Ups and downs of the Chinese highest paid model

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Nadja Beschetnikova
April 10, 2018

Chinese supermodel Liu Wen, 30, has broken barriers in the fashion industry. She was a pioneer for the dramatic changes to Asian beauty ideals and contributed to the expansion of opportunities for Asian girls in the profession. Liu's 2008 arrival in New York came at a time when few Asian models graced magazine covers or worked high fashion catwalks. At the same time, many major brands started to pay fervent attention to the Chinese market which was a fortunate moment to get foot in the door.

But her success can’t be explained just by fashion industry’s growing focus on Chinese consumers. She also works insanely hard for it.

She first rose to fame in 2008, when the international fashion industry took notice of a spread she did in the Chinese edition of Cosmopolitan and she landed a spot on Burberry’s runway show during Milan Fashion Week.

Though behind the impressive appearance there was lack of experience and confidence. It turned out, that Liu has never had high heels. It was hard to find the appropriately sized shoes in her hometown, so Liu used to wear sneakers. 

But due to her persistence, what could have been a failure was raised in the end to her distinctive feature - her natural walk. That’s what Christopher Bailey, then Burberry’s creative director, taught her, saying that «we don’t want you to be like a model, we just want you to be a natural and feel like these clothes are yours».

“Persistence is a secret weapon for everyone. You'll encounter difficulties at any job, and the best way for me to get through them is via endurance,” says Liu.

Since then she enjoys a career crowned with the «first ever» titles. She is the first Chinese model to appear on the cover of American Vogue. Her big year was 2009 as she was named the face of Estee Lauder’s global brand for 2010 and walked the runway at the Victoria Secret Fashion Show alongside Miranda Kerr, Heidi Klum, and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. In both cases, she was the first-ever East Asian model in that role.

Liu was still the only Asian model named on the top 10 list. In the latest release of the World's Highest Paid Models of 2017 by Forbes, an American business magazine well-known for its lists and rankings, Chinese model Liu Wen remains at the No. 8 position with an amazing income of 42.94 million yuan ($6.5 million) thanks to campaigns with the likes of Italian luxury lingerie brand La Perla and global activewear giant Puma.

But, they say money doesn't buy happiness. Her victories on the catwalk are marred by failures in her personal life. Back in 2010, when she was 22, Liu admitted to never having had a boyfriend. You won’t believe it, but a few years later the Chinese superstar was still single.  

"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,» she said in interview.

She is also one of the most-followed models on social media with more than 18 million followers on China’s Weibo and three million on Instagram. Known to be low-key on her Weibo and other social media platforms, Liu is often nicknamed “Da Biao Jie” which means “My older Cousin”.

But her way to the fame was far from easy. Standing at nearly 6-feet and possessing both dimples and angular features, Liu doesn't fit the mold of your classic "Chinese beauty," a fact that may have caused her problems when she first attempted to break into modeling in her native China.

“Growing up in southern China, people in my hometown seldom called me piao liang [beautiful], because my smaller eyes were a far cry from the wide irises of the most beloved television actresses,” Liu wrote in a new essay for Vogue.


But her struggle paid off. In 2009, just a year after the first invitation to walk the runways for Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier and Hermès at Paris fashion week, Liu performed in 74 shows for the Fall ready-to-wear season – the highest number of shows for a model that season.

But consistently posing for the best photographers and walking fashion month’s top shows are not the only ways of measuring success for Liu Wen.

With more than a decade of experience she’s a veteran in the fashion business but definitely hasn’t achieved her limits yet. She treats the next phase of her career with a great deal of solemnity.

“It’s a turning point,” Liu said in a Vogue interview. “Being a supermodel is when this career transforms from a job into something that now involves social responsibility.”

There’re as well pretty good chances to prove that she is no worse than the actresses whom people in her hometown considered more beautiful. Liu is keen on the film industry. She has already made the first foray on television. In 2015, Liu and South Korean singer Choi Si Won paired up for We Are In Love, a Chinese spin-off of the South Korean reality show We Are Married in which celebrities date one another.

I think modeling is close to acting and I hope that in the next five or 10 years I can do some acting. 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

Given that, Liu is very persistent in achieving goals, we can prepare for a grand premiere.  

Photo via Wikipedia Commons / Christopher Macsurak

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