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October 29, 2009

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Sultry Shanghai stunner scores in Elite Model competition

PARADING in front of famous fashion designers, posing for big-name photographers, appearing in prestigious fashion magazines and jet setting are a young model's dream that few will attain.

Being one of the beautiful people may become reality, however, for a 20-year-old Shanghai beauty, 1.78-meter-tall Xi Mengyao. She was one of the 15 finalists in the 26th Elite Model Look competition to discover the world's fresh faces and looks.

The global finals were held on October 18 in Sanya, Hainan Province. There were first, second and third-place honors - and the 15 finalists. The sultry-looking Xi, with full lips, a high-bridge nose and high cheekbones, was one of the five national Elite Model representatives for China.

Champion went to 17-year-old Swiss model Julia Saner, 17, and the runners-up were Caterina Ravaglia, 15, from Italy, Manon Pieto, 16, from France and Emily Smith, 15, from the United Kingdom.

Working part-time as a model, Xi is also a junior at Donghua University where she studies fashion design.

She was one of 67 models of the Elite agency in 54 countries who competed to become as famous as legendary Elite predecessors like Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer and Linda Vojtova.

China's fashion industry has made tremendous progress in the past 10 years and will keep growing rapidly, says Alain Attia, president of Elite Model Look International. That's a big reason for choosing Sanya as the finals host city for the second consecutive year.

"We're glad to see the emergence of many professional modeling schools and agencies in China," Attia says. "A lot of Chinese hopefuls have demonstrated big potential and talent. They're likely to become the world's next top model someday."

Finalist Xi, of course, is thrilled.

"When I was a child, I dreamed about a fabulous career on the catwalk, living the life of famous top models like Cindy Crawford and Ines Sastre," Xi says.

She is eager to slip on the hottest clothes and accessories, change her hair and makeup and strut along the runway for photographers, designers, magazine editors, buyers and many others.

"In the fashion world, all girls are beautiful and special," Xi tells Shanghai Daily. "Modeling shows how an ordinary girl can change from an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan."

Xi, of course, never was an ugly duckling.

Standing at 1.78 meters and weighing 52kg, she was spotted by beautiful French actress Sophie Marceau's former agent, Georges Damiani, and his wife, Josy Dubos, during an outdoor contest for Dragon TV's talent show "Angel" in June.

Dubos, who has 35 years of experience in the modeling industry, was so impressed by Xi's catwalk performance that she was determined to turn her into the next Chinese supermodel.

And the first step is Elite Model Look.

The transformation sounds romantic but the fact is that getting to the top - even to the bottom rung of the ladder to potential stardom - is really tough. It takes more than good looks. Success requires a lot of hard work, training, self-discipline, patience and the right attitude.

It goes without saying that models have to stay thin, even skinny, and most have been on a diet ever since they took up modeling.

In Sanya, Xi and the other models had a tight schedule of training, photo shoots and rehearsals.

The seaside contest hotel, the Beauty Crowne, offered sumptuous buffers but the models nibbled very little, despite their heavy workload. A cup of oatmeal and a few small pieces of fruit are their usual dinner choices.

"It's hard to imagine that a model cannot get a square meal from the moment she decides to become a model," says Miranda Shi, a 20-something accountant. "I would never sacrifice my appetite for delicious food. Life is too short, so just enjoy every day."

Good sense

A professional model also needs systematic training - body shaping and workouts, practice on runways and learning about fashion shows and even how to direct them.

"A good model should develop good fashion and music sense," Xi says. "She needs to know what goes into making a good fashion show. Even the incidental music is specially composed or selected in accordance with the theme and mood."

Xi's feet are usually sore after hours of "catwalk training" in high heels.

The worst feeling in modeling is not the pain, however, but the waiting and uncertainty, she says.

"No model can escape the inevitable waiting - waiting for casting, rehearsal and performances," Xi says. "It seems like a passive and stressful work life, mainly because we are always faced with unknowns and factors that are uncontrollable."

British model Agyness Deyn, with short blond hair, is one of Xi's favorites. Distinctive, confident and clearly a woman of attitude, she is widely expected to be a supermodel.

"The industry needs innovative things, and models are required to be both confident and different from others," says Xi. "The Elite Model Look usually doesn't select the one with the best catwalk skills, but the one whose fresh face and style will create a big new market."

Money and fame are the big attractions, and modeling doesn't require high educational qualifications.

"But modeling is short-term and highly competitive," says Xi, who doesn't see it as an enduring career.

"Not many young models get big breaks and are invited to big fashion shows and commercial events," she says. "They don't have a steady income and the fashion industry has low seasons."

If a model does achieve real celebrity, she faces challenges of hectic schedules, physical and mental stress and the anxiety of competition and knowing she will one day be replaced by a younger star.

Xi's advice to the newcomers: "It takes real passion, patience, hard work and perseverance.

"It looks easy and brilliant, but it's not."


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