Model Muse Anh Duong on a Career Centered Around Evolving Inclusivity

Anh Duong has been inspiring major designers and photographers since she first entered the industry back in the 1980s. Born in France of Spanish and Vietnamese heritage, there were often times when Anh was one of the few–if not the only–Asian models on a set or runway… and sometimes the only Asian face within an entire issue of a magazine. Now known for her work as an artist, below Anh takes us through the most memorable times she has been the muse.

photo by David Seidner, courtesy Anh Duong.

Yves Saint Laurent campaign, Vogue Paris, March 1986.

This photo by David Seidner is one of the first photos I did for French Vogue that launched my career as a model. David spotted me at the Palace in Paris and photographed me right away for the Yves Saint Laurent campaign.

I was living in Paris pursuing my dream career as a ballerina. I never really thought of becoming a model and the few times I tried I was turned down and told my looks were ‘too exotic’. Inclusivity wasn’t part of the conversation yet and being outside of the beauty norms was a big challenge to breakthrough. Seidner, a very talented and creative young American photographer who was living in Paris, was the first one who saw my potential as a model and took a chance with me. He was a perfectionist with a unique vision and made me pose for hours in the same excruciating position. Thanks to my looks and training as a ballerina I was able to please his demands of precision in my movements. It was the perfect match and he and I embarked in a long collaboration for many years until his death. It wasn’t about conforming to the norms and just standing looking pretty but to create together a timeless work of art that today is part of the collections of various museums! Suddenly having the opportunity to work with such creative people for quality brands made modeling fulfilling and I decided to give it my full attention. To this day I am very grateful to David who gave me my first break and validated my looks. Because of him I felt seen and understood. He opened doors for me of the fashion world on a whole new level.

photo by Herb Ritts, courtesy Anh Duong.

Gap campaign, 1991

At the age of 29, I had officially already retired as a model, feeling ‘too old’ and eager to start my career as an artist and actress. Coincidentally the fashion world was looking for new inspiration and had the groundbreaking idea to use personality versus just pretty faces. Today it seems normal but at the time it was a big shift in the fashion world! Because I had become an artist and had already my first solo show in New York, I was asked to be the protagonist of this controversial Gap black and white campaign shot by Herb Ritts. With my face larger than life showing only the tip of the collar of the shirt, this time my name and my profession ‘Artist’ were mentioned in the photo. The campaign ended up in every bus stop in London and Vogue magazines around the world. It wasn’t about looking good or what I was wearing anymore but my personality and talents – it was about what I had to say!
Having a voice and promoting my art through fashion was like the perfect match and a great way to inspire a new genre of women. I flew to LA to shoot the campaign with Herb, one of the greatest photographers of his generation. He asked Garren to give me his iconic bob. I was scared at the time to cut my long hair but I was excited about this new beginning. My second chapter of modeling was launched. I left the fashion world to become an artist but the fashion world didn’t leave me and supported my next venture.

photo by Steven Meisel, courtesy Anh Duong.

Vogue Italia, October 1993.

Steven Meisel took this photo for Vogue Italia. Being photographed by him was a big deal and one of my dreams. I knew the story was going to be important for my career. Steven is another perfectionist with a unique vision. Working closely with the celebrated Pat McGrath and Garren , I was from the start in very good hands. Everything was very well thought-through and planned to perfection – the make-up, the hair, the style. Steven knew exactly what he wanted and would go to any lengths to get it. He made me look at my best in an iconic image with his signature. This is still one of my favorite photos!

photo by Peter Lindbergh, courtesy Anh Duong.

Donna Karan campaign, 1998.

Donna Karan was one of the first champions for women. A female designer for women. Her campaign was created to empower women. She would choose carefully who could carry her voice and message. This image had many women together and with closeness. We were asked to move in a free, Martha Graham style. Representing how women could bond with each other versus competing with one another. Peter Lindbergh was the chosen photographer. Another on my dream list to work with. Between him and Donna, Odile Gilbert, and Stephane Marais for hair and makeup, I trusted it was going to be a campaign to remember!

photo by Peter Lindbergh, courtesy Anh Duong.

Pomellato campaign, 2017.

After a 12 year break, when I was mainly focusing on my art career, my third chapter in the modeling world was about to begin.

I turned 52 and to my surprise Pomellato invited me to be their ambassador in a campaign beautifully shot by the master Peter Lindbergh. Conversations about inclusivity had just started. It was about empowering women and showing beauty at any age. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that at my age I would be asked to be the ambassador of such a quality brand. I saw an opportunity to be relevant, to represent women of my age group. Feeling it was my responsibility to change the perception of beauty and that a woman had the right to age, I was proud to be part of the change. It wasn’t easy at first to accept the signs of age in these images but if I wasn’t embracing them who would? How could I expect our society to see beauty at any age if I couldn’t?

I was reunited with Peter, who was best at capturing beauty at any age. Odile and Stephane were again part of the team. You can always recognize Peter’s photographs. They look like stills from a film because they are telling a story. Peter was about making you feel beautiful and comfortable. He loved women and it is his humanity that you can see in each of his photographs. He connected with the soul of who stood in front of his lens. Making their inner lives available. Bringing the inner beauty to the forefront. Whenever Peter took my picture I trusted I was being seen for my true self and I knew that beauty was going to be the side effect. Sadly he left this world too soon and will be greatly missed.

photo by Ethan James Green, courtesy Anh Duong.

Miu Miu campaign, 2020

This photo was taken a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic. The fashion world, in shock, had stopped already for three months and we were trying to figure out how we could start again. Ethan James Green was another photographer I was so excited to work with. He represents the best his generation has to offer and the diversity the fashion world is craving; gender, race, age, size were all part of the conversation in his choice of cast. A fresh look on fashion and yet a classicism that brought elegance and beauty. I loved working with this young crew. It felt like there was no gap between generations but just the bond of our love for fashion. We did this photo with masks and social distancing. No makeup artist nor hairdresser was allowed because of the virus.

In the midst of this worldwide crisis where we all felt powerless and surrounded by fear, it was thrilling to start again with the wonder woman theme for such a prestigious brand like Miu Miu. In this campaign, Ethan James was successful at making this image relevant by representing what we all need during this lockdown: our strength and hope.

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