Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The highs and lows of life as China's top foreign model

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The highs and lows of life as China's top foreign model

Anina Trepte walks a show for designer Frankie Xie.

No one wanted Anina Trepte to come to China. The agents and designers she was working for in Paris told her it would ruin her career. There was no fashion here, no modeling industry, no chance for her to rise to the top or make any money, they said.

She came anyway.

"I always have just done whatever I wanted to do at any cost, at any price," Trepte said.

"Life gives you signs, and if you know how to read those signs, you will end up at the right place at the right time."

It was around 3 pm on Saturday, nearing the end of the annual China Fashion Week, and Trepte was sitting in the corner of a dressing room in the Grand Hyatt Beijing preparing to walk in the show of Frankie Xie, the designer behind Jefen, the first Chinese brand to emerge onto the global haute couture stage.

"He is one of the most professional designers in China," Trepte, who was wearing her signature red jacket over a pair of skinny black jeans, said. "He does fittings like they do in Paris."

Why exactly Trepte decided to flee the runways of Paris for the catwalks of China is a question better answered by her appearance than with words.

The 20-something model's blazing red hair, penetrating blue eyes and rose-colored skin are an anomaly in a fashion industry, that, while is gradually becoming more globalized, still has only a handful of models who are not Chinese.

"If you have a unique look, you can get chosen for a lot of things," Trepte said. "I am the only red-haired model, at least in Beijing. If designers want that classic Ralph Lauren look, I get the job."

Since Trepte landed in China two years ago, she has collaborated with a number of designers from the country's top labels, including Jefen, White Collar and Occi Vivi, as well as leading photographers and fashion studios.

The highs and lows of life as China's top foreign model

And in Beijing, she has become something of a celebrity, frequenting local radio and television programs, hosting high-profile events and attending the city's most posh parties. CCTV recently awarded her with the title of China's top foreign model.

"To become the top, you have to make people love you," Trepte said. "You have to have this inner power. It is something inside. Not a lot of people know that."

And there is also a side to living life as a foreign model in China that most will never know.

Underneath the glamorous clothes and makeup, there is loneliness, especially for models like Trepte, who do not speak Chinese or Russian, the nationality of many of the other women who work on the runways.

"Sometimes I feel very small here. Some days I think I should leave here. It is too difficult," she said. "There have been foreign models whose agents promised them they would make a lot of money. They never did."

After the Jefen show ended, Trepte changed back into her red jacket and skinny jeans and walked alone to a casting down the street at the Beijing Hotel where she waited with dozens of women to strut for a few moments in front of a panel of designers picking models for another show.

"How was my walk?" she asked after the audition. "Did I look like I was slouching?"

Trepte does not like to reminisce about her past. "I hate the past because it dates you," she said. "I prefer to talk about the future."

"Now, thanks to China, I have the shots I need to get jobs in America," Trepte said. "I can finally become one of those high earning models. There is nothing to stop me."

Trepte, however, does worry about her future. What will happen if she does not become a fashion icon?

"Will I have to work in a restaurant?" she said.

Her backup plan is a project called 360Fashion, a network of fashion professionals who collaborate using Web 2.0 and mobile technologies that Trepte launched at the 2005 Paris Fashion Show.

Trepte is now trying to widen the community to include China.

In her spare time, she visits clothing factories, fashion designers, photographers and studios around the country, working to build a bridge between clothing design in the East and West.

"China was the logical next step to complete the circle," she said. "If there was no China, there would be no fashion."

Trepte, also known as Anina.net, has launched her own fashion mobile gaming application in China and the US and is working on prototypes of a mobile fashion magazine.

She is always connected, using her mobile phone to blog about the fashion industry in China and abroad with the goal of making a traditionally closed sector more open to the public.

"I want to be this new type of model," said Trepte, a regular at tech conferences around Beijing. "I want to be a social media model and open the door to the fashion industry."

At her apartment, hours after the fashion show and casting, Trepte grabbed a handful of popcorn, put on a coat of bright red lipstick and grabbed her red jacket to head out to a party for the evening.

As she picked up her purse, she stopped for a moment at the door and asked: "I have made my mark?"

taken from : China Daily

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