American Vogue Goes East

The Cecil Beaton original, as featured in Vogue in 1948
There was a small flurry of criticism last month over a US Vogue December feature on Far-East Asia’s supermodels in the making. Entitled Asia Major, the controversy came in the subheading, “A new crop of models from China, Japan and South Korea is redefining traditional concepts of beauty”, where “traditional concepts of beauty" were placed in opposition to the models evidently ‘exotic’ appeal.

It's a disappointing thing for US Vogue to compartmentalise the growing prominence of Asian models into a curiosity of fashion rather than a fact, makeup artist Dick Page adding in the feature that “It’s mostly economics […] Everybody in the fashion/beauty industry recognizes the importance of global markets, and currently, China, Taiwan, and South Korea are at the forefront. The upshot is that customers want to see some version of themselves represented.” Drawing this kind of conclusion pinpoints the popularity of Asian models as an inevitability of economy rather than a mark of fashion’s increasing diversity, serving only to further sever the models from any valid connection with Western fashion other than one of profit.

Whilst the results of the shoot, photographed by Steven Meisel, are undeniably stunning – a baroque-and-roll tableau inspired by a 1948 Cecil Beaton portrait, where Grace Coddington mixed aristocratic Oscar de la Renta gowns with spiky mohawks and macaroons – it’s also undeniable that there’s something uncomfortably uniform about the way the models have been styled. With identikit makeup and perfectly poised facial expressions, there’s simply no interest in the individual in the way there would have been had it been an editorial involving Rosie, Karlie and Lindsey rather than Hyun, Tao and Liu. Interestingly, US Vogue still has yet to feature an Asian model on its front cover. 

So in celebration of Asian individuality, I leave you with Tokyo-born Tao Okamoto – who else could nail cool-as-ice androgyny better than this? It almost makes me long for a pudding-bowl Beatles haircut myself. Ok, maybe not. 


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