Did you hear that very juicy tidbit about a certain venerable editor who rang up Angelica Cheung, the editor of Vogue China, to find out what her secret for those booming ad pages could be ? While much of the publishing world has been struggling with the repercussions of a recession, the unimpeded march of Vogue China to maximum advertising and editorial visibility has been the proverbial shining example of Chinese fashion relevance. A few months ago TI had occasion to be at a dinner with Mrs Cheung in Beijing where the very direct and no-nonsense editor posed some thought provoking questions. She wanted to know what was it that could be done to boost the number of Chinese models on the Western market. And she was curious as why the Chinese models who did seem to advance on the campaign and editorial level seemed so far from the current Chinese cultural standard of beauty.
The latter question was easy to answer. If "beauty" is culturally derived then a Western mindset can only re-filter and select the ideal Chinese model based on the reigning stereotypes of New York, London, Milan and Paris. As such Liu Wen, Fei Fei Sun, Sui He, Shu Pei, Ming Xi, Wang Xaio, and the fast rising Xiao Wen Ju flow effortlessly with the standard runway ideal. The first question posed by Cheung though, was the one that surprised. There was at the time, 5 Chinese girls cycling on the high end editorial market . That seemed like a lot, I thought and was a vast improvement over the situation 3 years ago, when frankly there were none. But the fact that this editor found it inadequate made me realize how far reaching the ambitions were in China to establish an international fashion presence. The strength of this market was not going to accept a quota.
It was while having lunch near Lincoln Center this weekend , this time with a group of Japanese editors, that the extent of that Chinese model expansion really impacted itself. That banal question, "Which country is now the hottest model source?", came up and of course with lazy thinking I ventured "The Netherlands ( Lara Stone, Saskia, Daphne Groevneld, Laura Kampman, Milou, Mirte Mass, Numue, Marique) but then I was reminded of the recent explosion of Chinese models and suddenly it became clear that a shift in thinking is about to hit the modeling industry.
In the same way that the big brand designers of the West are coiling themselves slowly around the realization that China's massive population and fast growing consumer class could promise to be a financial salvation in the face of the incessant financial instability of North America and Europe, China is processing the way that success in New York or Paris changes a girl's value in her home country. Liu Wen and Shu Pei being the faces of high visibility cosmetics brands like Estee Lauder and Maybelline not only signal that more brands are going to be moving in that direction, it also means model scouts are going to have keep scoring China for more fresh prospects as that client demand builds and builds.
The conventional wisdom at most modeling agencies have always been that if you had a Chinese girl or two then this was all the market was going to absorb. But when the Chinese ideal is now becoming as present as the Dutch presence, then this conventional wisdom is on the brink of a breakdown. It finally means also that the question of diversity has gone beyond being a token moral issue and become one of straight up economic survival. Now watch it turn into an aesthetic revolution. The countdown to a Chinese super-star riding the cover of US, French or Italian Vogue starts...now.