Asian Models from the Past

Once upon a time, the perfect image of a fashion model would be a tall, voluptuous blonde girl with the infamous measurements of 36-24-36. Today, although some of this formala still holds true, the fashion world has slowly been evolving. As Asia and Latin America catch up to the world economy, fashion designers can no longer ignore these emerging markets. This is especially evident in the model choices they engage in their advertising campaigns and fashion shows.

Asian models are now as much part of the main boards for all top agencies in New York, Milan, Paris and London as their Aryan counterparts. There has never been a better time for Asian models on the international fashion stage.

But little do we realize that there once was a time before names such as Liu Wen, Sun Fei Fei, Ju Xiao Wen, Sung Hee Kim and Soo Joo Park becoming a household name in the ateliers of fashion, Asian models have been working in the Western fashion world since the 1950s.

Here is a short tribute to some of the top names in Asia fashion models between the 1950s – 1990s.

China Machado – She was born Noelie Dasouza Machado in Shanghai of mixed East Asian, Indian and Portuguese ancestry.   During her teenage years, she travelled around the world with her family until eventually settling in Paris where she changed her name to China when she started her modelling career working with Hubert de Givenchy.  She eventually became one of the most requested runway models in the 1950s. But her real big break came when she captured the attention of Richard Avedon at a Balenciaga show by in 1958 in New York. She subsequently ended up being the first East Asian model on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar in 1959.  Now at age 86 and signed with IMG Models, she still continues to model today.


Harper’s Bazaar February 1959 Cover with China Machado


Harper’s Bazaar February 1959 China Machado

China Cole Haan Campaign fall 2013

China Machado for Cole Haan Fall 2013 Campaign


Vogue Italian July 2015 featuring China Machado

Marie Helvin – Born in Tokyo, Japanese-American model Marie Helvin started her modeling career in Japan at the age of 15 as the face of Kanebo in 1967. After moving to London she worked with designers such as Yves Saint Laurent, Versace and Valentino. Today, Helvin is still active in the fashion world in London appearing as a judge on Britain’s Next Top Model as well as appearing in British Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.

Marie H Valentino Campaign

Marie Helvin in a Valentino Ad from the 1970s.

Marie H Vogue Italia Marie Helvin, Vogue Italia 1976

Marie H Marie Helvin, Vogue UK 1975

Marie Vogue CoverMarie Helvin, Vogue UK 1976


Marie Helvin photographed by husband David Bailey

Tina Chow – Japanese-American model and later jewelry designer Tina Chow was born to a German American father and Japanese mother. Chow moved to Japan in the mid-60s and was discovered by a modelling scout and soon became the prominent face of Shiseido in the early 70s. With an unique Eurasian look she quickly rose to fame by becaming a muse to Yves Saint Laurent and Issey Miyake and photographed by Helmut Newton, Cecil Beaton and Arthur Elgort. She married Chinese American restauranteur Michael Chow in 1970s.  An important style icon of the 70s and 80s Chow died of AIDS in 1992.

tina chow tina-chow-model-japan

Two layouts of the Shiseido Campaign launched in 1970 in Japan featuring Tina and her sister.


Tina photographed with her husband Michael Chow

Anna Bayle – She is often coined the first Asian “supermodel” to work with a long list of top international names as such as Chanel, Valentino, Versace, Versace, Dior, Yves Saint Laurent , Thierry Mugler and Shiseido. Anna is of Filipino ethnicity who achieved great success in the 1980s and was one of the top ten highest paid models at the time.

Anna Bayle Sonia Rykiel ANNA BAYLE YSL Bloomingdales Anna Bayle

Anna being featured in campaigns from Sonia Rykiel, Yves Saint Laurent and Bloomingdales from the 80s.

UNGARO Anna Bayle

Anna Bayle on the catwalk of Emanuel Ungaro.

Irina Pantaeva – Irina was one of the first Asians to become one of the original group of Supermodels of the 90s. In the early to mid 90s. She was a regular on the runways of all the fashion capitals having walked for a long list of brands—Chanel, Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent, Thierry Mugler, Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen, Issey Miyake, Dior, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs, etc. Advertising campaigns include the Gap, H&M, Missoni, Kenzo, Vivienne Westwood, Moschino, Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. She is an ethnic Buryat from the previous Buryat Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.

Kenzo Irina  VW Irina

Irina featured in campaigns from Kenzo and Vivienne Westwood

Vogue Irina

Irina on the cover of Vogue España

JohnGalliano Irina

Irina walking for John Galliano

Missoni Irina

Missoni Campaign with Irina

Jenny Shimizu – Japanese-American model started her modeling career by appearing in a Calvin Klein ck one fragrance ad in 1994 with her androgynous look. Banana Republic, Versace, The Gap, Jean Paul Gaultier, Yohji Yamamoto, Donna Karan, Anna Sui, United Colors of Benetton and Prada soon followed. Jenny has also shot with some of the most coveted photographers in fashion including Bruce Weber, Irving Penn, Steven Meisel, Richard Avadon, David LaChapelle and David Sims. She has also been romantically involved with Madonna and Angelia Jolie.

Jenny Shimizu Vogue Jenny Shimizu on cover of Vogue Singapore

jenny Jenny Shimizu beauty shot

jennyshimizu chriskane Jenny Shimizu walking for Christopher Kane

Ling Tan – The first Southeast Asian Supermodel of the 90s, Ling is of Malaysian-Chinese decent. With an exotic Asian face, she started her career in her native Malaysia appearing in an ad for Tiger Beer. She has worked with all the top names in fashion including Alexandra McQueen, Anna Sui, Balenciaga, Burberry, Carolina Herrera, Chanel, Dior, Fendi, Giorgio Armani, Donna Karan, Gucci, Hermès, Missoni, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Karl Lagerfeld, Kenzo, Lanvin, Louis Vuitton, Nina Ricci, Tom Ford, Valentino, Vera Wang, Vivienne Westwood, Yves Saint Laurent…..and the list goes on. Ling has also appeared on covers and editorial pages of all the top fashion magazines including Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Numéro, Marie Claire, Elle, Allure, L’Officiel, W, New York Times

35846-500w L’Oreal Campaign

ling balenciaga Ling Tan walking for Balenciaga 1988

Ling Tan - Vogue Germany October 1997 - 3 Ling Tan for Vogue Germany

All photos sourced from the internet.  I do not own the rights to the photos.

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