Exotic works both ways
Updated: 2012-04-23 07:58
By Tiffany Tan (China Daily)
Clockwise from left: Daniela Crnogorac has been doing fashion shows in the three weeks she's been in China; Arber Minxhozi plans to extend his contract in China by two months; Vincent Lillo is on his third trip to China. [Photos provided to China Daily]
While Chinese models stand out in the West for being different, the same applies to Western models here and this opens doors to the country's catwalk. Tiffany Tan reports.
A year and a half ago, Daniela Crnogorac signed up for her first modeling job in her native Serbia. Now, the 21-year-old is busy attending castings and doing runway shows in the Chinese capital.
Before she heads back home in June, the willowy brunette plans to check out some of Beijing's top tourist attractions: the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven.
And before she quits modeling, in about three years, to follow through with plans to go to college, Crnogorac hopes to land projects that will give her a chance to explore Paris and London.
"Modeling is something that I want to do just for money," she says at the office of Lead Model, her Chinese agency. "And of course travel. I will never have money on my own to pay for a trip to China to see the Great Wall and Forbidden City and everything like that."
In spring and fall, the fashion world's busiest seasons, as labels launch new collections, hundreds of budding foreign models visit China to do runway shows, magazine and catalogue photo shoots, as well as TV commercials and company videos.
Many of these models, knowing the profession's ephemeral quality, don't intend to stay in the job long. Just several years to earn some money and get a chance to travel are common refrains.
But for others, money and travel are just bonuses.
Eight months ago, Arber Minxhozi decided to take a break from engineering school and become a model.
The job was perfect since it would indulge two of his passions: posing in front of the camera and meeting new people.
Since then, the 21-year-old Albanian has done work in Switzerland, Germany and Austria. In February, he decided to travel farther from home despite misgivings.
"Before I came here, I wasn't feeling really good about going to China because I was thinking this is a communist country, so the people would be cold and angry. I was thinking this during the long plane ride," Minxhozi says during an interview at the office of his Chinese agency Unique Time.
"The people at the agency were really warm so I felt very good. I thought wrong. The people are really good," he says.
Foreign models, who typically stay for up to three months, are drawn to China because of the abundance of work. This means an opportunity for underemployed models, as well as fresh faces, to enhance their portfolios.
In Europe's fashion capitals of Paris, Milan and London, for instance, major projects usually attract a thousand applicants but only two to three are picked - often top models, says Vincent Lillo, who has been modeling for six years in cities like Milan, London and Barcelona.
In China, on the other hand, "everybody has a chance" to work, says the 22-year-old Frenchman, who is on his third trip to the country.
For photo shoots, industry insiders say foreign models are typically paid 500-1,500 yuan ($79-238) an hour. For runway shows, they get 2,000-2,500 yuan a show. About half of the amount goes to the model's agency as commission.
Wu Xia, a senior agent at New Silk Road, a leading Chinese modeling agency, paints the same picture of demand.
"Almost every domestic brand is looking for foreign faces to be in their look book, catalogue, commercials and fashion shows," she says. "In fashion shows, especially, most clients want at least half of their models to be Westerners."
The reason being: "In China they want what they don't have; in Paris it's the same," says Lillon.
More than being exotic, foreign models help Chinese labels project an international image - which enhances their sales. But this image does not always correspond with reality.
"The Chinese market is huge, so most Chinese brands focus on the domestic market. They are not mature enough to go international, but choosing some international faces for their shows may help them to create a more international image, to say that their products can suit all kinds of people," says Hu Nan, executive editor-in-chief of Fashion China, a magazine published by the China Fashion Association.
"Chinese consumers are very diverse ... but yes, I have to say there is a tendency to prefer brands or designers who have a more international image."
During March's China Fashion Week alone, 102 foreign models participated in the runway shows, 62 percent more than last year's, according to the models' committee of the China Fashion Association, which runs the fashion week.
As for Crnogorac, the Serbian model is working so many hours right now there isn't any time for sightseeing. But at least she's working toward her other big goal.
"I hope to get great work so I can pay for college," she says.
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