The Far East has provided an endless supply of fashion news lately as a result of China’s luxury market boom. Recently, Bloomberg reported that Chinese consumers surpassed Americans as the top luxury buyers in the world. Japan proved to be the source of a powerful trend during the spring 2013 shows, and Fei Fei Sun just landed on the cover of Vogue Italia for the magazine’s first solo Asian cover.
Model casting in advertising has been catching up, as well. East Asian models are snatching up cosmetic contracts (Liu Wen for Estée Lauder, Shu Pei for Maybelline, Sui He for Shiseido) and with the recent deluge of spring 2013 campaigns for womenswear, we notice an influx of east Asian beauties with models like Yumi Lambert for Chanel, Sung Hee Kim for Prada and Miu Miu resort, Ji Hye Park and Tian Yi for Louis Vuitton, Sui He for Roberto Cavalli, and Shu Pei for Michael Kors.
WWD‘s China File editor Huang Hung confirmed that there’s been an increase in Asian models in luxury ads recently, probably an attempt at appealing to the growing luxury consumer base in China and other Asian countries. While Huang welcomes the growing diversity in the ads, she said that luxury ads featuring Chinese actresses, who have a higher profile in China than models, might be a better strategy.
Casting director Julia Samersova has also noticed an increase demand for Asian models. As for why, Samersova said, “Let’s start with the pure fact that Asian girls are drop dead gorgeous, elegant, refined, and just absolutely beautiful!”
She added, “I also think that the smart, forward thinking clients/brands finally realize that this is a global economy and that they must sell their product to a wide range of consumers, who are not always Caucasian!”
Unfortunately, high fashion advertising has a long way to go before it can be considered an equal opportunity space for models. Taking a look at the casting history for high fashion brands makes us wonder if these ads are a sign of progress or posturing. Diversity in their ads for the last 20 years has been spotty at best and non-existent at worst.
In 1999, Devon Aoki played muse to Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, but more recently the brand tapped actress Rinko Kikuchi for a 2008 handbag campaign. Louis Vuitton’s fall/winter 2011 ads featured Vogue Italia cover girl Fei Fei Sun, while Du Juan played a part in both that and Roberto Cavalli’s fall/winter 2006 ads. It’s been 12 seasons since Cavalli’s last use of an east Asian model.
On the other hand, Miu Miu and Prada’s history with diverse casting is notoriously dismal. Actresses Zhou Xun, Dong Jie, and Lina Ohta shot for Miu Miu in 2006, while Prada has never previously featured an east Asian model for ready-to-wear. The last 10 years have shown that the same goes for Michael Kors. So what is the chance we’ll see more Asian models represented in campaigns beyond a few seasons?
It’s not easy to be optimistic. In most ads, women of color are almost exclusively featured in large groups, mainly with other white models, and there are plenty of examples from the spring 2013 campaign season of other similarly ubiquitous brands featuring multiple models without a single person of color: Balenciaga, Chloe, Givenchy, Burberry Prorsum, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci. The list goes on.
Some may ask why luxury brands should consistently feature models of color, though it’s more important to ask why they shouldn’t. This dearth in diversity is proven well enough in the fact that a boom in east Asian models is referred to as a “trend.” But is it? In fashion this word indicates something that comes and goes. It implies popularity one day, and irrelevance the next. We’re hoping that this “trend” adheres more closely to something more permanent. And what’s wrong with a little change? Fashion is supposed to thrive on it, after all.
Check out the slideshow for a look at some of the industry’a current top east Asian models.