AT JUST 25 years old, Shu Pei Qin is already one of the biggest names in the avalanche of Asian models – the likes of Ji Hye Park, Tao Okamoto, Chiharu Okunugi, Fei Fei Sun, Ming Xi and Xiao Wen Ju – that's taking the fashion world by storm. Modelling for the past seven years, Qin emerged into the international spotlight when she became a “spokesmodel” for New York cosmetics giant Maybelline in August 2010 (joining her idol Christy Turlington), exploding in Europe the same season with runway shows for Chanel haute couture, Fendi, Marni and Alexander McQueen, and fronting the advertising campaigns of BCBG MaxAzria, Benetton, Diesel and Gap. The following year, she became the face of Vera Wang. Today, she's ranked in 39th place on Models.com's The Money Girls supermodel list, as part of an elite group of beauties who have been employed by some of the highestpaying clients in fashion.
Nonetheless, the 1.78-metre-tall, slender young lady with a peach-like complexion, almond-shaped eyes, jet-black hair and dazzling smile hasn't let success get to her head: at heart, she's just the girl next door who adores going to the beach, hanging out with her friends, trying out new restaurants and speaking what's on her mind. When I meet her in Paris, she'd just flown into town for an exclusive Prestige shoot. Her natural charm, girlish laugh and bubbly personality are contagious. Despite her intense schedule and the constant jetlag and sleep deprivation, she's grateful to be part of the fashion industry, getting the chance to wear the most talented designers' creations on stage and to work with respected photographers, editors, stylists and make-up artists.
Born in the city of Kaifeng – once the capital of the Northern Song Dynasty – in China's Henan province in 1989, Qin moved to Shanghai at 16 years of age, and at this point, although she'd been following fashion and watching runway TV shows since she was young, she never imagined that she would become a model. But in 2007, after finishing high school and moving to New York to study ballet, she signed on with Next Management. Her runway debut came in September of that year, and as her modelling career took off she abandoned ballet.
At 18 years old she posed alongside Karlie Kloss and Hanne Gaby Odiele for the August 2008 issue of Vogue China. A year later, during Paris Fashion Week, she walked the catwalks of the spring-summer 2010 collections for no fewer than six designers. She has done campaigns for a slew of powerhouses including Hogan, Tory Burch, Joe Fresh, Michael Kors and Lane Crawford, and participated in the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show in 2012, becoming the third Asian Victoria's Secret Angel after Liu Wen and Sui He. Riding on the wave of China's dynamism and aware of the future that the Chinese population represents to fashion brands, Qin's future success seems all but assured.
Were you homesick when you moved to New York City?
Of course, I would call my parents every night. But I like New York. Now, I think I fly too much. I go back to China a lot.
How were you discovered as a model?
I wanted to make some money for myself, so my friend told me maybe I can try modelling. I went to an agency, they said OK, and I started. At the beginning, modelling was just my part-time job, but soon I got more and more jobs that occupied most of my time. So I decided to be a full-time model.
You stopped school when you started modelling?
Yes, because I couldn't balance both. When I was doing fashion week for like two months, I had to do the castings, fittings and shows, so I didn't have any time for other stuff. I discussed this with my parents and they supported my decision.
Did you dream about being a model growing up?
No, I just wanted work that would allow me to travel!
What's behind the recent success of Asian models and why do you think it took so long for Asians to be noticed in fashion?
China is strong now, so I think this is the reason why they use a lot of Asian designers and models. And these Asian designers support Asian models.
Do you see this as a passing fad or are Asians here to stay?
I don't think it's just a passing fad, though I have heard this point of view for several years now. As a matter of fact, you can see more and more new Asian faces every season, as Asia, especially China, is becoming the biggest consumer of fashion and luxury in the world. I'm very happy to see Asians blossom in the shows, magazines and campaigns.
What is it like being a Maybelline spokesmodel?
Unbelievable. I couldn't believe it was true the moment I was told I got the contract. Maybelline is the biggest cosmetics brand in the world; even in my hometown, everyone knows Maybelline New York. I had always dreamed of becoming one of the pretty girls in its campaigns.
What was it like being the face of Vera Wang?
I've been very lucky to continuously be the face of Vera Wang. Asian designers are very supportive of Asian models. She's cool and, working with her, I felt like she was family. People who don't know her think she's very cold because she doesn't speak much and she moves very fast, but deep inside she's like a little girl and she has romantic dreams. She's a very warm person. She's like a sister to me.
Who's your favourite designer?
There are a lot. Every designer has different talents; they're geniuses because normal people can't do [what they do].
What's the most memorable show you did?
Chanel, because every time I do a show, I always say, “Wow. It's so different from other shows.
” What do you think of Karl Lagerfeld?
I think he's the coolest person in the world. He's so nice and he works so hard.
What's the atmosphere like backstage at shows?
Everybody's really busy doing their own stuff. As for me, I always feel so sleepy and tired because I don't have enough time to sleep.
Which other models do you call your friends?
Emma Xie, Ming Xi, Xiao Wen Ju, Tian Yi. There aren't many Chinese models living in New York. We always hang out or have dinner together after shows in New York or Paris.
Which model do you most admire?
Christy Turlington. She's so elegant, beautiful and healthy. She does a lot of yoga and also a lot of charity work.
What do you like the most and hate the most about being a model?
I like that I can travel a lot and see different countries and different people. My dream is to travel the world, so I think my dream has almost come true. What I hate the most is that I fly too much; I get so confused.
Describe a typical day for you.
I wake up and 10 minutes later I leave the house. When there's a show, I get my hair and make-up done. It's just a normal day. Every day is the same during fashion week.
What are your beauty secrets?
I keep my skin clean and moist. I think my skin needs to breathe, so I don't put anything on it. When it's dry, I put a heavy cream on my face. I usually remove the make-up very carefully and thoroughly after a show or photo shoot. During fashion weeks, I use moisturising facial masks every night. After fashion week, I just sleep a lot and drink a lot of water.
How do you keep healthy with such a fast-paced job?
I work a lot. I'm not really healthy. I go running like twice a year.
How would you describe your personal style?
Very simple and comfortable. I wear Nike shoes. I'm a flats girl. I love high heels, but I can't wear them every day because I don't want to be too tall.
What was your latest fashion purchase?
The Fendi Karlito bag bug [a limited-edition mink and fox fur figurine bag charm modelled in Karl Lagerfeld's likeness with a waitlist in the hundreds]. It's cute.
How do you spend your free time?
I sleep and go around the city, looking for new stores and stuff to buy and new restaurants to eat at. My favourite is Chinese food. I don't cook at home; I go out to eat.
Where do you like to go on holiday?
I like to go to the beach. I love the ocean and I love sunshine, so I want to see all the islands, even though my agent says, “No tanning.”
Tell me about your charity work.
I did Marc Jacobs' skin-cancer T-shirt and I support a Huayi Brothers' charity that builds movie theatres in schools for secondary city kids who have no parents or whose parents are drug addicts. It provides sound systems, projectors and DVD players, and then from time to time, directors go to the classrooms to watch movies and discuss with the kids. I donated a cinema for a classroom after the Ya'an earthquake in 2013. I went on a TV programme where I challenged myself to pass different tests to raise money; I passed five or six stages and donated RMB150,000 to help build the cinema. I also ran a half-marathon in San Francisco to raise money for blood cancer.
What has been the proudest accomplishment in your career so far?
Participating in the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. I think every girl wants to be on this stage.
China is growing very quickly. Do you see your professional future more in Asia or in the West?
Both. I like New York, but I have to go back to China, so I keep flying. I visit China at least once a month.
Some models like Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell can continue their careers well into later years, but most models switch to other industries eventually. Which career paths would you be interested in pursuing?
I want to go into jewellery design because I like jewellery. I've been modelling for so many years, I've met a lot of designers and seen a lot of stuff in fashion. I want to create my own jewellery brand. I like very classic, vintage and elegant jewellery, so maybe I would do something similar. I buy a lot of vintage jewellery. I like to go to different flea markets in New York to search for pieces. Today's jewellery is very weird; I prefer the older designs from the '70s, '80s and '90s, which I feel is more beautiful. But I want to continue modelling for as long as I can at the same time – I think I can do both together. I haven't started yet; I'm just dreaming about it. I'd like to start my jewellery business maybe next year.
Do you have any plans for an acting career?
It's so hard to act in China because the actors are shorter than me. But if the chance arises, why not give it a try? But it really depends on the role and the film itself.
Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
My motto is: one step at a time. Just like I never saw myself as a model 10 years ago, I'd like to venture into the uncertainty of life.
PHOTOGRAPHY RICHARD RAMOS AT FAST MANAGEMENT
ART DIRECTION GORDON LAM
STYLING DENISE HO
PRODUCTION FRANCISCO ANTON-SERRANO AT FAST MANAGEMENT
HAIR MATTHIEU GUIGNAUDEAU AT MARIE-FRANCE TRAVONEKHAM
MAKE-UP DELPHINE EHRHART AT MARIE-FRANCE TRAVONEKHAM
PARIS PRODUCTION COORDINATOR JAIMEE GONG
STYLING ASSISTANT JULIETTE LECARPENTIER
PHOTOGRAPHY ASSISTANT RAUL ALONSO