Asian Modelling Is Shaping a Diverse Industry

  • Esther O'Leary

The exotic features and caramel skin tones of Asian models are increasingly attracting interest within the fashion industry. Models of Indian, Pakistani, Japanese, Filipino and Chinese descent and many more ethnicities in between are featuring more prominently than ever before in mainstream advertising, as well as being featured in specific Asian campaigns. 

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With successful asian models shaping the fashion landscape the modelling world is welcoming diversity. Let’s take a journey and explore how the asian market began and has developed. 

The First Asian Model


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Surprisingly, back in 1956 China Machado became the first non-white model in the beautiful world of couture. Her debut role was as a fitting model for Givenchy in Paris after being spotted at a cocktail party. An encounter she describes as ‘It just happened to me.’ Two years later she graced the runway for the likes of Valentino, Dior and Pierre Cardin. 

Fashion photographer Richard Avedon, spotted China at a Givenchy runway show in New York where she opened the show on a ladder in hot pink, bat-wing pyjamas. Struck by her high cheek bones he believed for her to be ‘probably the most beautiful woman in the world.’ 

In awe of her striking, exotic look, Avedon captured photographs in his studio about three days later, which were published in the February 1959 edition of Harper’s Bazaar; iconic, modern pictures that remain relevant today establishing himself as a photographer who had a strong vision far removed from the 50s conservative ideals. 

The beginning of many firsts for Asian models! Runway and photography collided – an unusual concept for fashion modelling of this era. 

Breaking The Race Barrier


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Prior to the feature, fashion magazines did not showcase Asian models. Breaking the race barrier began at a time where the world was changing especially in the indulgence and extravagance of 1960’s Paris. 

Initially, the Hearst corporation refused to accept China (pronounced Chee-na) until Avedon threatened to resign if the images were not published. Robert F. MacLeod, the magazine’s publisher in the late fifties declared. ‘Listen, we can’t publish these pictures. The girl is not white.’ A tale only revealed to China 20 years later. He tried to protect her from the narrow minded views of the time becoming a great, lifelong friend. 

An iconic moment in modelling history that allowed for the fashion industry to diversify slightly from their perception of the ‘norm.’ China was discriminated against with Southern buyers refusing to buy the dresses she modelled and to be told she would never make a lot of money due to her ethnicity. After 6 years as a model, she accepted a job as fashion editor at Bazaar after becoming tired of the fickle nature; another impressive accomplishment for her era. 

A Tale of Firsts

A tale of debuts as Asian models carve their place in the fashion industry. It is encouraging to witness a diverse industry that continues to accept a variety of ethnicities and cultures. As new and established Asian models navigate the modelling world it is only natural for a list of firsts to build and continue to grow each year. Being the first to model for Victoria’s Secret, Louis Vuitton, Burberry or Marc Jacobs is a stamp on fashion history; an impressive achievement that speaks volumes. 


Asian Model Agencies

You can even expect to find specialist Asian modelling agencies to help you make a successful career as a model. With the market growing considerably the need for specialist modelling agencies is much greater than ever before. 

Also, mainstream model agencies will accept Asian models onto their books creating a diverse organisation that caters for a wide range of talent. It is important for agencies to reflect the direction of the industry staying one step ahead. A successful establishment will only prosper if they continually scout potential that brings a new edge to the industry. Research into model agencies available to you to decide, which suits your needs and requirements. 

The Type of Work Available


There is a wide variety of work available for aspiring models and you could find yourself on the catwalk, promoting products and services at a conference or event, or gracing the pages of high fashion magazines and catalogues. You might even be keen to model for TV or internet work; the opportunities are endless. 

With the fashion landscape accepting Caucasian models their is considerably more work available than ever before. Only just this year have we witnessed a change in the Victoria’s Secret line up with four of the runway cast being of Asian decent. 2009 saw Liu Wen gracing the Victora’s Secret runway however, the 2016 catwalk welcomes three more Chinese models – Xi Mengyao, Sui He and Ju Xiaowen. A seven year itch has caused a huge change in the diversity of the annual show. A lot of modelling jobs available will be for American, French and English audiences. 

Successful Asian Models

Over the last decade or two, Asian models have become very present in the fashion world securing roles with top designers and elite magazines. Striking looks, extraordinary talent and a charm appeal that delivers incredible, mesmerising pictures is a success story that adds diversity to high fashion. With so many literally changing the face of fashion, we’ve chosen just 6 successful Asian models. 

Liu Wen


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Meet another lady of firsts! Proudly becoming the first model of East Asian descent to grace the Victoria’s Secret runway, to become a spokesmodel for Estee Lauder and to make Forbes magazine’s annual highest-paid models list she has made history time and time again. All of this with an impressive caliber of brands to her name, Liu Wen is an incredibly successful supermodel. Her repertoire includes Roberto Cavalli, Alexander Wang and Jean Paul Gaultier. 

Neelam Gill


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Last year, Ms Gill featured in the Burberry Prorsum campaign making history for being the first female Indian model to appear in the British brand’s ads. In fact, Neelam’s model debut was for Burberry at London Fashion Week where she modelled exclusively for the brand. Since, she has worked for Abercrombie & Fitch, Vogue, Dior and Kayne West. 

Tao Okamoto


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As both a successful actress and model, Tao has landed contracts with the likes of Ralph Lauren and as Mariko Yashida in The Wolverine. She returned to the film screens in 2016 to star in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Tao is no stranger to the catwalk gracing the runway for Alexander Wang, Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana and Yves Saint Laurent. 2009 witnessed Tao becoming an icon with her bowl haircut that inspired Phillip Lim’s locks for the entire show. Since, she has fronted numerous campaigns with elite designers and international editorials. 

Soo Joo Park

Soo Joo Park has taken centre stage in the fashion industry over the last 5 years, dominating the catwalk and the magazine stand. ELLE, W Magazine and Vogue are just a few who welcomed her unique blonde hair with open arms. Hoping to recognised as just a ‘model’ rather than an ‘Asian model’ she has refused to conform to stereotypes with her striking bleached locks. Her attempt to form her own identity has certainly worked becoming a favourite amongst the top designer names. 

Xiao Wen Ju


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First noticed on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar China May 2010, Ju made her debut in New York City at the Fall Honor show. The following year she graced the catwalk for the likes of Phillip Lim, Calvin Klein Jeans, Louis Vuitton and Prada. Her Marc Jacobs ad marked a first for the brand allowing for Xiao Wen Ju to be the only model of Chinese descent to feature in the designers campaign catalogue. February of last year revealed Ju’s latest achievement – the new face of L’Oreal Paris. 

Godfrey Gao


Photo Credit: Godfrey Gao Instagram

Recognised as the first Asian male to model for Louis Vuitton back in 2012, Godfrey Gao’s career has gone from strength to strength. With his charming good looks, chiseled jaw and staggering 6’4” height he is perfect supermodel material. Appearing on many magazine covers such as GQ China. His acting career has also taken off securing roles in both television and film. 

Breaking Stereotypes

It is clear that models of Asian descent are breaking boundaries and creating a place for themselves in the fashion industry. With many of the models listed above creating firsts demonstrates how designers, magazines and photographers are accepting of a diverse industry. The ultimate goal is for the success to continue and not become a fad or trend. 

However, despite the success there are still many stereotypes that need to be dissolved especially in such a contemporary, forward thinking era. Liu Wen explains:

[ctt template=”3″ link=”d417p” via=”yes” ]“I hope that when people see Asian women, they realise we are all different.” @UKModelslondon[/ctt]

“A lot of the time with Caucasian people, they just group us together as Asian. We look Asian, but we still look different. We don’t look the same.”

Essentially, it is about being educated and knowledgeable about cultures to enforce a change. Liu delves deeper describing how in China people see beauty as an aura and a sense of presentation rather than looks. It’s about confidence from within that shows an individuals beauty rather than just their aesthetic. 


How to Become An Asian Model

It is important to understand that whatever your ethnicity, there are common issues to address when it comes to finding regular work as a model in the UK. It is no easy feat with a lot of competition and hard work to undertake to become a success. 

The following top 5 tips should help you get started.

    1. Understand the industry.

Look through the press, on the internet and at fashion and beauty events for cues on the kind of work Asian models are already doing. Identify models you admire and find out more about them and the brands they represent as well as the photographers they work with.

     2. Find a reputable agent.

UK Models can advise you on the best modelling agencies for you to increase your chances of securing work. They can also help answer your questions about the industry and give you a good idea of what an agency will expect of you.

    3. Take care of yourself.

You are your most important asset as a model so it is vital that you take care of your health and wellbeing. Whatever kind of work you hope to do, make sure you eat well and get regular exercise. Keep your skin, hair and body in top condition, both male and female models should be well groomed at all times. Taking care of yourself will make a god impression at modelling jobs.

    4. Build your model portfolio.

Great photos act as a modelling business card and are crucial to securing representation with agencies and future work. Make sure you have a selection of good quality full length photographs and head shots at the ready. You should aim for a natural look with minimal make up and wear simple clothes that enable an agent to see your shape.

    5. Perform well at castings.

Model agencies will often want to audition new models by holding a casting at their offices or at a photographic studio. Whilst agents are interested in how you look, they will also take your personality into consideration. In addition to being confident and friendly you will also need to demonstrate that you can take direction. Castings can take a long time and you may be kept waiting so be prepared.

If you think you have model potential then there’s no better time to get started. Whatever your heritage, your unique features hold the key to a great career so be proud of your ethnicity.

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