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December 26, 2010

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China's top model stars on global fashion stage

DECEMBER'S American Vogue features eight of the highest-profile Asian models from China, Japan and South Korea who are, according to the magazine, "redefining traditional concepts of beauty."

Asian faces have become more prominent in the fashion industry nowadays, due to the Asian market's rising significance to luxury brands.

Among the eight, 22-year-old Chinese model Liu Wen standing 179 centimeters is undoubtedly the brightest star. She is ranked No. 10 on the world's Top 50 Models list by, the highest ranking ever for an Asian model. On Wednesday, she appeared on American Vogue's "Impact List of 2010" alongside Lady Gaga and Alexander McQueen. The list selected the top 10 people, faces and events that made an impact on fashion this year.

Liu was the first and only "angel" of Asian descent to walk the runway in Victoria's Secret's winged outfits, both in 2009 and last month in New York.

The Hunan Province native continued to push boundaries for Asian models when she was named the global spokesperson for Estee Lauder earlier this year. Best known for her sunshine smile and sculptural, diamond-shaped cheekbones, Liu was the first Asian face in the history of the American beauty products powerhouse.

Liu made her official "spokesmodel" debut in late November at an Estee Lauder gala in Beijing for the launch of the brand's latest "Pure Color Metamorphosis" makeup collection designed specially for the Chinese market.

On the catwalk she wore a simple, elegant white goddess gown and impressed the audience with her beauty and demure appearance. She then walked to the front of the stage, struck a pose and flashed a brilliant smile as the audience cheered.

The stage had been set up just for her.

Later that night, Liu wrote on Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter): "People say a woman is happiest on her wedding day. But I was very happy today!! ... It was the brightest day ever for me, a day I will cherish all my life."

The next day when we sat down for a face-to-face interview, I asked about what she wrote. She laughed: "Well, actually I don't know because I've never had a boyfriend ... I'm a little too busy for that ... but I take Estee Lauder as my lover at the moment. I believe that, in the end, it (a love relationship) is all about fate, like anything else."

She never expected to become Victoria's Secret angel or dreamed of becoming Estee Lauder's spokesperson. She attributed everything to "fate," but everyone knows it's more than destiny.

Liu is hard working. The Chinese stunner began modeling in 2005 and has since appeared in numerous advertising campaigns, runway shows and magazine editorial pages. Chinese media once nicknamed her "Xiu Ba" (Fashion Show Queen) for her hectic schedule during fashion weeks.

A fixture on the runways of New York, Milan and Paris, Liu was reported to have walked a total of 48 shows for the spring/summer 2011 season and 49 for the autumn/winter season that followed.

"My record is six shows in one day at the New York Fashion Week," she recalled. "You have no idea how tiring it can be, especially in a city where everything is new to you. Your cheek is polished by countless brushes; and your hair, too ... It was normal for me to only sleep for three hours a day ... Anyone who has experienced that will probably feel as devastated as I once did."

Her way of battling negative thoughts is to eat. Name anything high in calories and she is a big fan. "I love ice cream, chocolate and chips," she said, not joking but apparently quite serious, "they make me happy, charge me up and bring me confidence."

That's another thing one likes about Liu - she doesn't fake things. Wearing an airy Derek Lam dress from the designer's resort 2011 collection, she looked toned, fit and healthy - not as bony as many young models who claim to eat a healthy diet with lots of vegetables and do a lot of exercise, if not yoga or Pilates.

Liu said she does most of her exercise while working because she is "constantly asked to jump, to make all kinds of movements and to change postures." She also runs regularly when she is in New York (she now spends most of her time in New York), near her apartment in Peter Cooper Village. "I really enjoy my neighborhood," she said. "It is like a big park with many interesting buildings, lots of greens and even small fountains. There are also many cute squirrels that you will never be able to see in China."

She was not afraid to admit that as much as she loves to laugh, she cries a lot too, whenever she is happy, excited, sad, tired, or sometimes feels at a loss. "I have a 'cry' mole," she said, referring a tiny mole under her eye. It is believed by Chinese people that a woman is destined to cry a lot throughout her life if she was born with a mole like that. But it's not necessarily a bad thing - it makes the woman more attractive in some ways.

Liu spoke in Mandarin during the interview, but I noted that she used a lot of English words. She noticed that, too.

"I'm so sorry but I don't know what happened to me today," she apologized for lapsing into English. "I just couldn't help it."

Liu communicates fluently in English with Tom Pecheux, Estee Lauder's creative makeup director, as well the company's other New York staff. To my surprise, she has never hired an English teacher, as do most Chinese movie stars and celebrities.

"I don't lie but I learned all my English at fashion week backstage," she said, giggling. "That's why my English is a mixture of all accents. All the models are very young, and we like to talk a lot about fashion, food and different cultures at backstage.

"I used to be afraid of speaking English while being interviewed," she continued. "I was shy and was afraid that people wouldn't understand what I was saying. But now I try to speak as much as I can. It's all about practicing. Being able to communicate with other people (in English) makes me feel more confident about myself and it allows me to unveil the many sides of me."

And she is not only smart but also literally a good girl. Given the fact that she's been working in the fickle industry for five years, she doesn't smoke or drink and is not a party girl.

When she is off duty, she enjoys tiding up the room, chatting with friends over afternoon tea, visiting museums and going to the cinema to improve her English.

Born in Yongzhou, a small city in Hunan Province, Liu entered the New Silk Road World Modeling Contest in 2005 on a whim and unexpectedly won the regional championship. The contest offered a laptop computer as one of the top prizes, and winning one was her primary motivation at the time.

Before that, she had always wanted to be a tour guide.

"I wanted to be a tour guide so that I would have the chance to travel around the country," she said. "However, my modeling job now takes me to larger and further places all over the world. I do love my job.

"I'm the only child," she went on. "I've always wanted to show my best to my parents ever since I was a little girl. Seeing me on TV and magazines nowadays makes them really proud. And I'm proud of myself when they are."

Quick Q&A

Q: Why do you think Estee Lauder chose you?

A: My personality. (Also) Aerin Lauder (senior vice president and creative director of Estee Lauder) once told me that Asian girls have great skin.

Q: Do you consider yourself a beauty?

A: Well, I had never realized that before I became a model. I just try to be myself - be healthy, be happy and be confident.

Q: What is your favorite part of your body?

A: My dimples. Everyone loves them. A lot of people actually ask if they can touch them when they meet me.

Q: Do you wear make-up in your everyday life?

A: I don't put on a lot of make-up when I'm not working. Because when I am, I always put on too much. However, I do wear lip gloss every day. It helps to light up my skin. And there are always many different colors to choose from.

Q: How would you describe your personal style? Where do you usually go shopping?

A: I always go to 3.3 Fashion Mansion in Sanlitun when I'm in Beijing, where I have found a lot of interesting, chic pieces such as Bohemian-style long skirts. I love collecting leather jackets - I have them in all colors.

In general, I like mono-color pieces because they are easy to mix and match. Sometimes I have only five minutes to get dressed up - you know, models have to be efficient.

Q: How do you take care of your skin?

A: I do simple steps like most girls - cleansing products, toner and lotion. But I'm obsessive with facial masks. I do facial masks at least five days a week. Sometimes I use it on the airplane and it scares people.

Q: How about your hair?

A: My hair? Well, I don't really take care of it. But I do eat a lot of nuts. Maybe they are good to my hair?

Q: What are your plans for the future? What will you do when you are not modeling?

A: These days I feel like I may be interested in continuing a career in fashion - perhaps a fashion designer.

Q: Who is your favorite fashion designer?

A: Alber Elbaz for Lanvin. I think he looks so adorable.


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