Everybody is familiar with the traditional major fashion markets, New York, Paris, London, and Milan. Models and supermodels roam their catwalks and sidewalks because the fashion houses, ad agencies and magazine publishers are headquartered there. The demand for models in those cities are real.
What some don’t realize is that, on the other side of the world, Asia is a major consumer of those luxury fashion goods. China and Japan make up the #1 and #2 markets for luxury goods, with the former accounting for more than 20% of the global market alone. This means, cities like Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, and Seoul also have a huge demand for models.
Wanting to learn more about the modeling industry in Asia, we reached out to Audrey M., a successful Canadian model who’s worked in Tokyo and Hong Kong for the past 3 years.
iLHP: Hi Audrey. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us! Could you tell us about yourself?
Audrey: No problem! I’m 25 years old, married, and living in Hong Kong where I am represented by Models International Ltd. I’ve only been living in Hong Kong for the past year–for two years before that, I was living in Japan.
After I graduated University, I moved to Japan to teach English. Along the way, I really became interested in Japanese fashion and kawaii culture, started modeling, and met my husband.
Many people assume that I live in Hong Kong because of modeling, but it’s actually entirely because of my husband’s job that I’m here; last year he was told to transfer to the Hong Kong branch of his work, and I contacted agencies to join.
iLHP: Very cool, looks like you’ve moved around. Could you tell us a little bit about working as a model in Asia?
Audrey: During my first year in Japan, I was scouted many times by different modeling agencies. I waited until my year-long teaching contract was up to join the one I felt had the best reputation. So really, I didn’t start my “career” as a model until I was 23, which is very late. As you know, most girls start modeling as teenagers and then usually stop in their mid-20s.
I feel like Hong Kong is an interesting mix of the Asian and European markets. Sometimes clients want cute kawaii girls that would do well in Japan, but sometimes they want super edgy high fashion girls. I’ve heard that the HK fashion market is slower compared to that in Europe, but I still think if you work hard you can do well here.
I’ve found that it’s important to not take rejection or harsh criticism personally. You will never be booked for every single job you go casting for, and sometimes clients or bookers will say…not the nicest things about your body. It’s important not to internalize those criticisms and let them fester otherwise you’ll just burn out and be miserable.
iLHP: That is really good advice. I feel no matter how successful a model is, she will always have to face some adversity because sometimes clients are just finicky. Could you give us a rundown of some of your favorite work so far?
Audrey: I absolutely love shooting beauty and jewelry. It’s so much fun! Some brands I’ve worked for are Kanebo Cosmetics, Lunasol, and Chantecaille but I’ve also done makeup demos in Fashion & Beauty Magazine and More Magazine. I’ve only had a few opportunities to shoot jewelry, but I appeared in Wedding Magazine wearing Piaget and Harry Winston. My beauty and jewelry work have all been in Hong Kong.
My favorite shoot that I did in Japan was for a sweets/dessert catalogue for Apita. The set and styling was all so cute! Lots of floral and pastel decorations. I really want to do more bright and happy shoots like that, especially because I really don’t have a high fashion look.
iLHP: I first found you via your Instagram account and I was drawn to your look immediately. Your long hair, porcelain skin, and doe-y eyes, it is very Japanese “kawaii” (cute). It is not something we are used to seeing this side of the ocean. How would you describe your look?
Audrey: This is actually a really interesting question. How I represent myself on Instagram and how I represent myself when I am going to castings is very very different. On my Instagram, I can dress how I want and do my makeup how I like; I like to wear false lashes, circle lenses, and do unique makeup. I like to experiment with different fashion styles. Recently, I’ve been getting into a cooler street fashion look, but I think I enjoy dressing in cute Japanese fashion brands (especially Liz Lisa!) the most.
When I go to castings, however, I must wear natural makeup. I must wear “casting appropriate” clothes, which are usually skinny jeans and a tank top. My agency has told me to dress like this when I go to castings because clients don’t want to see a model done up in makeup or dressed in a unique style–they want to see someone plain that they can change and morph to project the image they want. If you are wearing lots of makeup or crazy clothes, then it’s distracting the client from seeing if you have the image they want.
This doesn’t really bother me though. I’ve gotten many sponsorships from clients who approach me directly on Instagram after seeing my pictures and outfits there. That’s awesome, because their products are more aligned with the cute image that I’ve created for myself. However, through modeling I’ve done a variety of different jobs that have nothing to do with how I personally style myself and that’s awesome too.
iLHP: That’s great. I think versatility is one characteristic of a good model. Have you modeled in North America before Asia as well? If so, could you talk about about some of the different expectations?
Audrey: I’ve never modeled in North America because I just wasn’t interested in it, and I never had the time! I was always too busy with school. However, I feel like many people in North America have many misconceptions about modeling in Asia.
Many people believe that in order to be a model, you MUST be 6 ft tall, have the bone structure of a praying mantis, and have a super high fashion look. In Asia, especially in Japan and China, clients like shorter girls. I myself am only 175cm (5’9″). When I joined my agency in Japan, I was told that I was almost too tall!
Now that I’m in Hong Kong, I’m easily the shortest caucasian model in my agency and girls look very youthful and cute. In this way, girls who do very well in Europe may not do so well in Asia and vice versa. I probably wouldn’t do well at all in Europe, haha.
iLHP: Haha. It’s interesting how each region has different expectations. What would you like to accomplish as a model in the near future?
Audrey: I do have some exciting work coming up, but I can’t talk about it yet! Honestly, I would love to work more with Asian beauty and fashion brands that are more aligned with my personal style. Often in modeling you have to play pretend and become someone you’re not, so I think it would be so great to model for a brand that I would naturally wear or use myself!
iLHP: Thank you so much for speaking with us Audrey. We would love to shoot with you some day! Any parting advice for models looking to venture into Asia?
Audrey: Thank you for taking the time to ask me questions! All the models I’ve spoken to here always have positive things to say about working in Hong Kong and Japan! If you come here, I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful time too
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