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When she first came to New York to walk in New York Fashion Week, Chinese model Liu Wen spoke virtually no English. Fast-forward two years, and the 22-year-old not only has mastered the language, she’s conquered the fashion world, as well.
Consider: In November, Liu became the first-ever Asian model to walk in the Victoria’s Secret runway show. Meanwhile, she’s clocked up 60-plus shows for the past three seasons running. She features in the spring ad campaign for ck Calvin Klein, has appeared in countless editorials in magazines such as Allure, ID and various Vogues and was dubbed a “major girl of the moment” by Models.com, on which she ranks number 24 in the list of the top 50 girls.
And no wonder. Liu (as is the custom in China, Liu is her surname, Wen her first) is absolutely stunning, with a lively personality as distinctive as her killer looks. Though not trained as a dancer, her movements are fluid, her face, angular, with cheekbones so sharp that the makeup artist on a recent shoot rested his wrist on one while applying mascara to her lashes—not unlike a portly man who uses his beer belly as a ledge for his arms.
In other words, Liu was born to model—even if she was discovered in an unconventional way. About four years ago, Liu, who hails from Yongzhou in the Hunan province, saw ads for a modeling contest in which the winner was awarded a computer. She really wanted a computer, something she could ill afford on her student budget, so she entered, won—and the rest is history.
At a time when China is top of mind for beauty marketers—asked recently what the most important emerging markets are for his company, Estée Lauder Cos. chief executive officer Fabrizio Freda quipped: “China is one, two and three”—Liu reflects not just the country’s standard of beauty, but also its boundless energy and enthusiasm.
It hasn’t gone unnoticed. “From this part of the world, there are not so many girls for the moment,” says designer Karl Lagerfeld, referring to Asia. “Of the new generation, she is the best and may become a great star.”
“I love to work,” Liu says, the words tumbling out one after the other as quickly as she can speak them. Her speech is peppered with laughter, and she nods her head eagerly as she’s being asked a question. “If I have a job, I’m very excited. I never think about being tired. I love shooting and I love fashion week. Every day I wake up early; go, go, go; have hair and makeup, and go to the next show. I love it.”
That passion has made her a darling of designers and photographers alike. “First of all, she loves fashion and she dresses very well,” says Jean Paul Gaultier. “That is what my first impressions were. Another thing that I love about her is that she exudes confidence but is fragile at the same time. I love girls who are strong and different, and Liu Wen is both.”
Not surprisingly, Liu thrives on the frenetic pace of New York, where she now spends much of her time when not in Beijing or globe-trotting for shoots. “I love New York. The energy is younger. It’s young and cool and I work a lot,” she enthuses. “Paris is beautiful, but it’s too quiet and everything is slow. I think after I’m 30, I’ll love it.”
Dressed today in a charcoal double-breasted reefer coat, vintage cobalt blue sweater decorated with rainbows, superskinny jeans and black patent Dr. Martens boots, Liu’s personal style is an eclectic mashup of pieces she picks up on her travels. “My style is a little bit boy,” she says. “I like vintage clothes, because there’s just one piece and no one else is wearing it. China also has a lot of nice clothes. I buy clothes there and wear them backstage and people are always asking me where I got them.”
Beautywise, she melds East and West equally as effortlessly. “Asian skin is different,” she says, when asked what products she loves to use. “My skin gets very dry in New York, so I like to do a Chinese mask, a simple water mask, and I also use Crème de la Mer. I don’t do makeup, but I do try a lot of different creams.”
But Liu has developed her own approach to maintaining her good looks, and though it’s the antithesis of the supermodel scowl many girls adopt when stalking the runway, it’s one that seems to be working for her. “For me, the best beauty regimen is to have good rest and drink a lot of water and eat vegetables and keep very happy with a smile,” she says, punctuated with a giggle. “Worry is not good for the skin. I think you need to smile every day for your health.”
AGENCY: Marilyn Agency
BIG BREAK: Booking the Chanel and Jean Paul Gaultier shows in her first season in Paris.
OF NOTE: First Asian model booked for the Victoria’s Secret runway show, November 2009.
KEY EDITORIAL: Chinese Vogue, French Vogue, Italian Vogue, V, Pop, Allure
AD CAMPAIGNS: ck Calvin Klein, CK One, DKNY, Gap, Alexander Wang S/S 2010
SHOWS: 60, including Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Prada, Marni and Michael Kors.