After an appearance in the New Silk Road World Model Contest in summer 2005, she began modelling locally, aged 17. Her career began in earnest two years later, with editorial bookings for Chinese Vogue and Chinese Harper’s Bazaar. Scoring the cover of Chinese Marie Claire in December 2007, she made a pivotal decision in 2008, signing with Marilyn Agency in Paris.
The move to Marilyn proved crucial: in February 2008 she appeared in not one but four separate editorials for Chinese Vogue and made her international catwalk debut, walking in runway shows for Burberry, Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier, Maison Martin Margiela and Trussardi.
March saw Wen make appearances on the cover of Chinese Elle and inside the pages of Chinese Vogue. Her impact on the ready-to-wear shows in February was discernible as she made her couture debut in July. Walking for both Jean Paul Gaultier and Chanel, Wen’s couture-perfect height made her a must-have booking.
Having put in the legwork, Liu reaped the rewards when she saw her ready-to-wear catwalk bookings rocket to 46 appearances. Her season was so successful www.style.com named her one of their Top 10 Newcomers.
Rounding out an amazing year with two more editorials for Chinese Vogue, Liu began 2009 with a bang. Selected by French Vogue to appear in their calendar, to Wen the assignment was more than just the thrill of being a calendar girl. She was crossing boundaries, shooting daring images with fashion’s agent provocateur, Terry Richardson.
Her ability to head into uncharted territory was noted by ‘New York Look’ who featured her as a rising star. With January spent in Paris for couture season, Liu experienced a mammoth ready-to-wear season the following month with nearly 75 shows. In an industry where 40 shows are enough to get you noticed, over 70 put Wen in the big leagues.
She walked for designers such as Balenciaga, Carolina Herrera, Chloe, Derek Lam, Dries Van Noten, Gucci, Jason Wu, Lanvin, Marios Schwab, Michael Kors, Rag & Bone, Vera Wang and Wunderkind. It was an epic mix of ultra-editorial designers (Schwab, Rag & Bone) and classic, money-maker labels (Chloe, Gucci). This was a star-making season for Liu. If she wasn’t on your radar before, she was now.
Between April and June, Wen appeared in Italian Flair, i-D, Chinese Vogue and British Harper’s Bazaar. Her growing status within the industry saw her couture credits grow to include Dior when she took to the Parisian runway in July.
Undertaking her first editorial for British Vogue the same month, she began clocking up more blockbuster campaigns. Featuring in the Autumn / Winter campaign for DKNY, Wen also made her debut for Gap, Benetton and New York department store, Barney’s. She was becoming a triple threat, handling couture to commercial cool.
Most models consider themselves lucky to experience one amazing RTW season. Wen, after her amazing 75-show run in February, made the headlines again with over 70 appearances on the world’s catwalks in September. She added more designers to her CV, including Amanda Wakeley, Celine, Diane Von Furstenberg, Jonathan Saunders, Peter Pilotto, Rachel Roy and Prada.
In October, Liu went back to her roots, appearing again in Chinese Vogue. ‘Essence of Red’, photographed by Kai Z Feng, saw Liu in a series of red gowns, the editorial an avant-garde exploration of China’s primary colour. Daring and meaningful, the spread showcased everything Wen had learnt on the world stage.
With a career already filling with big moments, in November, Wen hit a high note when she became the first Asian model to walk in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Televised in America and broadcast on the internet, this was a major first for Liu. Putting Asian beauty on the map, she channelled elegance and charm: a debut perfect for the lingerie brand.
2010 showed no signs of Liu’s career slowing, as she signed up to become one of the faces of Calvin Klein’s clothing line. She undertook another successful RTW season in February, and in March, she appeared in her first editorial for American fashion bible, W.
The spread, ‘Chic Mystique’, portrayed Wen in a new light, as she became a sultry scene-stealer. Liu held her own against models that make these shoots their bread and butter: teaming up with Lara Stone, Shalom Harlow, Jessica Miller and Eniko Mihalik, Wen transforms into one of the girls.
In April, the news broke that Wen would be signed as a campaign regular for Estee Lauder. Also signed were Joan Smalls and Constance Jablonski. The news made headlines around the world, as Liu became the first Asian model to represent the iconic cosmetics brand.
By hiring French Jablonski, Puerto Rican Joan Smalls and Chinese Liu Wen, Estee Lauder made a very real and very meaningful attempt at a beauty campaign that spoke to as many women as possible. The campaign not only presented three women from different backgrounds, but three models that were equally matched in terms of runway, editorial and campaign experience. The casting was inspired with the three models working together to create campaign history. As an idea, it was powerful stuff. As a statement, it was undeniable.
In September, Liu undertook another blockbuster season with 44 shows including Balenciaga, D&G, Oscar de la Renta, Ralph Lauren, Stella McCartney and Tom Ford. The season was capped with a seminal cover of Chinese Vogue. Appearing with models Ming Xi, Shu Pei and Tao Okamoto, they were featured as the mega-stars behind the Asian modelling phenomenon. It was a feat made all the more incredible when you consider that as little as ten years ago, assembling this cover would have been impossible.
Liu appeared in three editorials of the same issue, with focus on everything from streamlined aesthetics to dreamy romanticism. Japan and China may be known for their love of sharp, clean lines; but one look at their love affair with ceramics tells us that ornate, decorative detail is in the blood. The perfect balance of economy and flourish on a Ming vase is a great metaphor for Asia’s take on fashion. As their influence is set to grow over the next decade, it’s not too far a stretch to imagine fashion following their lead: economy and flourish.
Ending 2010 with her second walk down Victoria’s Secret runway, Liu made her American Vogue debut in December, appearing in an editorial shot by Steven Meisel. ‘Asia Major’ was a rock and roll approach to haute couture, marrying the best of Parisian fashion with punk-kid street culture.
American Vogue is never one to let a trend slip by, and their celebration of Japan and China’s success in the modelling world is acknowledgement of the biggest phenomenon since the wave of talent from Eastern Europe. Like Natasha Poly, Sasha Pivovarova and Natalia Vodianova, expect to see Liu Wen, Emma Pei and Tao Okamoto become just as familiar as the bookings continue to stack up.
This year began with Liu adding Givenchy Couture to her CV, and renewing her contract with Calvin Klein. But the year was just getting started: in February she enjoyed her editorial debut with Italian Vogue. Photographed by Miles Aldridge, Liu played it straight, delivering a performance that was both polished and assured.
With a smattering of editorial work for both American and Chinese Vogue, Wen hit another career highlight in September with another magazine cover. Appearing for Chinese Vogue, Wen appeared with Du Juan, Shu Pei, Ming Xi, Sui He and Fei Fei Sun. With all the models dressed in gowns from Gucci’s A/W 11 collection, it was a true ‘East Meets West’ moment with Asia’s brightest talents wearing one of fashion’s leading labels.
The subtext was clear: for anyone who had missed it, this cover was telling the world that Asia is set to become the newest epicentre for high-fashion consumerism. The influence of fashion’s new high-spending fanbase is already starting to be seen with out-and-out luxury making a comeback. This season, quiet camels and muted browns make way for an effusion of colour. The detail is exuberant, projecting an optimism that felt like an impossibility two years ago. Asia’s enthusiasm for ready-to-wear and haute couture, and its willingness to invest in it, is giving the industry cause for hope. If not a fully-fledged solution to the economic downturn, it is, at the very least, a lifeline.
September was a busy month for Liu, working for Numero China, plus a substantial editorial with Dazed & Confused. The month came to a head when Liu made her campaign debut for Dolce & Gabbana. Joining Isabeli Fontana, Kate King and Constance Jablonski, it was the strongest indication yet that Liu was becoming one of those models who are able to work the campaign circuit at the very highest levels. Getting editorials and runway jobs are great, but for maximum visibility, campaigns are hard to beat. It is a fast-track system in turning a fashion girl into fashion’s IT girl.
Ending the year with an appearance in V magazine, Wen joined her agency stable-mates in celebrating the achievements of Marilyn.
With Wen on the books along with Caroline Brasch Nielsen, Eniko Mihalik, Lindsey Wixson and Nyasha Matanhodze, it is clear that Marilyn has a definite viewpoint on what kind of model they want to present. Maybe not as familiar a name as Elite or Storm, Marilyn has made its reputation on the calibre of high-fashion talent it represents. Caroline, Eniko and Lindsey are among fashion’s most sought-after stars, and Nyasha has just made her campaign debut with Louis Vuitton.
The models signed by Marilyn are unapologetically edgy: Wixson’s pout has made her a favourite with Miu Miu and Eniko’s curves have cornered the market in making sensuality part of the editorial experience.
Within this context, Liu fits perfectly as a Marilyn girl. Having a face that can project the core values of brands such as Victoria’s Secret and Calvin Klein makes Wen a valuable agency asset. Her ability to go out on a limb makes her one of fashion’s most exciting prospects.
Her career is filled with firsts: the first Asian model to walk in the Victoria’s Secret fashion show; the first model (other than Kate Moss) to front a premier issue of Numero and the first Chinese model to represent Estee Lauder. Just one of these accomplishments would be impressive: the fact that this is only the backbone of Wen’s CV is astonishing. Flesh it out with her wide range of editorial, runway and campaign work, and you get an idea of just how much this model has achieved. She is not only China’s most valuable player, but a versatile beauty that is rapidly on her way to becoming a global fashion icon.