With perfect features and svelte silhouettes, runway models are the embodiment of Beauty. But not all are created equal.
For thousands of years, whether in the East or West, people have sung the praises of feminine loveliness in poems and legends. Today, beautiful women of every ethnicity pepper our modern tribes, each interpreting a different ideal. But we maintain a mythical fascination with an anointed few, fashion models, who silently personify the ultimate. In this issue, we invite fashion designer Evan Yanagi, owner of Canadian modeling school 109Reflection International, to chat with us about the varieties of beauty in Western and Eastern women.
“Being Chinese myself, I always hope to discover models who can really represent Eastern beauty and introduce them to the Western fashion industry,” Yanagi told us. 2,000 years ago, Shijing, the Book of Songs, offered a poem praising the beauty of a woman for her appearance, facial expressions, and bearing. Ever since then, the standards of Eastern beauty have been delicate white skin, soulful eyes, and a subtle but radiant smile.
“From a modeling perspective, an Asian build might not be advantageous,” Yanagi said. “However, Eastern women’s posture is more expressive. From walking to dancing, their movements are rounder, gentler, less assertive than Westerners. From that vantage point, Westerners sometimes feel that Eastern women are more feminine.”
Yanagi delved into the origins of a person’s bearing and the role it plays in the fashion industry. “Unique qualities cultivated through culture and custom will be reflected in any movement. Western beauties are comparatively straighter and franker. They don’t usually have the Eastern attributes of shyness and gentleness.”
“The fashion industry is dominated by the West, so the prevailing aesthetic of models is likewise Western, though the look’s current incarnation is different from how it used to be,” Yanagi said. “Women should be confident, for example, but how do they show their confidence? I think it’s not necessary that they always represent it through a rigid body and cold expression. If Western models absorb the gentleness and subtlety of Eastern women, more qualities of the female form may be better expressed. It also fits better with the traditional Western aesthetic — graceful and confident.”
Yanagi’s talk reminds us of Western female stars of the mid-twentieth century: beauties with gentle eyes, curly blonde hair, and mild smiles, coincidentally like the descriptions in the Book of Songs. Perhaps the definition of beauty has been essentially the same for thousands of years and across the miles that separate continents.
Then, is it possible that a model’s look can express the finest qualities of both cultures? 109Reflection is dedicated to the cause. “It might be as hard as winning the lottery,” Yanagi concedes. “However, in the whole world, especially in Asia with its large population, we believe that we’ll meet some young people with potential and ambition and the same ideals as ours. We always welcome them.”