Model, singer, rower, editor-in-chief, presenter, producer, philanthropist and actor: Hu Bing has done it all. Chloe Street meets the man who’s discovered the fountain of youth
need privacy. I don’t want people to see everything,” says Hu Bing, the alarmingly youthful-looking 45-year-old model, singer and actor as we discuss the inevitable exposure that’s a by-product of online fame. Hu, towering at 6’2” and bedecked in magenta velvet when we meet (a look, incidentally, he totally pulls off ), confides that large crowds make him nervous. Despite attaining significant celebrity status in Mainland China—attested to by his 10 million-strong Weibo following—this confession becomes less surprising when I discover he was once injured by a mob of excited fans there. “Sometimes it can feel like there’s nowhere to hide,” he says.
Spotted in 1991 in a regional modelling competition in Harbin at age 20, Hu was instantly catapulted into the fashion limelight and became the first Chinese male model to really make it on the international runways. He has since enjoyed a long and fruitful modelling career, recognised last year by an appointment to the British Fashion Council. Hu has also diversified beyond the catwalks, as editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar Men’s Style magazine in Mainland China for a time, and as a singer, a television presenter and, most recently, an acclaimed actor.
“I dream of winning an Oscar,” says Hu, who’s certainly on the right track—he was nominated for Best Actor at the 2010 International Rome Film Festival in Italy for his role in the Luc Besson-produced film The Back. Hu is characteristically ambitious, yet humble in his approach. “I know that as a Chinese man I could never get the lead role in an American movie. So I’m aiming for an Oscar for a supporting role in America, then a leading role in China.”
Raised in Hangzhou by parents who were both in the military, Hu has a focused discipline and a work ethic that can be traced to an upbringing he describes as “really strict.” He was taught that if you wanted something, you should work hard at it and “never stop—if you stopped… big trouble.”
This parental pressure no doubt propelled Hu forward into what he modestly refers to as his “first job.” Inspired by London’s Boat Race, which he had seen on TV and thought “looked really cool,” Hu took up rowing at the age of 14. “I thought, ‘I like this, so I can make it,’” he recalls. Make it he most certainly did: by 17, he was on the Chinese national team at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. Despite showing so much promise, an accident in 1990 meant he had to bow out of his career in athletics. It’s something that Hu still finds visibly painful to discuss; he broke his back and was never to row again.
Not one to rest on his laurels, Hu launched a modelling career in his 20s, shooting his first campaign for Valentino in 1993—and brand founder Valentino Garavani has been championing him as “the best male model in China” ever since. Hu’s position as sartorial supremo was further cemented last year when the British Fashion Council appointed him as an ambassador for London Collections Men (LCM), the male answer to London Fashion Week. Hu is not only the first Asian to join the roster of dapper LCM emissaries—the others are David Gandy, Dermot O’leary, Nick Grimshaw and Tinie Tempah—but also the first non-british representative.
Perhaps it’s a prescient move, reflecting the fact that Asia is increasingly a power base of men’s fashion. “Hu Bing was always our first choice as a Chinese ambassador,” says Dylan Jones, editor of UK men’s magazine GQ and the chairman of LCM. “He is such an important person in his industry. Suave, sophisticated, successful and with an enormous social media reach.” It’s this reach that British fashion will look to harness in the battle to forge stronger relations with one of the biggest markets in luxury goods.
Hu, intent on doing more than just taking selfies wearing the right clothes,