Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Off to a Great Start!

My first letter is from Bernadine Morris, respected doyenne of fashion journalism - epitome of integrity, hardwork and staying power. (Ms. Morris of the New York Times, now currently writes for the first internet fashion tradepaper,

A question that I get all the time is what is it like being a model?

Everyone seems to think that fashion is all glamour. Well, yes, the perks of being a model are great - travel, luxury, adoration, substantial financial gain, and a great big boost to one's ego.

On the flip side of that (and there is always a flip side). It will not last forever. You give up your youth and leave your dreams of having an excellent education (a masters in something, perhaps.), of settling down and having a child, etc. You get used to a way of life that when you stop modelling you may not be able to support unless you marry a rock star.

The biggest plus for me - modelling was an outlet for my modest creativity. I loved working with all the designers, hair dressers, make-up artists, stylists, photographers. These are all creative people who put their art in what they were doing. For me, (and not to undervalue the word 'art'), I always wanted to put my special stamp whenever I walked down the catwalk. It was great medium to express myself because I was always changing roles, from one dress to the next, from one designer to the next, from haute couture to ready-to-wear.

Modeling is hard work. But like everything in life, if you love what you are doing, you seem to forget the pain of having your hair pulled at constantly, the agony of putting shoes 2 sizes too small,the hunger of when the last time you remember eating was yesterday morning, the restless travelling and being expected to work immediately and be bright and beautiful after a 14 hour plane ride.

Modeling is a job, really.

But if you have the dreams, coupled with the stamina, the discipline, and the confidence...the rewards are great.

If you love your job (no matter what it is), in this case will feel like a lifelong vacation. Twenty five years of modeling went by so fast for me.

Anna Bayle


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lot of Asians don't think they have what it takes for modelling. What physical attributes are needed to become a model?

7:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

great example for aspiring models and showing that Asians especially Filipinos "CAN" do it.

9:48 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

hi yasmin -
there are different types of modelling. (photo modelling, runway modelling, tv modelling
and within those mediums - you have different age groups, different lifestyles, etc..)

but when talking about physical beauty, bone structure and body proportions are really critical.

the reason most asians think they don't have what it takes, is because they only see western women as models. it's time to have more asians, don't you think?


11:19 PM  
Blogger dana said...

Hello Anna!!
I thought Ms. Victoria Chin's article entitled "The New Face of the Supermodel" is fitting info in your blog site being the first truly major Asian Supermodel....are you going back in the runway!! we missed you a lot

The New Face of the Supermodel

By Victoria Chin

Asian faces in high fashion are few and far between. APA examines the lack of diversity in the world of modeling along with the increasing demand for some color amidst the omnipresent black and white. See who has penetrated the iron gates surrounding high fashion, and meet the bright young faces who seek to redefine classical notions of beauty.

For as long as we can remember, the fashion world has painted a black and white picture of what the ideal woman should look like -- literally. When most people hear the word model, they think of Caucasian beauties like Kate Moss and Heidi Klum, or African-American seductresses like Tyra Banks and Naomi Campbell. In the late 1990s, we saw the rise of the Brazilian bombshells (a la Gisele Bundchen and Isabeli Fontana), but these women’s physical features are often indistinguishable from the European staples. So where have Asians fallen in the mix, you might ask?

The answer, to be blunt, is close to nonexistent. The renowned faces in high fashion are predominantly white. There is a significant number of black models who have become household names, but for the most part, the industry is still dominated by Caucasians. On, the online home of Vogue and W Magazines and a leading news source for high-end fashion and beauty, about 90% of the current ‘it’ models are white. On, a leading source for information about runway models, 48 of the top 50 models are white. On the hit reality TV show America’s Next Top Model, hosted by Tyra Banks, we do see African-American and Latina models, but in the five season span of the show, there have been only two contestants of Asian descent. Now if you thought there was a serious lack of Asian designers, I wouldn’t know what to call the number of Asian models.

In a way, the lack of diversity in the face of high fashion used to make sense. After all, the vast majority of high-end designer clientele was Caucasian. The exorbitantly priced merchandise was also only available in the most cosmopolitan cities in Europe and America. With the penetration of African-American faces in the mass media eventually came the arrival of the first black faces in fashion -- namely, Iman and Pat Cleveland in the 1970s. Until very recently, Asian faces were an anomaly on the runways, let alone magazine editorials and designers’ advertisements.

The growing popularity of high fashion and the rise of Asian economies have created a demand for models to whom Asians can relate. The astonishing growth of Japan’s economy in the latter part of the 20th century made it the first Asian country that could boast high-end designer merchandise. In spite of this, and the fact that the first successful Asian designers were Japanese, the black and white picture persisted. Perhaps the development of Shanghai is the best example of the new demand for diversity -- the nouveau riche are running rampant, so every prominent design house is scrambling to build a boutique. Black and white faces alone aren’t going to satisfy this large and ever-increasing new class of consumers. Adding to the buzz, Vogue China was launched this past September, making this the third Asian country, next to Japan and Korea, with its own version of the premier fashion magazine. Asian designers like Anna Sui and Peter Som have a hand in this as well; their runway shows often feature an ethnically diverse set of models.

Why has the rise of Asians in the sphere of modeling been so slow compared to that in fashion design or entertainment? A logical argument would be that the traditional Asian facial features defy the Western standards of beauty. Many Asians lack the large eyes and sharp noses that are so highly esteemed in Western culture; small eyes and less prominent nose bridges are devalued. Of the black models who have succeeded, several appear simply as darker-skinned Europeans, and many struggling to penetrate the industry attempt to make themselves look more ‘white’ in photographs. Magazines, perhaps the most important medium in the fashion industry, face the dilemma of whether non-Asian audiences would be receptive to an Asian cover model.

Devon Aoki, the face of Lancome. Photo courtesy of

The models of Asian descent who have risen to stardom in the fashion world can almost be counted on one hand. There was Anna Bayle, the legendary Filipina who was said to share supermodel status in the 1980s with household names like Cindy Crawford and Linda Evangelista. She is often deemed the first Asian supermodel, and may well have been the first consistent Asian face in fashion magazine editorials. Kimora Lee, better known as the wife of music mogul Russell Simmons and the designer of Baby Phat, started her career as a model at the age of 13. Kimora, who is half Korean and half black, was chosen by Karl Lagerfeld himself to grace the Chanel haute couture runway.

In the early 1990s, Siberian model turned Mortal Kombat actress turned published author Irina Pantaeva came onto the scene. This multi-talented model was arguably the first consistent Asian face in mainstream clothing ads from Gap and Levis. The early '90s was also when Pakistani-German model Yasmeen Ghauri was discovered, working in a McDonald’s in Montreal no less. Though her strict Muslim father vehemently opposed a modeling career, she managed to land contracts with Versace, Givenchy, Hermes, and Victoria’s Secret. In the late '90s, Karl Lagerfeld made yet another young and remarkable choice for the face of Chanel: Devon Aoki. Aoki, daughter of Benihana owner and Olympic wrestler Rocky Aoki, is Japanese, German, and British, and stands at a mere 5’5” -- a height unheard of in the fashion world. This model turned actress (you might recognize her from 2 Fast 2 Furious or Sin City) was labeled as the new muse of the millennium, and became the face of Baby Phat and Lancome.

In this new millennium, three Asian models have managed to break the black and white runway boundaries. First off, there’s Ai Tominaga, who can be seen on the runways of everybody who’s anybody in fashion. This new mother also opened her own boutique in Tokyo, called Deep Sweet Easy, and was most recently the face of Banana Republic and Gucci fragrance. From Mumbai we have Ujjwala Raut, the first Indian woman ever to truly ‘make it’ in high fashion. Raut has appeared in Yves Saint Laurent and Dolce & Gabbana ads, and is widely praised for celebrating her distinctly Indian physical features rather than masking them. Within the past year, the catwalks witnessed the rise of Korean-American Hye Rim Park. She’s been spotted in ads for Roberto Cavalli, D&G, H&M, and MAC Cosmetics, but we like her for her resilience. During the Spring 2006 show for Christian Dior, her heel broke while she was walking down the runway, but she acted as if nothing happened and gracefully completed her turn, sans a four-inch heel!

So perhaps there is hope for Asians who desire a future in modeling. After all, the number of prominent Asians and Asian-Americans in the design and entertainment industries is steadily rising, so why not modeling? Penetration into the world of fashion and beauty is perhaps a little more difficult than the others. This is a field based almost solely on aesthetics, a field in which the average person’s career ends at the ripe age of 24. The realm of modeling has depended on predefined notions of beauty, and already has a consistent idea of what’s hot and what’s not. Any established industry is resistant to change, but the sort of change we’re discussing is one that would alter the very fabric of the modeling world. It’s no wonder that African and Asian models have gone to great lengths to look more Caucasian.

Though the number of Asians faces in high fashion has not increased much by any standards, there is some evidence of change. The numbers are still scarce, but never before have we seen the degree of diversity we have now on the runways, in magazines, and in advertisements. The October cover of Parisian Vogue featured Chinese model Du Juan alongside supermodel Gemma Ward -- and yes, that’s a big deal. Aside from that, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Elle magazines are warming up to Asian faces. Slowly, but surely, ethnic features will not be devalued, and women will begin to emphasize their different skin tones, eye shapes, and bone structures. Who knows when it will happen, but in this case, sooner is better than later.

Other up-and-coming models worth mentioning: Juliana Imai, Liu Dan, Rila Fukushima, Anne Watanabe, Amber Chia, Aline Nakashima, Kyung-Ah Song, Du Juan

1:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

: The Craft of Modeling

Hello Anna,

When I visualize you walking down the runway, your own particular way of walking really does stand out. Indeed, that is the reason you're considered the "best walker in the business." And of course, much has been said and written about that.

But to focus on just your brand of walking would be missing the big picture, and doesn't provide opportunity to fully appreciate your contribution to fashion. It has to do with your mastery of the craft of modeling.

Designers loved collaborating with you because you gave life to their creation. And this is an important relationship (and why you got to work with so many of them, I suspect). A painting can generate its own light and beauty. But clothes need a model who will make full use of herself as instrument to give the garment its anima (its soul!). And yes, the breathless gasps, the thunderous applause and the shivers from all who watched are testament that you, as instrument, performed beautifully and masterfully.

So… HOW do you do it? I realize the response could very well be content for a book or a master class in modeling perhaps, but throw us a bone anyway! :) I'd very much LOVE to hear you share your wisdom on this.

Toti Manasan

1:52 PM  

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