Fashion & Beauty
Monday, 02 March 2009 16:16
By WILLIAM K.C.KEE Star online
Gwen Lu is making strides in the New York fashion scene. A big change for a girl who once worked as a quantity surveyor.
GAMINE best describes Gwen Lu. The 175cm-tall lass sashays into the Ode To Art gallery in Pavilion Kuala Lumpur for our shoot without a trace of make-up on her face. Her hair is cropped short while her frame is lanky and slim.
She is a little on the shy side and soft-spoken. To the uninitiated, they would not know at a passing glance that Lu is an award-winning model making fashionable strides abroad. But once you put her in front of the camera, Lu’s timid demeanour vanishes, replaced by what Tyra Banks would describe as “fierce” posing.
In an overtly competitive cat(walk)-eat-cat industry, Lu’s androgynous features make her stand out and serve her well. The Penang-born clotheshorse, now based in New York with the prestigious Elite Model Management agency, is on an upward career trajectory.
To date, she has appeared on international magazine covers from Harper’s Bazaar to Madame Figaro, and modelled in numerous advertising campaigns from American fashion retailer Nordstrom to local make-up brand Stage Cosmetics.
Lu’s most recent editorial was an edgy fashion spread for French magazine SOON (the Spring 2009 issue); she has also posed for Vogue Taiwan, French Biba and French Glamour.
As a boost to her rising profile, Lu was named Best Model of the Year at last November’s Malaysia-International Fashion Awards (MIFA), an honour she takes to heart.
“I was overwhelmed when I learnt about the win,” says Lu who is in her 20s. “I appreciate the fact that people have noticed and acknowledged my hard work throughout the years. This is such an encouragement for me to keep doing what I do for years to come.”
Back in Malaysia for a short holiday recently, Lu spent half a day with us for this exclusive StarTwo shoot, modelling with ease the various looks from Gucci’s Spring/Summer collection.
Lu describes her growing up years in Penang – aside from a rebellious phase during her teens – as ordinary. Her father worked as a school bus driver and her mother, a tailor. The eldest of three children, Lu studied at the Penang Chinese Girls’ High School and later, TAR College.
In early 2005, she moved to Kuala Lumpur to work as a quantity surveyor. When modelling beckoned, she resigned from her 9-to-5 job that year. Lu reveals that her family still disapproves of her chosen field of work.
“I didn’t tell them when I first joined modelling until my career became more stable. Even now, they are hoping that I will quit this job.”
Lu feels that her parents’ resistance to her profession stems from a misconception that many Malaysians have about modelling. “There are girls who aspire to be models but lack the height or other criteria. So they end up posing in the tobacco or alcohol business and they call themselves models,” Lu figures.
“This is why my parents think that being a model is unsavoury. Even though I have proven them wrong, they still feel that this is not something to be proud of. It doesn’t help that they are conservative in their thinking.”
Before Lu relocated to New York in November 2007, she had done modelling in Malaysia, Singapore and even a two-month stint in Athens. Her move to the Big Apple, she reasons, was destiny.
“During my debut at the Singapore Fashion Fest in March 2006, I was scouted by Roman Young (the then-director of Elite Model Management) who was in Singapore on the lookout for fresh faces. He approached me after seeing me on a big screen on the streets, which were highlighting runway scenes from the fashion fest.”
Asked how many years she intends to remain in New York, Lu replies: “I can’t really say for sure, though I really love the fast pace of the city.”
For the rest of 2009, she intends to explore other modelling opportunities outside of the United States, such as in Spain, Britain and Germany. When she’s away from Malaysia, Lu – whose beauty secret is “no partying” – says she misses Malaysian food the most.
Lu says the most challenging assignment has been a photo shoot in Milan, where she had to don 13cm heels to do rock climbing. “It was an almost impossible task,” recalls Lu. “I had to hold and balance all of my body weight on the tip of the platform shoes until the photographer got the shot.”
What are the qualities that set her apart from others? “My patience and easy to work with attitude. Also, my inner strength that is not easily shattered,” says the Scorpio.
Her advice to aspiring models is to first consult the professionals. “They have to be aware of scams and keep themselves updated on what’s happening in the international fashion scene.
“I find it’s good to talk to someone experienced, like (veteran model) Simone Teh who has been through a lot in life. I get inspired by people like her, and their wisdom,” says Lu, whose philosophy in life is to “do things that make me happy so I won’t regret if I die tomorrow.”
Away from modelling, Lu has a passion for photography. “I am serious about taking up a photography course. Whenever I travel for leisure or have a weekend off, I would hang my Blackbird camera around my neck, the Holga on my shoulder and a fisheye camera on the other hand. I then start shooting objects of beauty in strange places. And my cameras always surprise me with fantastic results.”
On whether she’s seeing anyone special, Lu cheekily answers: “I think I am dating some plastic cameras.”
Okay then, what are the qualities in a man she would be attracted to?
“Someone whom I can converse with and who will listen to me,” she concludes with a shy smile. “Someone who makes me laugh and cry, someone who is respectful towards women.”