“#RunwayForAll should be a rainbow of different people who complement one another,” says model Estelle Chen (@chen_estelle), who walked in the Chanel (@chanelofficial) haute couture show in Paris this week. “When I started to gain interest in the modeling industry, a few Asian models, like @liuwenlw and @feifeisun, were already becoming notable. I was happy about this, because before them, Asian models weren’t featured as much,” Estelle says. “It was difficult at times to relate to who I was seeing in magazines or on the runway.” Even so, it hasn’t been entirely easy for Estelle, whose background is Chinese and whose hometown is Paris. “It always seemed like there were only ‘select’ slots available in the shows for models of color, so that was really hard to understand at the beginning,” she says. “It kind of still is, even if the industry is more open now to diversity.” This story is part of an ongoing series featuring models who are redefining industry standards and making sure there’s room on the #RunwayForAll. Photo by @chen_estelle
"It was a really great opportunity to express how every model of color kind of feels. Instagram is one of the biggest social-media platforms, so of course I took the chance to share my thoughts so that everyone sees how the fight for diversity continues in 2016."
How should casting practices continue to evolve, in order to have more diverse runways?
"I really hope that casting directors and stylists don't think, 'We already have one Asian girl, two Black girls...it's enough, we don't need more.' People shouldn't still think this way; [that doesn't fully] appreciate the modeling skills of each girl, regardless of background! For my ethnicity, I know we have already made huge progress. But part of it seems to be because Asian markets have expanded this last decade; I hope it's also because people genuinely like who we are as well... I would say models of color still only represent about 20% of the lineup, and sometimes 0%." What does it feel like when you're the only Asian model, or one of very few models of color?
"It's funny because it's almost like a game, or the lottery: You 'win' if you get booked as the only Asian model or the only model of color. At first you feel very happy, for sure, since it seems like you were the 'chosen one.' But afterwards when you think about it, it's quite frustrating: It means others lost their chance [to be cast in a particular show]. "Looking forward, you might not get [cast in] the show next season if a particular brand continues to use so few models of color. At one show, I was the only Asian girl, alongside one Black girl, in the lineup, and I couldn't help but feel all those things."
There's been a lot of talk about the lack of diversity on runways, particularly in terms of Black models. Do you think there should be more conversations about Asian models' experiences?
"I think there is definitely room for discussion about every ethnicity. Brands have diverse customers, but it doesn't always feel like so when we look at the shows' lineup or [ad] photo shoots. Every girl should be able to find a person she can identify with; that's why every skin color should be represented on the catwalk and beyond. It may seem like such a small difference, but when I was growing up and saw Asian models working in the industry, it made a huge impact on my own views of diversity and beauty. I'm sure others from different backgrounds feel the same way."