In an unsurprising development for the global fashion industry, Chinese supermodel Liu Wen (刘雯) has become the first Asian model to make Forbes’ annual list of the highest-paid models worldwide—and she certainly won’t be the last.
Raking in US$4.3 million, the 25-year-old is the fifth highest-paid model in the world after meeting with rapidly growing success as China’s fashion industry quickly expands. She joins an elite contingent which includes Kate Moss, Adriana Lima, Miranda Kerr, and Gisele Bündchen—the only four models in the world who made more money than her this year.
This success is due to an impressive resume of brands for which she has modeled, including H&M, Calvin Klein, Estée Lauder, Tory Burch, Tiffany & Co., and Hugo Boss, just to name a few. Models.com also ranks her as fifth on its own top models list, which is based more on clout than earnings, using criteria including buzz, industry popularity, and magazine cover appearances. She most recently appeared on the September cover of Vogue China for its 8th anniversary issue.
Modeling has brought dramatic changes to Liu’s life. Prior to winning a modeling contest at age 18, she grew up in Yongzhou, Hunan, where her father was a construction worker. After being chosen for the award, she decided to take a chance and move to Beijing to pursue her career, which, needless to say, paid off dramatically. She was discovered at a fitting in 2007 by then-Marie Claire creative director Joseph Carle, who, according to a New York Times article, was “looking for models to whom both Western and Chinese women could relate.” Fashion labels were immediately impressed with her look, and she landed a runway show with Burberry in Milan in 2008 before moving to New York within the year.
As a first-timer on the list, Liu has blazed trails in the modeling industry as it slowly opens its doors to more Chinese faces. In addition to becoming the first Asian model hired to appear in an Estée Lauder campaign, she was also the first Chinese model to walk the runway of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
In the lead-up to New York Fashion Week, racial diversity on the runway has become a hot-button issue after The New York Times published a piece earlier this month discussing the possible reasons for consistently whitewashed runways. The number of Asian models on the runways of New York Fashion Week has slowly inched up over the years, but actually dropped from comprising 10.1 percent of all models to 9.1 percent between the Spring and Fall 2013 shows.
While the modeling industry clearly still has a long way to go when it comes to inclusivity, Chinese models can be expected to climb in worldwide ranks in the future. Economic considerations alone will have a huge impact, considering the fact that China’s fashion industry is expected to reach US$200 billion by 2020 and make up 30 percent of all global fashion growth. It is likely that subsequent Forbes lists in the near future will see more Chinese faces, such as Fei Fei Sun, Xiao Wen Ju, and Sui He. Liu may have originally been chosen based on appeal to both Western and Chinese consumers, but it appears that the latter of these groups will factor much more heavily in the years to come.
Look below for more photos of Liu Wen throughout the years: