Though mediocre in Korea, supermodel impresses abroad

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Though mediocre in Korea, supermodel impresses abroad

Slanted eyes, a flat nose and protruding cheekbones are certainly not hallmarks of beauty in Korea. But those who have such features are strutting on catwalks of high-end brands abroad.

One of the busiest Asian models in the global fashion scene is Kim Sung-hee, who was raised and began modeling in Korea. But her career didn’t start out well. As a mediocre model, she made her foray onto the international runway last year. Soon after, she gained attention for being the first-ever Asian face of Prada for the 2013 S/S Women Campaign. And she was described by New York Magazine as being a suitable model for luxury bands due to her elegance and grace. Now, the world-class supermodel is one of the popular models among top designers, including Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano and Anna Sui.

Recently, the 27-year-old made an appearance as a Korean representative for Fendi’s opening of the traveling exhibition “Fendi-Un Art Autre” at the University Art Museum, Tokyo University of the Arts, on April 2.

At the evening event, the JoongAng Ilbo sat down with the supermodel to discuss her big break in the global modeling industry.

Q. Korean models are getting increasingly recognized in New York.

A. That’s true. We are better received than Chinese models. Of course, Chinese models make up the bulk of Asian models. There are 80 Chinese models, 10 Koreans and two or three Japanese out of 100 models in New York. Actually, it doesn’t matter where you come from. We are just Asian in the eyes of other people in the field. But recently, I think they are distinguishing between Asian faces as more and more Asians are coming.

How is it like to work in New York compared to Korea?

It is extremely competitive. You have to go through brutal competition to walk the runway. But people here treat models with respect. So I feel like playing a key role in the production. Also, their standard of beauty is quite different from ours. They regard slanted eyes and high cheekbones as Asian beauty. But in Korea, it is totally the opposite. I was never considered pretty. I don’t have big eyes or a high nose.

How did you break into the New York scene?

I did modeling in Korea for four or five years, but I was not recognized. Then, my Korean agency forwarded my portfolio to an American modeling agency last year, and I got offered a contract from the company. And then, things started to take off.

Being a model was your all-time dream?

I majored in ballet at Hanyang University, but I kept growing and reached 178 centimeters [5 feet, 10 inches]. Since I was too tall to take lead roles, all I got were supporting ones. So, I participated in a supermodel contest in my sophomore year and became a model.

What do you think is your unique selling point?

Maybe because I did ballet, I get praise for my expressive moves. I’m quite good at difficult and even dramatic poses. And unlike other Asians, I don’t hold back and strive to act confidently. Though I don’t speak English well, I like socializing with the crew.

What’s your secret to staying in shape?

I try to walk to as many places as possible. And I usually have one meal a day.


By Park Hye-min [estyle@joongang.co.kr]

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