Ming Xi Dynasty

Ming Xi Dynasty

Model Ming Xi is riding a wave of success as the fashion world turns its attention to China. Could this Shanghainese beauty be the country's next major fashion export?
Ming xi -- Chinese model
Shanghainese supermodel Ming Xi is the new couture darling of the international fashion scene.

Only days after Ming Xi's 21st birthday, she is in Europe living the hectic life of an international model. She has worked every day for weeks, but in a world as fickle as fashion's, keeping busy is the only way for an aspiring supermodel to make her mark.

Despite the long hours on the road, Ming -- also known as Xi Mengyao -- is quick to emphasize how lucky she feels to be living her dream.

“Even now I don’t believe I am really a model, it’s very surreal to me,” she says.

In less than two years, Ming has progressed from representing China at the Elite Model Look competition, to starring in campaigns for fashion heavyweights Givenchy and Diane Von Furstenberg, and walking in shows for the likes of Christian Dior, Vivienne Westwood and Alexander Wang.

“I had no preconceptions about this career, I tend to just go with the flow,” Ming says of her sudden success. “I never really gave [being a professional model] too much thought before. That said, I absolutely love what I’m doing now.”

For me [Shanghai] holds all of my life, my memories and has all of my love. I’m biased, but I do believe that it is a fashionable city.— Ming Xi

Ming Xi's sudden success story

As 2010 dawned and many of Ming's fellow citizens turned their attention to the Shanghai 2010 World Expo, the world of fashion was turning Ming into modeling's next big thing.

After being hand-picked by superstar creative director Riccardo Tisci to walk exclusively for Givenchy in Paris -- a first for a Chinese model -- influential industry guide Models.com profiled the newcomer, calling her the “most promising” debut of fashion week.

“With a poised walk down Givenchy Couture’s catwalk,” Models.com gushed, “Ming grabbed everyone’s attention.”

And they weren't the only ones taking notice.

Within months, New York magazine's James Lim wrote that Tisci was “plotting the ascent of his latest belle," and describing the fashion-forward creative director as “smitten” with Ming.

"Style" magazine and "Vogue" Italia continued the run of international media attention, while closer to home, Ming became a regular in the pages of Chinese "Vogue."

Beauty with Chinese characteristics

Ming Xi - Asian model -- Chinese modelMing Xi has modeled extensive for fashion power houses like Givenchy, and has regularly graced the pages of "Vogue."While fashion magazines fawned over Ming's prominent cheekbones and playfully protruding ears, criticism was more common on the home front.

China's netizens are a notoriously vocal group, and many took to fashion-focused forums to express their -- often negative -- opinions about Ming's distinctive look.

The growth in internationally successful Chinese models, including luminaries such as Du Juan and Liu Wen, hasn't necessarily led to an increased acceptance of Chinese beauty ideals in the international world of fashion.

Simon Lock, IMG Asia Pacific's Managing Director, agrees that international agencies still don’t give much consideration to Chinese standards of beauty, if only because they don't really know much about them.

“Right or wrong, our staff are choosing models from a Caucasian perspective,” he says. “I hear that some Chinese look at our models and think they’re ugly, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

And, at least for the time being, the eyes that matters most in the international world of fashion are still the Western eyes of fashion leaders, such as Riccardo Tisci.

This presentation did something special by putting more Asian models together in one collection that you usually see. The Asian market is very important, and we do love luxury, which is such an important part of this business.— Ming Xi, model

An Asian invasion

For an up-and-coming model in this day and age, being discovered by Tisci is the equivalent of winning the lottery, but Ming modestly responds to questions about her apparent hold on the god of Givenchy. “It is such an honor to be a part of that couture collection, and it’s always great to work with Riccardo Tisci and the team at Givenchy,” she says.

Ming's success coincides with a shift in the fashion world, from its traditional capitals in Europe toward Asia.

Barely a week passes by without news of another luxury brand making a play for the Chinese market, and at this year's Paris fashion week, Tisci made headlines around the world by casting only Asian models for the “Exclusively Asian” Givenchy Couture catwalk show.

As both a part of the show, and the very embodiment of this shift in modeling's formerly mono-cultural sensibilities, Ming says it's difficult to ignore that change is in the air.

“This presentation did something special by putting more Asian models together in one collection that you usually see,” she says. “The Asian market is very important, and we do love luxury, which is such an important part of this business.”

Simon Lock agrees emphatically.

“You can't deny the fact that China is becoming more and more important as a market for luxury brands,” he says. “And one way to get a connection back to Chinese consumers is adding Chinese elements to your marketing.”

Looking to the future

Despite all the success and attention, Ming has managed to keep her feet firmly on the ground. She sweetly nominates her “lovely mum” as her hero and raves about her home town, describing Shanghai as “a really beautiful city."

"For me [Shanghai] holds all of my life, my memories and has all of my love," she says. "I’m biased, but I do believe that it is a fashionable city.”

Ming Xi becomes more philosophical when asked about her own fashionable future.

“Goals are nice, but with this profession there is so much that is out of your hands,” she says. “In my opinion, happiness is the most important thing in my life.”

Casey is a city/lifestyle journalist from Melbourne, Australia, who has been based in Shanghai since 2007.

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