Modeling in Asia

Thinking about making the leap into modeling in Asia?

At this time of year most people are planning vacations at home or abroad. One very excited group, however, is focusing specifically on a work trip to Asia. This group is comprised of models on the cusp of an international modeling career. Many of them and their parents have contacted me asking for information about working in that part of the world. While the following information focuses on Asia, all male and female models will benefit from reading it, especially the basic common sense advice which will be helpful no matter what part of the world they will work in.

Asia is a major force in the modeling industry. Tokyo, Osaka, Singapore, Bangkok, Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing are the major cities. The fashion house of Fendi and its creative genius designer, the late Karl Lagerfeld’s amazing Fall/Winter 2007 extravaganza on the Great Wall of China rocked the industry. It was the first ever fashion show to be presented at this modern Wonder of the World and was stunning, magical and made fashion history. As a result, international designers flocked there, staged shows and opened boutiques. Chinese designers, some of whom had studied in Europe, wanted their Western designs to be seen around the world. New modeling agencies opened. Model searches were televised. Shopaholic tourists invaded. The future potential for a billion dollar industry was obvious.

These foreign cities seem so far away to the aspiring American model. In reality they are, but agents do such a brilliant job of managing their models and are so concerned about their welfare that foreigners feel at home very quickly. They are kept very busy with assignments and there is little time to feel lonely. The culture shock can be a little overwhelming, however. I would strongly advise all Asia- bound models to study their destination ahead of time. Language is not a big problem as many people speak English because it is taught in schools. They love to have the opportunity to practice their English.

All of the agents, scouts and managers I interviewed were very straight forward and experts in their field. They told me they were very selective when choosing models and seldom make a mistake. As a result of their expertise and scrutiny, when a model goes to Asia, he or she will work with very few exceptions. In fact, all of the models I spoke with told me that having great stamina is critical in order to keep up with the hectic pace.
The fact that agents from around the world who place models in Asia know and work with each other all the time should give parents and models a sense of security. They can be assured that the mother agent will only place their son or daughter with a foreign agent whose credentials are impeccable. Heather Scott, who owns Power Model Placement in Vancouver, Canada, said: “We are very careful where we place models because we want them to continue modeling and be happy, so that when they return to their mother agent they will tell them and other models about their great experience. They do have to take a leap of faith because it is a bit scary at this stage, but they can be assured that we have their back and would not place them with an agent we don’t know.”

All foreign agencies have specific rules and regulations. Detailed instructions are sent to the model and mother agent ahead of time and orientation on procedures and the specific city is held on the first day at the agency. The agencies arrange working visas in advance with the cooperation of the models. This involves following instructions to the letter here in this country, and supplying the foreign agent with the documents they require. If this is done accurately, working visas can be obtained quickly.

In many of the markets, a guaranteed earnings contract does exist for a two or three month (90-day) stay. In every market there is a guarantee that agencies will advance finances to cover a model’s return airfare, accommodation, transportation, pocket money, work visa or permit and other expenses. The first money a model makes goes to paying back these expenses. This is why agents are so strict about the models they represent. They do not want to be left with debt. It is also why it is important that the model has had some working experience at home before leaving for Asia and that she has a few good photographs in her portfolio. Asia is not the place for brand new faces. Models seldom arrive and work right away. The first month is spent testing, doing go-sees, castings and on development. Models on a three month contract, rather than a two month contract, are more successful because, as one agent put it, “This is when most of the action takes place. At the end of the time, the model will either go to another market in Asia or return home. Models do not stay in one place for too long because clients want to see new faces. Everyone is looking for that new talent, that new star!”

Each market has its local industry which represents Asian models who book the jobs that require the local
language. Speaking the language makes it easier but it doesn’t change the dynamics. It is about the model’s look and her walk and if she is right for a particular designer. The old adage, “Being in the right place at the right time,” also applies.
The range in income will depend on the market, the model and the type of work they are doing. Generally, commercial work makes more than fashion work, especially as some commercial projects can take over a week to shoot. This is a great help to the model’s budget. Magazines and fashion shows are not big money makers for the model, but they provide great exposure, which can result in good portfolio pictures and tear sheets.
Eurasian models are very popular. Blondes are not, unless they walk into an agency with a very strong book. Suntans are an absolute no-no!
Hair, clear skin, acting ability, a good personality, a great attitude and good manners are essential. Don’t cut your hair or change its color before going to Asia and most of all do not gain weight! Agents want you to look as you do in your portfolio pictures when you arrive. This is how they have promoted you.
Height requirements for women are 5’8 to 5’10 with exceptions. A model who is 5’7 must have a strong book and be exceptional. A model who is 5’11 (even 6’ in China) stands a good chance. Men must be a minimum of 5’ll. Bangkok does not have strict height requirements.

Certain markets have age restrictions. Generally in Asia it is sixteen. Thailand prefers 18. Most agents want models to have finished high school.
An opportunity to model in Asia is an education of immeasurable value in life and history. This is one of the very positive aspects of a modeling career.