The Asian Issue – Interview with Stephen Gan

Lady Gaga by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin for V71 interviews V Editor-in-Chief Stephen Gan

As one of fashion’s most influential publications, V Magazine continuously pushes the content envelope. The ever audacious glossy never fails to generate buzz and a fair bit of controversy with its signature-themed issues. In taking the monthly mag format and turning it into an event, V has managed to tackle some of fashion’s most pertinent topics: age, size, race and relevance are just a few of the hot button subjects that V has covered with sleek style.

The magazine’s latest endeavor is their Asian issue, a tribute to fashion’s Asian inspirations and influences that finds an unlikely muse in pop sensation Lady Gaga. As always, the topic is timely, but for co-founder and creative director Stephen Gan, V71 is also deeply personal. MDC talks to the force behind V to find out the motivation behind the contradictory cover choice and what this special edition holds in store for readers.

MDC: How did the idea for an Asia issue come about?

Stephen: Being Asian myself, it’s a subject I always wanted to tackle, but never dared to. As you can imagine, it’s a subject that hits very close to home, and, therefore, is very difficult to tackle. How do you do it right? How do you involve all the right people and ever think it’s complete? Plus, the idea that people would say “Asian” is a trend, that it could now be “in,” was very strange to me. It took a lot of guts and a lot of hard work.

MDC: In your opinion, what is the biggest impact that the Asian market has had on the fashion industry as a whole?

Stephen: Let’s face it, all the big designer brands think of Asia as a very important market now. But we’ve tried not to think too much of that, and just think of all the gorgeous Asian models there are now, when it seemed like you couldn’t find a good Asian model a year or two ago.

MDC: Who were some people you felt it was important to include in this issue?

Stephen: First of all, the issue had to be done with our Asian guest editors, Victoria and Edward Tang, who know the “pulse” of anything that’s worthwhile covering over there. On the celebrity front, it was impossible to do it without Gong Li, “the Garbo of Asia,” probably the most beautiful and talented actress on that side of the world. On the political front, artist Ai Wei Wei. For photography, Nobuyoshi Araki, Japan’s most controversial photographer. As far as models: Bonnie Chen and her boyfriend, “The Rock,” are, to me, the most gorgeous Asian couple around right now. Fei Fei Sun, Liu Wen, Tao Okamoto, Ming Xi, and Sui He are the most beautiful Asian girls right now, while Daisuke Ueda is probably the handsomest male. They’re all incredibly inspiring.

MDC: On a personal level, why do you feel it was important to do this issue?

Stephen: Well, I kept thinking, someone had to do it! It may as well be an Asian who is familiar with the subject matter.

MDC: What made you decide on Lady Gaga for the cover of the Issue, as opposed to an Asian celebrity or model?

Honestly, we searched high and low for Asian celebrities, and we seriously did our homework. But stars who are big in Asia rarely come to America, and getting someone shot over there the way we like things done, started to look tougher and tougher. Gaga and I were emailing the day “Born This Way” came out and I said, “You deserve another cover!” It turned out our Summer issue was coming out ten days before her new album was due to hit. And so I turned to Inez & Vinoodh to come up with an idea that showed her as 3 different characters: herself, a Japanese butterfly, and a Bollywood Shiva goddess. This was their idea, and it just seemed to fit so naturally.

MDC: This issue is going to have a special hardbound edition, which is sure to become something of a collector’s item. Do you feel that as digital takes over, magazines have to become collector’s items?

Well, you couldn’t see a cover image like this come to life and not think of commemorating the occasion is a special way. Doing the 1000 copy limited Collector’s Edition was our way of doing it. It’s such a special moment for me, for all Asians, and for Gaga. An issue can be a celebration in print, right? That’s what this is.

Yes, doing special things in print ensures that print will never die. You will probably see all these images online before you get the hardbound copy in your hands, but when you do, trust me, it will put a smile on your face that no image on a computer screen ever will.

MDC: What do you think will be the legacy of fashion’s new wave of Asian designers?

Stephen: I’m not sure about a “legacy.” China Machado was a model who left a legacy, Suga was a Japanese hairstylist who left a legacy, the Japanese designers like Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto will certainly leave a legacy, but if you’re referring to the new wave of Asian-American designers coming up right now, it’s much too early to say! They’re all so young! Let’s wait until they hit 40 before we discuss a legacy! Haha!

MDC: V has become very known for its themed issues, but lately it seems like every other magazine is jumping on the bandwagon. Since I know you’re always on the cutting edge, what is the next stage of V’s evolution as a magazine?

Stephen: It’s very kind of you to say that. It’s actually a Visionaire tradition: the “thematic” issue! But I never believe that fashion happens only in “waves.” And therefore always working thematically can be dangerous too. As a magazine, it’s important to be able to introduce the 10 hottest faces just as you guys do at And those ten hottest are bound to be of all races and nationalities. Therefore, looking for all this or all that, it can’t be a steady formula. As a magazine, you can never get too settled. When you feel like something’s gonna be too much of a trend and everyone’s jumped on the bandwagon, you have to be ready to risk it all and try something totally new! Every new issue is a chance to transform.

MDC: Any hints as to the next theme V will tackle?

Stephen: Fittingly, our next theme will be “Transformation”!

Ming Xi by Nick Knight

Tao Okamoto, Shu Pei, Liu Wen and Fei Fei Sun by Terry Tsiolis

Bonnie Chen by Sebastien Faena

  1. “Yay! An extra V cover that celebrates the vibrant culture of Asia through a white New Yorker.” —manuva9 in some messageboard

  2. That is the worst justification for a cover choice ever. So hypocritical that he says there are so many gorgeous Asian models now and then lists people who are important to include in the issue, yet none of them seem to be important enough to be featured on the cover.

    While the editorial content is great, it seems to be highly overshadowed by Lady Gaga and her upcoming album. I hope that this issue doesn’t get lost with her current oversaturation of the media market right now and instead, help people see all the beauty Asia has to offer.

  3. OMG!!! You got to be kidding me!

    I was so excited to hear about the ‘Asian’ issue – then they put Lady Gaga on the cover???

    So disappointed!!!!

  4. That’s the fashion industry for you. On the other hand those guys are hot can we get names? And get them steady work.

  5. I said it on Facebook and I’ll say it again: V could have used this opportunity to shed light on some really fascinating, fashionable figures in Asia (Namie Amuro, Shiina Ringo, various kpop idols), since there are apparently a dearth of them in North America or Europe (I guess no one’s heard of M.I.A.), but they just shrugged their shoulders and put Gaga on the cover. Unimpressed.

  6. So sick of seeing her overshopped face everywhere. An actual Asian model would have been a great way to illustrate the supposed celebration of Asians. Just another cheap ploy to pander to the fast growing Asian market.

  7. “And so I turned to Inez & Vinoodh to come up with an idea that showed her as 3 different characters: herself, a Japanese butterfly, and a Bollywood Shiva goddess.”

    Wow, that’s REALLY pushing it.

  8. I complete agree with K2. He himself is Asian, yet he chose to give the cover to Gaga. They had Fei Fei, Shu Pei, Ming, Liu Wen, and the other Asian models to choose from, but they copped out. Why do an Asian issue them? How contradictory can you be? Your reason for not having an Asian on the cover is because Lady Gaga “deserves another cover”? What complete BS.

    If this is an issue that hits so close to home, then this is your chance to shed light on this issue and feature an Asian on the cover. This was a great opportunity to lead the way for over publications. But now, any light that could be shed on this issue is overshadowed by the overexposed Gaga.

    This issue had the potential to be great, but instead, it has become a major fail.

  9. I feel terrible for the lovely girls inside this magazine… Any one of them deserved the cover more than Lady Gaga. Not that there’s anything wrong with Lady Gaga, it’s just that she doesn’t fit the theme of this entire magazine whatsoever. And Stephen Gan’s answer about why he put her on the cover was completely lackluster… not that I’d expect any different.

  10. What a joke, Stephen!!! Lady Gaga is not an Asian, neither a model.
    Did Vogue Italian put Paris Hillton on the cover of “Black Issue”, NO.

    I love Gaga and I think she is more suitable for the next them “Transformation”

    Those gorgeous Asian models deserved the cover, honestly!!!

    Very disapponted like most of you.

  11. This is so embarrassing, especially when you consider the editor is Filipino-American. Dude you RUN the magazine! You call the shots! It’s an Asian themed issue so you put a Caucasian on the front? I don’t dislike Lady Gaga but she does not represent Asian culture and is not deserving of this cover.
    The sad truth is that Gaga getting the cover comes down to sales. Models don’t sell magazines like celebrities and right now Gaga is guaranteed money in the bank.
    I think Mr Gan needs to take a long hard look at himself because he’s let a lot of people down.

  12. The male models featured in the “china girl” spread are Richie Kul & Chris Schortgen with Next Miami. And Devon Spence with Click NY. Gaga on the cover? Way to go Stephen ….fail. Plenty of Asian models in the industry today

  13. This is such a fake!!!…. Lady Gaga on the cover for an Asian issue…. WTF??!! they had all those great modles that deserve the cover and yet they gave it to someone who had nothing to do with the theme at all…I love Gaga but this is hypocritical

  14. This is a sad excuse to put Gaga on the cover. If you’re doing an Asian issue, you should put an Asian on the cover. It’s all about money obviously but I would have respected Stephen Gan more if he chose to take a risk and put one of the Asian models.

  15. Yawn. I’m getting sick of Lady Gaga and her crappy antics. Are Asians just some sort of “background decor” that fashion can play around with? Can’t they have at least a famous Asian-American celebrity on the cover. So disappointing, V.

  16. Lady Gaga as a Japanese butterfly and a Bollywood Shiva Goddess (wtf) is no different than Lara Stone in blackface for VP. At least Roitfeld repeatedly owned her racist choices (Freja as a geisha, Eniko in a turban covered in barb-wire, Hanaa as an avant-garde orientalist)–however, as a person of color, I’m just disappointed with V.

    Moreover, the Asian-Gaga cover is cultural appropriation gone terribly bad. The theme is clearly a take on a hyper-sexualized Manga girl and it is just wrong.

  17. disappointing!why always GAGA??
    We have top models, why bother to shoot them???
    Can’t agree that this is the Asian V!

  18. Stephan Gan has always been one of my fashion idols. I highly respect his unique point of view and commitment to bringing cutting edge fashion to the forefront. That said, I like many others here am extremely disappointed with the choice of Lady Gaga for the cover of the “Asian” issue, and the weak justification for it. I suspect this has more to do with sales of the magazine and less with not being able to book an Asian celebrity. Such a missed opportunity to make a true impact… Gong Li, Zhang Yiyi, Fan Bing Bing, Joan Chen, Jay Chou, Rain, Tony Leung, Donnie Yen… need I go on?

  19. could not agree more… Liu Wen wasn’t in the issue though her career is SKY rocketting.. she should have been given the cover if not the other girls. Limited sales? Had they really followed through with their intent throughout the entire issue it would have sold, particularly being limited edition. Should have been a no brainer…

  20. Wonder what Gaga said when Stephan asks her to be the cover of V Asian Issue?

    Gaga:” Thats great, I am actually an Asian and my real name is Lai Di Gah (黎帝加) My Chinese album will be out next month.”

    So wong!!!

  21. I totally agree with what everyone are saying. I’m Asian and I thought this issue was going to be awesome, but with that cover, my intentions of buying it really went down.
    I feel like the 1st shot of Tao Okamoto could easily replace the Gaga’s photo. All I see on covers of big magazine today are celebrities and no more models. It’s so disappointing!!!

  22. FELICIA: who is topless male model in “china girl” page?he is so HOT!!!

    Yes, he is indeed Rock Ji. Bonnie Chen’s boyfriend.

  23. Why is Lady Gaga on the asian issue? Also, an Asian issue should encompass all that is Asian, including models, photographers, stylists, makeup artists etc. How do you have an Asian issue with Terry Tsiolis and Nick Knight shooting?

  24. kso, first of all, lady gaga is a living beauty.
    she might be a transgender but she is beautiful for what she went through. and if one of you guys were on the cover of that magazine i bet you guys would get insulted, because to tell you the truth nobody is pretty.

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