Chinese model Liu Wen is hailed as China’s first supermodel and a trailblazer in the fashion business. She was referred to be “China’s first bona fide supermodel” by The New York Times.
She was the first East Asian spokesmodel for Estée Lauder cosmetics, the first Chinese model to walk in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, and the first Asian model to ever reach Forbes magazine’s annual list of highest-paid models.
Furthermore, she was the first person in the world to wear the Apple Watch on the front cover of a fashion magazine in 2014, and in 2017, she made history by being the first Chinese model to appear on the front cover of American Vogue.
Wen has not only modeled for any company’s merchandise but also starred in a short video that introduces New York City, the city she calls home. The most recent proof of her fame was a giant Coach-sponsored billboard in Times Square bearing a photo of the supermodel.
Liu Wen’s life in New York City
Along with her vast list of achievements, Liu Wen presently appears in a Coach campaign where she shows viewers around New York City. The supermodel visited the city for a shoot, and she did acknowledge that during her first few months there, she felt lonely.
“For me, coming to New York was like coming to Beijing for the first time. I felt alone – the city was so big, like Beijing, with a lot of people. I learned a lot, and with Coach, I’m honored to be part of the brand. New York has such good energy, and it can make the dreams of young boys and girls come true, like for me with my modeling. If I had not gone there, I would not have had the chance to work with the best photographers in the world and the best companies, too. I grew up in a very small town, Yongzhou, in Hunan province, where there was no fashion, or acting, or anything, so when I first came to Beijing, I thought it was beautiful. It was the same with New York, which is the most fashionable city in the world. It gave me the chance to work with Estée Lauder and as the first Chinese model with Victoria’s Secret.”
Because of the worldwide nature of her business and the constant need to speak English, Wen made every effort to learn the language. As a result, over the last few years, her ability to speak English has increased, and she can now do so quickly and fluently.
“Living in New York, it was very important to learn to speak English – I didn’t really study it at school. Every time I did an interview, it was so stressful, it forced me to be a stronger woman. When I went to New York, it was my dream that I would go to bed and wake up speaking perfect English! I’ve now lived there for three years and for fashion you have to speak English; the other models all have different accents, from Europe and Russia, so my accent is mixed from talking to them. I do speak really fast and loud. When I call my agent at fashion week, it’s always a rush, and when I’m in a rush, I speak very quickly…de de de de de…and my agent once asked if I was angry with him, and I said, ‘No, I always speak like this: fast.’”
We all know that New York City is where most parties take place, so for someone who is highly known in the modeling industry, it felt like socializing was important for her, and one place she could do it was at parties. Wen, on the other hand, is not the kind to partake heavily in such.
“I’m a quiet girl when I’m not working. I live in the East Village, which is quiet; people can’t believe that I’m 25, a young girl, and think I must live in the West Village, but for me, when I’m not working, I like to be quiet, hang out with my friends cooking traditional Chinese food at my apartment. I like to go to museums such as Moma and the Met – there are so many in New York. I also like to go vintage-clothes shopping, but it’s not really cheap. I look at the quality and the style, which is what I’m focused on as a model.”
Liu Wen owes her modeling career to her parents
Liu Wen is pioneering the world of modeling with a number of historical firsts, including being the first Chinese model to head campaigns for Victoria’s Secret, Estée Lauder, and, most recently, Coach. When asked what in the modeling industry meant the most to her, she said: “Well, if I hadn’t been a model, I would not have got to do these things, so the event which probably means the most is entering that world, through the model competition, and that is thanks to my parents.”
She went on to discuss why her parents joined her in a model competition, saying, “My mum and dad are very traditional Chinese, and they thought it would help me be a stronger person because when I was young, I was very shy and was not in love with my body that much. When I was 18, during the summer holidays, they entered me. I didn’t think I had a perfect body and didn’t want to enter, but my mum said if you don’t enter, you can’t win. I won in my hometown and then went to the national competition in Sanya, where I lost, which upset me! It was later that I got a chance to model – I went to New York and got a chance to work with a lot of amazing brands, including Coach. The idea of a coach and a princess appeals to me – ever since I was a young girl, I dreamed of being such a princess!”
Speaking of her parents, we all want our parents to be proud of us at the end of the day, and although if Wen’s parents may not fully understand her work, she believes that they are happy for her.
“My parents do not come to New York, but they’ve been to Beijing to visit, and sometimes in China, they come when I’m working. We went to Shangri-La, in Yunnan province, for a photo shoot. I’m not sure my parents exactly understand the fashion world, but they’re happy that I’m happy. They don’t care about the money; they’re just pleased that I’m doing great.”
Liu Wen talks about her personal fashion sense and modeling career
There are already a lot of models in the industry, so it goes without saying that having your own unique sense of style is crucial to making yourself stand out. For Liu Wen, her own style is similar to New York.
“My style is like New York: uptown, which is more classic, and downtown, which is more like tomboy and cool girl. I like to be comfortable. When we’re working, we travel so much, and we’re always wearing very beautiful clothes, but in my real life, I just want to be comfortable and slouch. Today, for example, I’m wearing a sweater and leather pants from Coach. It’s comfortable, especially for the plane. I like to wear a leather jacket as well. I think a bag is a very important accessory and high heels. As a model, you need a big bag to fit all the stuff in.”
Wen’s line of work sounds like something a young girl might aspire to do in the future. The supermodel herself, though, argues that the work is not always glamorous and may occasionally be a difficult struggle.
“I think most girls think about the beautiful clothes, and being dressed up with makeup, and working with talented people, but they often don’t realize how hard the job is. You also have to make some sacrifices: for the past five years, I haven’t been able to spend Chinese New Year with my parents because it’s the same time as New York Fashion Week. For me, the best part is the travel, but it’s also the worst part. Travelling gives you a chance to meet different people, and see different places, but you don’t always enjoy the moment. It’s usually just a couple of days, and you don’t really get the chance to see the city properly. I always think that the airport is my apartment and the airplane is my bedroom.”
Wen, who works as a model, occasionally needs to do runaway as well as shoots for magazines or commercial campaigns. When asked which one she prefers more, she responded, “I can’t say which I prefer, as both are part of my job.”
“At the beginning, I loved the runway because it’s so easy; you just work and then, ‘Bye,’ you go after a couple of hours. But the worst thing is the fitting, which takes such a long time. I like photo shoots because it’s a more personal thing. For Coach, I did My New York Story, which is more like me as a real person and not a model – what I think about it and what is my style. Also, I think editorial is more like an acting moment; you enjoy it. I also love runway because I like clothes – I don’t have to have them, but I do like wearing them.”
She goes on to discuss her modeling profession and the popularity that comes with it. The supermodel also expresses her gratitude for the Coach advertising and anticipates businesses taking an interest in Asian culture.
“Coach is an iconic American brand in the world, and they do have huge big posters. I’m very honored. I feel that I represent my country when my face is all over the world. I am a Chinese model living in New York, and it’s about what this Chinese girl thinks of New York,” she stated.
She then exclaims her joy at the prospect that businesses will suddenly be interested in Asian culture and how happy she is with other Asian models as well, saying, “It’s Asian power! I think for sure, right now, companies are interested in Asian culture and use a lot of Asian faces. I think the fashion in China is getting stronger and stronger.”
Who are the fashion icons and designers Liu Wen looks up to?
Since Liu Wen is creating history in the modeling world and is idolized by nearly everyone who wishes to be a model, she has some advice for aspiring young Chinese models.
“People think it’s important to be beautiful, but that’s not so important. You have to have a personality and be unique – that’s how people remember you. Don’t think about it too much, always be yourself. I remember I was very shy at first. People ask me why I work so hard, and I tell them it’s because I love my job. I want to stay as long as I can as a model, but you can only do runway for so long. I want to stay in fashion in another way, possibly designing my own line with a brand based on my inspirations. This is very important. I’ve learned a lot from smart and talented people.”
Just like any budding models out there who look up to her, she also has someone she looks up to. For the designer, she revealed that Jean-Paul Gaultier is one of the people that impressed her the most.
“There are so many, but if I did have to pick one designer, it would be Jean-Paul Gaultier. I love him – he’s a fun guy. I always remember the first time I did Paris Fashion Week, I worked with him, and it was wonderful; he’s such a talented designer. The clothes are always fun, playful – like costumes. Sometimes he mixes the personality: it’s not just the model wearing the clothes, it’s the person.”
As for the past or present models, she disclosed that Christy Turlington is the one she admires, stating, “Christy Turlington is my favorite. I shot with her for the H&M holiday campaign; I think she’s beautiful. Her body is amazing – she does yoga. She has a good heart and does a lot of charity things; she shares her love to everyone. Kate Moss has great personal style as well – this is very important.”
Does Liu Wen intend to pursue a career in acting?
As an established supermodel who is open to all opportunities for the foreseeable future, Liu Wen might join the ranks of other famous supermodels who have entered the acting industry.
“I think modeling is close to acting, and I hope that in the next five or 10 years, I can do some acting. Working on this film for Coach was a start. I don’t want to be just a beautiful girl in a movie – I want to be a cool girl like in a James Bond movie. While doing Victoria’s Secret, it was more natural for the European girls to be sexy. I learned from them. I think my sexy is different – mine is the cute way! I appreciate the fact that so many companies have supported me, and Coach has given me the chance to be a real person on camera.”
Liu Wen is looking for a boyfriend
Since finding love is practically impossible for Liu Wen, given her busy schedule and the demanding nature of her line of work, she quipped that any potential boyfriends should get in touch with her agency.
“There’s nobody in my life – this is very sad! Perhaps you can put it in the interview that I’m looking for a boyfriend; they can contact my agent! There’s a lot of traveling with my job, and I can’t say to a boyfriend, ‘Please wait for me, I have to go on a job.’ For love, you can’t find someone the next day; it’s life. It has to be the right person at the right time.”