone here,” she wrote. “I passionately love my mother country and safeguard China’s sovereignty.”
In another “first,” on March 8, 2021, aka International Women’s Day, Liu became first Asian model to have her own likeness immortalized in the form of a Barbie.
Liu was the cover girl of the December 2022 issue of Vogue China. She appeared in two photographs taken by Margaret Zhang, aka the magazine’s editor-in-chief.
She may literally be a Barbie girl, but Liu lives in a very real, business-savvy and groundbreaking world.
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PAN HAOWEN — THE FUTURE INFLUENCE
Age: part of the 95后 (born after 1995) generation
Years on the global stage: three
In 2019, Pan Haowen (潘浩文) made her international debut at the Christian Dior show and the following year, she made appearances in many a model-coveted fashion week show, including (once more) Dior, Balenciaga, Chanel, Miu Miu, VALENTINO, Giambattista Valli, Kenzo, J.W. Anderson Missoni, and GCDS.
At the same time, she also raked in ad campaigns for the likes of Prada, Balenciaga an Chanel, swiftly becoming a blockbuster in her own right on the Models.com “Hot List.”
In 2020, Forbes China launched its third supermodel list, listing Pan as one of the “top 10 supermodel new faces.”
Pan has said that, outside of modeling hours, she likes to draw, sing, write, travel, and loves spending time with Mother Nature. “I pursue freshness, I like everything that makes me feel new,” she stated.
In June 2020, Pan graced the cover of Vogue China, Aside from that one, she has been featured on the No.1 page of Vogue Me, T Magazine, Wonderland CHINA, and a dozen more.
A model and increasingly a fashion influencer in her own right, Pan is one of the most recognizable and in-demand new faces from China.
Claudia (Schiffer) stated in 2007 that, “In order to become a supermodel one must be on all the covers all over the world at the same time so that people can recognize the girls.”
Du, Liu, and Pan undoubtedly took their cue from that.
FEATURED IMAGE: DU JUAN PHOTOGRAPHED BY NICK YANG FOR MARIE-CLAIRE CHINA’S APRIL 2022 ISSUE. STYLING BY PUNK CHERRY
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