Fashion’s New Asian Supermodel Fad Driven by Dollars

As China becomes a driving global economic force, the fashion industry is trying to target its consumer base.

By Jorge Rivas Oct 24, 2011

Chinese model Liu Wen was the most booked non-white looking model at the last New York Fashion Week. It’s part of a new fashion trend seen in ad campaigns, runways and on beauty magazine covers. But some say it’s only because the fashion and beauty world is interested in Asia’s buying power — and not because they’re acknowledging that Asians are, in fact, beautiful.

ABC’s "Nightline" ran a segment called "New Face of Fashion: Asian Models" that called Asian supermodels "the hottest new stars of haute couture." And the argument that the sudden burst of inclusion is being driven primarily by profit factored strongly into the discussion.

"China is going to overtake the U.S. in becoming the #1 luxury market any day now," said Disgrasian’s Jen Wang in the segment. "The fashion industry is starting to take note and starting to put people who represent that market in to their pages."

To be certain, Asian supermodels aren’t new. In the 1990’s, Asian-American supermodel Jenny Shimizu led campaigns for Banana Republic and Calvin Klen. There’s also Kimora Lee Simmons, Tina Chow, Marie Helvin and Irina Pantaeva.

But Hyphen Magazine’s Thao Ngo says it’s important to note this latest trend doesn’t include very many Asian Americans. "Even as our home cultures are being mined for creative source material, Asian American female models are still relegated to commercial work and low-fashion margins," Ngo wrote in August for Hyphen.