China Likes Blondes
December 30, 2009, 12:12 AM
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China correspondent Keith B. Richburg of the Washington Post comes up with a tough reporting assignment for himself: the influx of blonde fashion models into China:
China's Next Top Model may well be a blue-eyed Canadian blonde named Nicole.

Nicole Vos, 19, has been modeling in Canada for four years and was doing runway shows for Toronto Fashion Week when "my agency one day just told me that I'm going to China." Now just halfway through her three-month contract in Beijing, Vos has been photographed for catalogues, magazines and commercials.

"I love it here!" Vos gushed, shouting over the blaring house music at Touch, a club at the Westin Beijing Chaoyang hotel, the models' watering hole. "I definitely want to come back!"

Vos isn't alone. Western models, it seems, are everywhere these days in the People's Republic of China: on department store display ads, in catalogues for clothing brands, on billboards, in commercials and on the runways at fashion shows. They are blue-eyed American and Canadian blondes like Vos, sultry Eastern European brunettes and hunky male bodybuilders with Los Angeles tans and six-pack abs selling products from jeans to underwear.

A walk through the Guiyou department store in central Beijing is instructive. On the third and fourth floors, where designer brands from Shanghai, Shenzhen and Guangzhou are showcased, there's a display of a blonde modeling over-the-knee boots and red-and-black pumps for Hongke shoes. A pouty brunette advertises Baykal, a local brand of wool products. Even the mannequins have Western features.

It may seem incongruous that a country of 1.3 billion people — roughly half of them female — would have to import models. Or that designers and clothing brands would want to use blondes and redheads to market to a nation of black-haired consumers.

But the use of foreign models has been growing in China's fashion industry, as brands jostle to be known as "yangqi," or trendy — literally "foreign-style" in Mandarin Chinese. The alternative, using only Chinese models, is interpreted as making the brand come off as "tuqi," or countrified. ...

Then there is the matter of the Chinese sense of what constitutes beauty in a globalized world. "The foreign models' faces are much more three-dimensional," Ou said. "They look nicer in pictures."

He added that he never hires black models. "Our clients don't ask for black models," he said. "It's an issue of Chinese people's aesthetic view."

Almost all of these kind of articles are written by women journalists, so they inevitably end with a ringing demand for social values to be revolutionized in order that, come the revolution, the reporterette will be considered hotter looking. In contrast, Richburg, a black guy, is objective and bemused by it all.