FEI FEI FATALE
Chinese model Fei Fei Sun talks about her hopes to help change the perception of Asian beauty.
Fearless in some of the strongest looks of the season, Chinese model Fei Fei Sun talks about diversity in the fashion industry and her hopes to help change the perception of Asian beauty. Styled by Katie Mossman. Photographed by Robbie Fimmano.
YOU STUDIED FASHION DESIGN BEFORE MODELLING. HOW LONG HAD YOU BEEN INTERESTED IN FASHION? “My home town of Weifang, in the Shandong province, is known for its beautiful traditions of painting, kite flying and the art of paper cutting designs, but, because it’s a small town, I didn’t have much exposure to fashion. In junior high I was taller than the other students, so my mother sent me to a modelling school over summer break to correct my posture. These experiences I had growing up gave me a small taste of fashion. After high school I chose to major in fashion design. My university was located in Suzhou, a larger city very close to Shanghai. This was the first time I had chance to really be exposed to fashion. Friends I met in Shanghai encouraged me to enter the Elite Model Look contest, which I was lucky enough to win.”
HOW DID YOUR STUDIES IN FASHION DESIGN INFLUENCE YOUR MODELLING CAREER? “The basics of fashion design were taught during my first year. Modelling has introduced me to some of the best stylists in the world. These experiences have been like a completely hands-on school of fashion design. Working with them, you can see how they make a normal piece look interesting and chic. Those experiences helped me discover my personal style, which is very important for a model.”
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNT FROM BEING A MODEL? “So many great things: patience, self-confidence, teamwork. Also, when this job brought me attention, I felt I should use this attention to help others in need, especially in China. A few years ago I had a chance to visit to a small, impoverished village in the south-west of China. I brought some books and food for them. These things can’t solve their problems, but I hope love from people can give them the courage to face life – this is something I hope to continue.”
HOW HAS THE FASHION INDUSTRY CHANGED SINCE YOU’VE STARTED MODELLING? “It has been open to discussing and addressing diversity. From magazine covers to luxury campaigns you can see more of a range of faces than ever before. I was so honoured to be the first Chinese woman on the cover of American Vogue. I will never forget the moment I held it in my hands. The theme of the cover was ‘Instagirls’, which made me realise that today being a ‘fashion model’ means so much more; models have so many more opportunities. China has an old saying: ‘Flowers are beautiful because the season is spring’, which is about how we are so lucky to have the right opportunities in this time. Now it is inclusive of more races, genders, shapes, colours, ages, with more opportunities for models to grow as businesswomen, philanthropists, have a voice, and connect with people around the world.”
YOU HAVE MANY FIRSTS IN YOUR CAREER – ESPECIALLY AS A CHINESE MODEL, SUCH AS BEING ON THE COVER OF AMERICAN VOGUE AND VOGUE ITALIA. WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE TO BREAK NEW GROUND? “It has been such an honour. This is more than my personal achievement; in the modelling industry you can’t do the job all by yourself. My hope is that young Asian girls can see that their dreams can come true as well. Everything happens at the right time. High fashion is a burgeoning industry in China, but there have been more and more Chinese designers at international fashion weeks, too.”
HOW DO YOU FEEL LIKE THE PERCEPTION OF CHINESE BEAUTY IN THE WESTERN WORLD HAS CHANGED SINCE YOU’VE STARTED IN THE FASHION INDUSTRY? HOW ABOUT IN CHINA? “It hasn’t changed, but it has been a process of discovery. Chinese beauty has such rich meaning inside and out. I have a responsibility to help people see more views of Asian beauty and more possibility for Asian women. I have to bring something new and show my potential and what other possibilities there might be.”
HOW DO YOU THINK YOUR INCREASING CELEBRITY HAS CHANGED HOW BEAUTY IS PERCEIVED IN CHINA? “I was born in very small city in China where there was no high fashion at all. Today I work with some of the most luxury fashion brands in the world. This might help encourage people in China. If I can do it, I think everybody has a chance.”
WHAT ARE YOUR MOST MEMORABLE CAREER MOMENTS? “One of my most memorable career moments was working with Steven Meisel for American Vogue for the ‘Go East’ editorial celebrating the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute’s exhibition in 2015. That year, the theme was China. It was my first time wearing archival garments from genius designers all inspired by China. There were several professional archivists there to help dress me; they wore white lab coats and gloves. The outfits are very precious; everyone did their best to protect them. I remember the most lovely thing was that we had Chinese songs playing on set! Traditional romantic Chinese songs. I felt so at home. After that shoot I saw that all the outfits were included in the China: Through the Looking
Glass exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The exhibition was a big moment of Chinese culture. I felt so lucky I was a part of this shoot with the dream team and being part of that story!”