Race to the Top: Leading Ethnic Models

by


Finland

When we look at today’s models and the modeling scene, what can we see? We see beauty. We see internationalism. We see an industry open from one end of the world to the other. Today’s models represent the world, with all its countries, its people, its cultures and races. It seems only natural that models should be representing the population. But is that the case? Does the modeling industry allow for different races, ethnicities and nationalities to be represented on an equal level?

Plenty of diversity could be seen in this season’s fashion shows. From the left: Lakshmi Menon, Photo by Photo by Frazer Harrison/ Hye Park, Photo by Scott Gries/ Arlenis Sosa, Photo by Scott Gries

Plenty of diversity could be seen in this season’s fashion shows. From the left: Lakshmi Menon, Photo by Frazer Harrison/ Hye Park, Photo by Scott Gries/ Arlenis Sosa, Photo by Scott Gries

We can’t help but acknowledge that the modeling industry is entangled in a span of controversy surrounding the issue of race and ethnicity in modeling. Criticism towards the industry is as real today as it was at the end of the 20th century, when the first black models succeeded in making a name for themselves as top models. In today’s battle for more diversity and ethnicity on the catwalk, I was interested in finding out who are the top ethnic models of the moment, who are making themselves known among the highest ranking models. I was surprised to find plenty of beauties ranked among the top 50 models of the moment, and yet I had not heard so much about them. I took this opportunity to find out for modelmanagement.com who exactly are the most up-to-the-minute black and Asian models.

Anyone who follows the latest fashion shows of top designers could have not missed the pulling power of 19-year old Chanel Iman. Named after legendary designer Coco Chanel, this young half African-American, half Korean beauty is one of the few models who are pioneering the return of colored models in the fashion scene today. Iman’s distinguished look, a combination of black and Asian features, has secured her a place among the top models of the moment. Signed with various agencies across the hottest fashion spots in the world, Ford Models in New York, Viva Model Management in Paris and London, to mention a few, she has fronted numerous campaigns, such as Ralph Lauren, DKNY, GAP and United Colours of Benetton. Here is a model with the right ingredients to make it to the very top.

Today's "It" model Chanel Iman shows us what she's got at the Bottega Veneta show at Milan Fashion Week, Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto

Today's "It" model Chanel Iman shows us what she's got at the Bottega Veneta show at Milan Fashion Week, Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto

With the much talked about invisibility of ethnic models in today’s modeling scene, one model not shy to voice out her opinion is 18-year old Jourdan Dunn. This British-born model was spotted in 2006 while shopping in London. She signed with Storm Models soon after, and from there onwards her career has been on the rise. In 2008, she walked on the runway of the Prada show. This was hailed as something very special indeed, as no black model had done that in over a decade. She has been active in making the public aware of the lack of ethnic models, especially black models, in the fashion and modeling scene. In her own words, “London’s not a white city, so why should our catwalks be so white?” It would appear that her call has not been in vain as she seems to be in much demand. Claimed to have walked over 90 shows during the Spring-09 season alone, she is definitely one of the most talked about models of the moment. She can currently be seen in the campaign for YSL La Nuit de L’Homme Fragrance.

Jourdan Dunn walks for Zac Posen Fall 09 collection, Photo by Frazer Harrison

Jourdan Dunn walks for Zac Posen Fall 09 collection, Photo by Frazer Harrison

Another much seen, yet little known about model, is 20-year old Sessilee Lopez. This African-American beauty appeared on the cover of the much talked about 2008 Vogue Italia “All Black”-issue. From the onset of her career, in 2004, signed with IMG Models and living in New York City, she started conquering the modeling scene. Soon after, Sessilee signed with Major Model Management in New York and Paris, Elite Model Management in London and Next Model Management in Milan. She has clearly established herself a credible career as a model with campaigns like DKNY, Benetton, CK One and Levi’s under her belt. From an early stage of her career she managed to take the fashion industry by storm and is still proving her stamina as a model in high demand.

Sessilee Lopez making her mark at the Brian Reyes Runway Spring 09 show, Photo by Scott Gries

Sessilee Lopez making her mark at the Brian Reyes Runway Spring 09 show, Photo by Scott Gries

Let’s now turn our heads more towards the east. I discovered a prominent Indian model, 27-year old Lakshmi Menon. I was formerly only familiar to her face, and I did not know much about her or her career and success as a model. This Indian-born model took up modeling in her home country where she stabilized herself a status as a model. After having worked several years in India, she then took to international level. To this date, she is signed with numerous modeling agencies, including Storm Models and Ford Models in New York and has scored campaigns with Givenchy and Hermès, among other top brands. With her exotic look, Lakshmi represents the east in its beauty and totality. Quoted to have said, “I look at myself as any other model. But yes, sometimes I’m looked upon as an exotic thing that’s landed on their shores”.

Lakshmi Menon for Vogue India

Lakshmi Menon for Vogue India

I went onto reading more about models coming from the eastern part of the world, more specifically the Asian part. I learnt about several top ranking models who all originate from Asia. Hye Park is a 24-year old Korean-American model who has graced us with her presence since the beginnings of her modeling career some 5 years ago. During her durable and consistent career as a model, she has walked the catwalk for several top designers such as Marc Jacobs, Anna Sui and Prada. More recently she has fronted campaigns for Max Mara and Tiffany & Co. In the wake of seeing more and more ethnic models on the catwalks, Hye Park is definitely one of the top names who has, and continues to make up for the lack of Asian models in the industry.

Hye Park for Tiffany & Co

Hye Park for Tiffany & Co

Among the top 50 ranking models are also 21-year old Liu Wen, 26-year old Du Juan and 19-year old Daul Kim. All of these Asian knockouts are signed with top modeling agencies around the world, and they have graced the catwalks and campaigns in the recent years.

Liu Wen, Photo by Paola Kudacki

Liu Wen, Photo by Paola Kudacki

Anyone remotely interested in fashion and modeling, could have not missed these beauties strutting down the runways in New York, Milan and Paris, all the major fashion capitals, showcasing the latest fashion and trends. Liu Wen and Du Juan are both from China, where they first secured statuses as potential international top models. Liu Wen’s home agency is NSR Beijing and she is also signed with Select Models in London and Marilyn Agency in Paris. As for Du Juan, she is signed with IMG Models in New York, London, Paris and Milan.

Du Juan for David Yurman, Photo by Peter Lindbergh

Du Juan for David Yurman, Photo by Peter Lindbergh

Korean-born Daul Kim worked as a model in Korea before moving to New York where she signed with Elite Models. She is also signed with Storm Models in London, Uno in Barcelona and Marilyn Agency in Paris. Daul has walked the catwalk for numerous top designers that include Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana and Louis Vuitton, and she has done endless editorials for leading fashion magazines. She is clearly no stranger to success, having secured herself a spot among the high fliers of modeling. We definitely have not seen all that this Korean stunner has to offer.

Daul Kim for Vogue Korea, Photo by Oh Joong Seok

Daul Kim for Vogue Korea, Photo by Oh Joong Seok

After reading more about these models, I became aware that these are all real top models who have succeeded in making a name for themselves, first in their home countries, then on an international level, and being able to fight any existing prejudice and skepticism still present in our world. The only unfortunate part is that not much is known about them. The recent campaigning of several black models, criticizing the industry’s lack of hiring black models, is clearly not for nothing. Since the 1990’s, when models like Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks and Iman were among the leading supermodels, the fashion industry has been involved in controversy and criticism concerning the unfortunate invisibility of ethnic models on catwalks and campaigns. I was pleased to find out that several black and Asian models have succeeded as top models. Whether or not these models experienced limitations due to the color of their skin or their ethnicity, remains unknown to me, but it has definitely raised my respect for any person, representing a minority, making it to the top. Let’s just hope that the current paucity of ethnic models, be it black or Asian models, will see a turning point in the time to come. In the meantime we can support the models who have made it big on an international level and who keep proving their talent by hard work.

Resources:

www.modelmanagement.com

www.chanel.com

www.supermodels.nl

www.fordmodels.com

www.viva-paris.com

www.ralphlauren.com

www.dkny.com

www.gap.com

www.benetton.com

www.marilynagency.com

www.unobcn.com

www.stormmodels.com

www.select model.com

www.style.it



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