Through The Decades, These Models Show the Wide Range of Influence of Asia

East, Southeast, and South Asian models have been paving the way and influencing the industry for decades, yet have in the past been seen as filling “casting quotas” or what’s worse, forgotten entirely. Continuing our Models Through The Decades Series, we are highlighting Asian model trailblazers from as early as the 50s who’ve showcased significant milestones throughout the eras and may or may not be on your radar. Whether you’re a devout model fanatic or interested in learning something new, the exhaustive list highlights how these pillars of model history started off in the industry, climbed to notoriety, and some of their major claims to fame.

The 00’s

Rila Fukishima
Tokyo-born Rila Fukushima was an assistant model agent before she got scouted, making an initial presence on the Japanese modeling scene. Fukushima went on to appear in campaigns for D&G, Kenzo, and Gap and was featured in editorials for Vogue Japan, Dazed Magazine, and Vogue Italia. The Japanese model became a longtime muse to Nicolas Ghesquière walking for his 2017 Louis Vuitton Cruise show in Kyoto, and made her major acting debut in 2013 when she was cast in “The Wolverine”.

Du Juan
Chinese model Du Juan was discovered competing at Ford Supermodel of the World after she outgrew her pursuit of ballet. Her runway debut in 2006 connected her with Valentino, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Roberto Cavalli, and Chanel. She’s appeared on the cover of Vogue China 14 times (including its inaugural issue), along with editorials in American Vogue, Vogue Paris, Vogue Italia, Pop, and i-D. She’s branched off into acting but continues to land top bookings appearing in Miu Miu’s latest Holiday Campaign in 2020 shot by Mert & Marcus.

The 90’s

Devon Aoki
Before the late 90’s punk, Devon Aoki was the alternative face to the long-legged glamazons, born in NYC of Japanese and German descent. At 13, Kate Moss was introduced to the model by Aoki’s Godmother and called up Storm Models to immediately get her signed. Aoki and her distinct look made her debut as the face of Versus and constant runway appearances for Marc Jacobs, Versace, Celine, and Chanel Couture. Aoki also consistently booked campaigns for Moschino before transitioning into acting, making her appearance in 2 Fast 2 Furious and Sin City.

Jenny Shimizu
Born in San Jose, California Japanese-American model Jenny Shimizu was scouted working as a mechanic when Michel Comte asked if he could photograph her for Vogue Italia. Soon after, Shimizu was walking for Calvin Klein and became the first Asian to walk a Prada show and the first person of color to open it. The striking model became known for her famous Calvin Klein ads before moving back to California to pursue her acting career and working as a model agent.

The 80’s

Ariane Koizumi
Ariane Mitsuye Koizumi was born in The Bronx to a Dutch mother and Japanese father, signing with Elite at the age of 16. A student at Parsons School of Design, Ariane quit when her modeling career took off following a hair makeover which transformed her look into something a little tougher. With her new short crop, Ariane caused a sensation at the New York shows and went on to work with everyone: Meisel, Walter Chin, Max Vadukul, Lindbergh, Leibovitz, Hans Feurer, Antonio Lopez, Stephen Sprouse, YSL, Claude Montana, and Lagerfeld. She was a particular favorite of John Galliano and Giorgio Armani before she made the transition into acting in 1985, co-starring with Mickey Rourke in the commercially-panned, Year of the Dragon. Ariane continued to model until the end of the 80s and now works on the corporate side at Prada.

Gurmit Kaur
Gurmit Kaur was born in Singapore to a Punjabi Sikh family. Desperate to escape a previously arranged marriage, Gurmit tanned herself, enrolled in the Lasalle College of the Arts in Singapore to learn sculpting, and eventually married Belgian sculptor Olivier Strebelle who she had met at art school. They moved to Europe where she began to model, becoming a catwalk sensation and the muse of legendary designers Azzedine Alaïa, Gianni Versace, and Yves Saint Laurent, working with photographers Steven Meisel, Steven Klein, Jean-Baptiste Mondino, and Albert Watson to build her book. After she divorced Strebelle she quit modeling in the mid-90s and went on to become a jewelry maker.

The 70’s

Vivienne Lynn
Born in England, British-Japanese model Vivienne Lynn began modeling after photographer Barry Lategan convinced Models 1 to sign the 5’3″ schoolgirl. Vivienne went on to grace the cover of Vogue Italia in 1976, appeared often on the pages of British Vogue, and signed a contract with Shiseido cosmetics. After modeling, she was closely linked to London’s New Romantic scene, briefly dating David Bowie and becoming a pop star in Japan. She served as fashion editor at Cosmopolitan UK and is now an artist.

The 60’s

Hiroko Matsumoto
Hiroko Matsumoto, also known as Mademoiselle Hiroko, was touted as the first-ever Japanese model to model a French collection at Pierre Cardin. The designer discovered her on a trip to Tokyo in 1957 and sponsored her to come to Paris, where she soon had her portrait taken by Irving Penn and Helmut Newton, graced British Vogue, and served as the face of Nina Ricci. She eventually met and married her first husband, Henry Berghauer, the then-manager at Pierre Cardin group before he later went on to manage Japanese luxury brand Hanae Mori and Hervé Leger. In 1970, Matsumoto played the role of Kyoko, the Japanese lover, in French director François Truffaut’s movie Bed and Board where she exclusively wore custom-designed, Hanae Mori. She married her second husband Jean-Claude Cathalan and maintained a career as a fashion magazine editor before passing suddenly in Paris at age 67.

The 50’s

Sen-Yin Nystrom, better known as Madame Seignon, was born in Bhamo in the Shan Hills of Burma (now modern-day Myanmar). She met and married British writer Carl Nystrom and after World War II began to work as a catwalk fit model for Christian Dior. After her modeling career, Seignon started Fashion Model, a London model agency and school. She discovered model-turned-agent Cherry Marshall who in turn discovered Grace Coddington and Pattie Boyd. Seignon died in 1970.

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