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Chinese faces bloom in fashion

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Five years ago, New York Fashion Week catwalks were devoid of Chinese models. Now, some of the biggest names in the business are Chinese.

"Chinese models are totally on our radar," says Andrew Weir, model casting director at ACW Worldwide, who has worked in the fashion industry for 15 years.

During a casting call last week for apparel designer Jill Stuart, Weir said he wished Qin Shupei or Liu Wen would have been at the audition.

"We can't afford them," Weir says. "They're selective now, which has been a complete turnaround because before there were no Chinese models to be found."

The website Models.com considers Qin among the ranks of such super models as Gisele Bundchen, Heidi Klum and Kate Moss. The Chinese model made it onto the website's "Money Girls" list of top 25 income-generating models for 2012.

Liu Wen made the Models.com top 50 list at number five, along with Chinese models He Sui (13), Sun Feifei (14), Ju Xiaowen (22), Tian Yi (38) and Wang Xiao (50).

"We constantly get requests from clients asking for more Asian girls, particularly for cosmetics campaigns," Weir says.

"I think this is because the fashion industry has finally come to realize that Chinese models are very much a part of the picture.

"Designers recognize this demographic's buying power and also realize they must reflect the needs of the American population, which includes a large Chinese population."

Since this new consciousness has developed, Chinese models have experienced many firsts in the last five years.

In 2009, Liu Wen became the first Chinese model to walk the Victoria's Secret fashion show. In 2011, He Sui followed suit as the second Chinese model to be featured in the lingerie giant's show.

Qin signed a contract in 2010 with the cosmetics brand Maybelline. In 2011, Ming Xi became the face for Diane von Furstenberg's designs.

In 2011, Du Juan became the first Chinese model on the cover of French Vogue and last month, Sun Feifei became the first Chinese model on Italian Vogue's cover.

"There are some amazing girls," Weir says, as he sifted through a pile of casting cards and set aside photos of established and up-and-coming Chinese models.

"Everybody knows Zaowen - she's major," Weir said, after pulling out Ju Xiaowen's card and mispronouncing her name, as most people in the industry do with Chinese names. "I love her." Ju made it into the Jill Stuart and Thakoon shows that Weir cast for New York Fashion Week, which ended on Feb 14.

Among Chinese newcomers to watch, Weir points to Huang Xiaomeng's casting card and gushed over a photo of the young, pixie-haired woman wearing a black fur top.

"She's going to be big," Weir says.

Although Huang didn't make it into the Jill Stuart Fall/Winter 2013-14 collection, she was in four New York shows, including BCBG Max Azria.

"I love getting my photograph taken," Huang says about what attracted her to modeling. Huang says she also enjoys the variety and frequent traveling.

"There isn't really anything I don't like about modeling," she says. "Except for some auditions, they want us to dance as they shoot video of us, which I'm not really used to. I tend to stiffen up."

Huang began modeling three years ago. Last year, while visiting New York for work, a friend suggested Huang look into DNA Models agency. Although Huang had agreed to work with another agency, she liked the models represented by DNA, including her favorite, Natalia Vodianova - ranked 7th on the Models.com "Money Girls" list - and decided to give the agency a shot.

"I figured I had basically done all I could do in China and wanted to take my career to the next level," Huang says of moving to New York about a month ago. "I never could have imagined they'd actually hire me."

She says modeling in the US is conducted in a more professional manner.

"Perhaps modeling in China is a little more tiring because it's not as well organized," she says. "However, we are not tired in our hearts and we still spend all our energy to be models because we know the industry in China is growing."

The up-and-comer from Xuzhou in Jiangsu province says she doesn't have a lot of catwalk experience and studies videos on Models.com and Style.com to imitate the struts of more seasoned professionals. Huang, who dropped out of high school, would also like to go back to school to pursue psychology and drawing.

Her clients, Lubov Azria and Lalena Luba of BCBG Max Azria, say in a joint statement that Chinese models are hardworking and goal-oriented: "They are totally respectful and always wanting to please."

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