Until recently, Asian models rarely landed the fashion industry's big jobs, usually just appearing as token diversity chips in campaigns and fashion magazines. But this year marks an uptick in visibility: Hot new faces like Fei Fei Sun and So Young Kang have appeared front and center in major runway shows, ad campaigns, and magazine editorials.
The shift seemed to begin last October, when Louis Vuitton's cheongsam-inspired spring 2011 show featured eight Asian models (other top labels gave one or two out of 40 runway slots to Asian women.) Then, the December 2010 issue of Vogue dedicated a full editorial feature to Asian models, accompanied by an article proclaiming that Asians are "redefining traditional concepts of beauty." And a month after that, designer Ricardo Tisci booked an entirely Asian cast for Givenchy's spring 2011 couture presentation. While this type of stunt casting smacks of the "paint chip problem" recently critiqued by Robin Givhan, it's better than nothing.
This year, we've already seen 22-year-old Chinese newcomer Sui He become the first Asian model to open Ralph Lauren's fall 2011 show in New York (which was, probably not coincidentally, Asian-themed). She's now rumored to front the designer's upcoming fall campaign alongside favorite Lauren face, Valentina Zelyeva. Meanwhile, rising South Korean model So Young Kang walked in the Oscar de la Renta and Marni shows this season, and has shot for Elle once and Vogue twice in the span of her one-year career — coups for any new model.
Fei Fei Sun is another face to watch: after a strong debut fall 2010 runway season, Sun appeared in Dsquared2's spring ads and the Calvin Klein One fragrance campaign. Alongside Anais Pouliot, Zuzanna Bijoch, and Daphne Groeneveld, Sun is also rumored to have landed the fall 2011 Vuitton campaign.
Sun, He and Kang can aspire to the longevity of Liu Wen, who completed her seventh catwalk season this February. She's currently a face of ck Calvin Klein, and booked Dolce & Gabbana's fall campaign, shot by Steven Klein.
It's probably premature to hope that 2011 will be the year of the Asian model, but any increase in diversity in the fashion industry is worth noticing.