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Friday, February 09, 2018, 14:27
More Than a Model
By China Daily Lifestyle Premium
Friday, February 09, 2018, 14:27 By China Daily Lifestyle Premium

An open and heartfelt conversation with top Chinese fashion talent Bonnie Chen

In her youth, Bonnie Chen spent ten years as a professional rhythmic gymnast and was once a Chinese national-level athlete. She got her start in modelling through the Elite Model Look international competition in 2001 and ended up taking first place in the Hong Kong division. Despite her initial taste of success she chose to pursue her education, completing a degree in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania before signing with top agency Next Model Management in New York. 

Now with numerous acclaimed brands in her modelling portfolio (including Shanghai Tang, Bulgari and Clarins), Chen is also a passionate supporter of some worthy causes. Since 2014, she’s been an ambassador for the Hong Kong sustainable fashion and environmental Redress Design Award by non-governmental organisation Redress; this year, she’s planning to stage an art exhibition and bazaar for autistic children as a new project for her charity initiative Star, Bunny, Love, which she founded in 2012. 

Bonnie Chen

Do people have a misunderstanding about what models do?

Many people think models are just glamorous, making a lot of money and splurging on drinking and sensual pleasures. Some think models have “problematic” values. In fact, I think modelling is a lonely profession. In many circumstances, we’re very passive and don’t get to choose. 

Shots taken  and provided by  Chen, from her  Sina Weibo

How do you deal with that sense of loneliness at work? 

I have many “companions in adversity” in the industry – the people who have been through all the difficult times together and grow with you. The make-up artists, the stylists… Especially when we’re in foreign countries – every year during Paris Fashion Week, I celebrate my birthday – we can always get a group of friends together for hotpot or dinner. It’s very heart-warming.

Has the standard of beauty changed over the years? 

When I began modelling, many Chinese thought models were ugly. At that time, the “look” for Chinese models was the so-called “Oriental look” – very plain, with a flat-looking face. Now we have more diversity – flat and not flat, more defined like Western models, with double eyelids and big eyes that many people like now. 

On beauty, I have two observations: the natural look, as if make-up-less, is in. And compared to before, the difficulty level of applying make-up has been reduced so much, thanks to all the bloggers and their tutorials online. 

One industry insider says that women earn 75% more than men in the modelling industry, but that men have longer careers. Is that true?

Generally, it’s true overseas. Female models have more work opportunities and they are paid more. In terms of longevity, I don’t think the term applies any longer. Models can do a lot of things now – even if male models have longer careers, they need to switch, too.

Have you thought about a career switch, perhaps after a certain age? 

I’m always on different projects – reality shows, acting and my own charity. As for acting, I’m still learning, I think it requires a huge amount of time devotion, unlike modelling, which is on a short-term basis. So far, “model” is still my label. If one day I’m 80 and the market still wants me, I’m definitely happy to model as long as I can. 

Why did you choose to major in psychology in university? 

I wasn’t happy when I was a child. I was trained in rhythmic gymnastics – I was lucky enough to receive honours and awards because of that – while at the same time I had to balance my schoolwork. My parents were very strict and put a high value on my education. However, I found myself alienated from both sides; I was very confused about myself then, so I said I wanted to study psychology when I attended university. As a sensitive person, psychology helps me think more rationally and logically. 

Shots taken  and provided by  Chen, from her  Sina Weibo

I heard you took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality test recently; what’s your type?

The first time I did it was a long time ago and the recent result is still the same – INFP, the mediator, or idealist or healer. Everything for me starts from the heart. 

You’ve said you want a soulmate for your life partner. What does it mean to be soulmates? 

To grow in the same direction, at the same pace. When my circumstances change in life, my soul changes too, and that would make me lose the connection with others around me – we can’t follow each other’s soul any more. It’s difficult to maintain connections with people and it’s very sad. I don’t think compromise is a meaningful solution to this, either. Oh, good looks are important, too. 

Tell us about your charity Star, Bunny, Love. What inspired you to take action? 

The idea began when I was still studying in university, when the infamous Virginia Tech shooting happened [in 2007]. The murderer, who killed more than 30 people, suffered from severe depression. Through that incident, I realised that young adults can have serious psychological issues and catastrophic consequences can result. The plan was on hold until I began modelling, when the job granted me a lot of spare clothes.

We’ve done our charity bazaar in Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing, in places from cafes to shopping malls, about two to three times a year. I want to help children with psychological disorders such as depression and autism. The money we raise covers the cost for the children to do art exhibitions and art therapy. At first, the fundraising was about RMB 10,000 [per event], now we can bring in more than RMB 100,000. This year, I’ve been planning a new bazaar, either in Beijing or Shanghai; I want to make it an exhibition of autistic children’s art, so it’ll take me more time. 

Which famous friends of yours have shown their support? 

Ethan Juan donated his clothes; Sean Zhang delivered his clothes to us; Hu Ge donated his shoes. Oh Jessey Meng… she donated a lot of clothes. 

What would you do if you were not a model? 

I enjoy the process of coming up with new ideas for my charity. For example, I did a bazaar with a campus theme in Nanjing. In Beijing’s Sanlitun, I did one with the theme “Another Me”. I think creating is the biggest impetus in my life; I always have new ideas emerging. So… I think I’d be a great creative director. Many people think models have the privilege to be fashion designers, but honestly I don’t think I understand trends that much – so that’s not the case for me. 

Shots taken  and provided by  Chen, from her  Sina Weibo

Quick Q&A

Give us some diet tips, please? 

Many models are naturally skinny, honestly. For me, I’d say eat less carbs, skip dinner for a few days and you may lose some weight. What you eat is very important.

Three must-have items in your purse? 

A notebook – I like to write things down on paper, not on the phone – a power bank and lip balm. 

One fashion item you can’t live without? 

All kinds of hats – straw hats, cocktail hats, et cetera. My outfit is simple, so a hat makes me look more chic. That’s my fashion statement.

How do you survive a long-haul flight?

I always have melatonin with me and I watch a lot of movies. For shorter distances, I buy a book and finish it by the end of the flight. 

Do you put on make-up in private? How long does it take you to get ready? 

I don’t really know how to put make-up – I want to learn! I only know how to apply foundation; I can’t handle the more complicated stuff, so I probably need half an hour to get ready.

Your favourite fashion brand and designer? 

I like Chloé very much. Its founder and I were born on the same day of the same month – not the same year, obviously. For designers, I think Tom Ford is a very charming person, and Marc Jacobs; they are both very persistent and charming. 

Your most memorable campaign? 

The Clarins skincare campaign is special to me. We’ve been working together since 2010. I’m close with the Clarins family. It totally changed my perception about beauty. The shoot was very quick and they put very little make-up on. The final shoot is almost untouched and the feeling is very real. It inspired me to accept the way I am.

Images: Bonnie Chen; Photo by Ted (studio shot)

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