‘I‘m so excited to be here. The building looks amazing – it really made me say “wow”,’ says Lu Yan. She laughs, then smiles. In person, Lu Yan’s smile is magnetic. But then few smiles in the history of Chinese fashion are as famous as Lu’s. Who doesn’t remember her gorgeous, joyous portrait on the cover of Elle in 2012? But high up in Studio City’s Star Tower and in person, her smile takes on a whole new dimension. It positively dazzles.
The room, it should be said, is not short of glitz as it is. An array of Van Cleef & Arpels necklaces and earrings, worth more than MOP2million, lies glinting on the coffee table. And Lu is wearing a magnificent, show-stopping dress from Tom Ford – sheer, long, black and elegant. But even among all this, her radiant energy shines through.
Lu is at Studio City as the first face of The Boulevard, sitting in her suite and preparing to appear on the red carpet at the property’s opening gala alongside a cast of A-listers, among them Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert De Niro and Mariah Carey. As she sips a pre-event glass of Champagne, Lu looks relaxed and confident, is chatty and warm, and seems completely unfazed by the surrounding fuss of opening night.
people asked how the ugly girl could be a model?
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising. After all, over the past 15 years the 31-year-old has seen it all in the glamorous world of fashion. Hailed as one of China’s first supermodels, she has strutted the runways of the world’s biggest fashion weeks, from Paris to New York (come see our article on Fashion’s most important cities). She’s worked with fashion’s elite, from Dior to Gucci, Lanvin to Alexander McQueen. And she’s graced the covers of the most revered fashion publications, i-D, Marie Claire and Paris Match among them.
But it wasn’t always easy for Lu. When she started in the industry, the rules of Chinese fashion and its standards of beauty were different. She was the controversial choice. She was the girl from the countryside who didn’t tick the boxes of big eyes, small lips and an extremely fair complexion. She was, incredibly, considered the ugly duckling.
‘When I first appeared as a model, people asked, “How can the ugly girl be a model?”’ she says. ‘They fought and criticised, and said it was impossible that I could be a model. I said, “Whatever: I don’t care”.’
Today, young girls are more confident.
Today, Lu is seen as a pioneer not only in fashion circles but also in the broader cultural consciousness. She shattered narrow conceptions of beauty and has been an inspiration to a whole new generation, aspiring models and ordinary women alike.
‘I think I have changed a lot of people. Today, young girls are more confident,’ says Lu. ‘I think people now are more open; there’s a lot more variety and choice. Now they like different types of looks; the young people have more attitude and they like whatever they like. They can have their own style.’
She might have played a major role in redefining beauty in China, but on a personal level Lu’s biggest fashion challenge could have just begun: the launch of her own label, Comme Moi.
‘I had been modelling for 15 years and so I wanted to do something different. I asked myself: “what am I going to do?”’ says Lu of the decision to start Comme Moi. ‘I thought, I’m going to do something in fashion, because that’s what I know and that’s what I’m good at.’
While Lu has never had any formal design training, her experience in the industry provided plenty of insight and know-how when it came to launching her label. Her association with numerous global design heavyweights certainly helped, but her main source of inspiration was her own personal style.
‘In China, women really like that cutie Korean and Japanese look. But I prefer a more European style – something that’s more independent, confident, sexy and androgynous,’ says Lu. ‘I thought, it’s difficult for me to shop for those types of clothes. I’m going to have to do it myself.’
But it was more than just a desire for clothing to meet her personal tastes that inspired her label. At its heart is a broader message. ‘The brand is called Comme Moi, which means “like me”,’ she says. ‘But it has double meaning. I want people to be like me, but I’m not saying that they need to dress like me. I want them to have the courage to try different things. I want young girls to think that they have a chance, that they have hope. That’s the beauty of life. When you have hope, you go for it.’
If there’s one person that can inspire hope for the next generation, it’s surely the ugly duckling from the countryside who became a pioneering supermodel. Now we can wait and see who follows in her footsteps.