When South Korean model Jae Yoo walked for Calvin Klein's fall 2011 menswear show, he was the first male Asian face to do so. This year, the 22-year-old neuroscience undergrad has been shot by Steven Klein for Vogue Hommes Japan and also modeled for American Eagle. At the spring 2012 menswear shows, Yoo booked runway gigs at Dolce & Gabbana, Bottega Veneta, Givenchy, John Galliano, and, once again, Calvin Klein. Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana then booked the 6'2" model to pose for Antidote magazine's current issue, alongside their other favorite male faces like Adam Senn and Noah Mills. We met Yoo last week to talk about his aspirations in dentistry and irrational fear of cucumbers.
Tell me a bit about your childhood.
I was born in Busan, Korea, and I lived there until I was ten or eleven, when we moved to New Jersey. I have two older sisters that were all born in Busan, and now they're all based in New Jersey as well. When I was a little kid I was very outgoing, and I had to be a leader of everything. I used to beat up little kids.
You were a bully!
[Laughs.] Yeah, but I changed when I moved to the States, because of the language barrier. It was very hard. The first two months I kept asking my mom to go back to Korea, saying, "I don't want to live here, why do you have to make me go through this?" But it got better as I grew up. Now I don't think about going back to Korea at all. It's great to visit there, of course. My parents were very hard working. The first generation is very tough.
How did your parents take to your modeling career?
It was really tough to persuade them at first. I got scouted by a photographer while shopping at Hollister during my visit to New York last summer, and I remember my parents thought it was a scheme. They wanted me to go back to school to finish my studies. A month later, I thought to myself, "What do I have to lose?" So I signed with an agency and started to book jobs. And then my parents were like, "Ehh, okay, you can do it for three months." But then that changed to six months and now it's been a little over a year.
What were you studying at university?
I've been studying neuroscience at University of Michigan. I was a junior when I left [to pursue modeling], so I'll be a senior when I go back next September. Going to dental school is my long-term goal. I'm definitely going to go back and finish.
How do you stay grounded?
I consider myself to be pretty humble. I appreciate all of the opportunities that were given to me thus far. There are so many models who do drugs and party all night, but I was never that kind of person, so I'm lucky not to be.
Did you find it difficult to make your mark on casting directors?
Yeah. At first, whenever I went to castings or whenever I had a job, I asked everybody — the stylist, the photographer, the casting directors — what do I need to do to make my mark wherever I am? And they said, just show your personality. For me, luckily, people tell me that even though I have a very Asian look, my body is different from other Asian male models that are very skinny and thin.
There's such a small pool of Asian male models. Is it competitive between you guys?
It's mixed. For me, I'm good friends with Zhao Lei, Philip Huang, Daisuke Ueda, and Noma Han. But there are some people who get very anxious whenever I do a job, or Noma does a job; other people are like, "Oh, I could've done that."
Any good books you read lately?
I'm reading Nietzsche in Korean.
What is your diet and fitness like?
For me, and a few other models that I know, we always say that I'd rather quit my diet and exercise an extra few hours. I really can't go without eating meat or a bowl of rice with every meal.
What is your most favorite and least favorite feature about yourself?
I used to hate my eyes and my cheekbones when I was younger. When I was born, my dad said he had to help me open my eyes because they were so little. [Laughs.] But I like being tall. Sometimes I imagine what I would do if I were 5'4'' or 5'5".
What scares you?
I'm a bit afraid of cucumbers. That's a little weird, right? I don't know, maybe I was smacked with the cucumber when I was younger?
If you were stranded on an island, who would you take with you?
I might take Noma [Han] just for the heck of it. He's a very humorous person. I'd also have to take my laptop. My laptop's really big — it's not like one of those slim Macbook; It's a huge HP and I carry that around with me everywhere.
Model Profile: Jae Yoo
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