updated 24 Dec 2010, 05:54
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Sun, Jan 10, 2010
Urban, The Straits Times
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China rising
by Karen Tee

For someone who began modelling to win a computer, Liu Wen has certainly come a long way.

Five years into her career and the 21-year-old is now a regular face on international runways from New York to Paris, where she has walked for luxe labels including Chanel, Hermes and Lanvin.

At the recent spring/summer 2010 shows, the 1.78m stunner with an irresistible smile racked up a whopping 70 appearances - second only to French model Constance Jablonski, 19, who was in 72 shows.

Last month, she also became the first Chinese model to appear in the Victoria's Secret annual lingerie fashion show (above), proving that she has both commercial as well as high-fashion appeal.

Yet, the willowy looker is refreshingly unaffected by the fuss surrounding her.

'I'm so busy that I don't have time to let it all sink in. The only downtime I have is backstage before shows, where I'll be resting, eating and even sleeping,' she tells Urban with a laugh.

The Hunan native was in Singapore in November to attend the opening of the Burberry boutique in Ion Orchard.

Asked if she is set to take over from Du Juan as China's reigning supermodel, she replies diplomatically in Mandarin: 'I don't think any Chinese models are out there to compete with one other.

'Rather, with Chinese models becoming increasingly prominent in the international fashion scene, we are all here to help raise people's awareness of China.'

Although she is more comfortable speaking in Mandarin, the bubbly clotheshorse is more than game to chat in the conversational English she has picked up during her travels.

She was in high school when she entered a local modelling contest in 2005 to try to win a laptop.

Her unexpected win saw her moving to Beijing, where she quickly made the covers of the Chinese editions of FHM, Vogue and Harper's Bazaar.

'From the beginning, I've always just taken it one step at a time and had fun,' she says.

'My parents did feel I was too young to model but they allowed me to pursue it. Now they're proud of me and I have no regrets,' says Liu, who splits her time among the four fashion capitals of Paris, New York, London and Milan.

Her father is an interior designer and her mother is a housewife.

With work taking her to far-flung corners of the world, the only child says she copes with the occasional pangs of loneliness by calling her parents.

'I'll tell them about the good things that happen to me, such as the designers I'm working with' says Liu, whose favourite labels include Alexander Wang, Jean Paul Gaultier and Rag And Bone.

'But I won't tell them I'm lonely or sad because I don't want them to worry.'

In any case, she is not about to let those brief bouts get in the way of her career plans.

'I'm enjoying what I'm doing and I intend to stick with it for as long as I can. I hope to be like (Taiwanese actress- model) Lin Chi-ling, who began as a model but later branched out into hosting and acting.

'There are many opportunities for models besides being just a pretty face.'

Diversifying into other fields may be just what she needs to gain more recognition in China, where she is just one of millions of pretty faces.

'In fashion capitals such as New York and Paris, fans or photographers will stop me to chat or take photos,' says Liu, whose off-duty style consists of on-trend boyfriend blazers or leather jackets, skinny jeans and tough utilitarian boots.

'But in China, people don't recognise me.'

She muses: 'Maybe it is because the celebrity-centric culture in China is stronger so people find it difficult to recognise models, whose job requires them to change their looks constantly.'

If all else fails, she can always fall back on her childhood ambition of becoming a teacher.

She says: 'As a teacher, you are in charge and you can have a positive influence on the lives of many children.'

This article was first published in Urban, The Straits Times.

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