Two decades ago, Shanghai surprised the nation by providing China with its first team of fashion models Vanguard at the time, and perhaps a bit risque, these in retrospect conservative models paved the way for models of the future, such as local girl Zhao Jun, who will represent China in the '99 Elite International Model Competition to be held in Nice, France, this September.
Zhao, 17, the first prize winner of this year's Elite-Model-Look-China Competition, talked exclusively to Shanghai Star about her dreams and her life. No make-up, no perfume, Zhao, wearing a black Nike vest with her raven hair slicked back in a ponytail, looked more like the girl-next-door than the supermodel that she is.
At age 5, Zhao dreamed of strutting her stuff on the catwalk. Since her second year at primary school, Zhao had played basketball at Shanghai Sports School before one day in 1997 she was "discovered" by a model agent while she was watching a fashion show. With her parents consent, Zhao began to model. In early 1999, Zhao was looking around in a department store when she felt herself being followed by a man.
"At first I was a bit nervous. Then thinking that it was broad daylight and that I was a basketball athlete, I became gutsy and suddenly turned around to face him," said Zhao. The man turned out to be a star-hunter from a modeling agency called Starz People. Zhao thus joined Starz People and became one of its brightest stars.
Everyday Zhao studies English in the morning and in the afternoon she goes
to the gym to shape her figure and exercise on the catwalk.
"When I was a little girl, I envied the glitter of model life, not knowing how much work it takes to maintain the figure and the beauty," Zhao said.Dismissing the "caged canaries," referring to some models who choose to become kept women or mistresses of rich men, Zhao aspires to become a female high-flier, an economically independent individual.
Standing at the threshold of dazzling adulthood, Zhao wants to gain experience in many different fields such as photography, advertising, film shooting and fashion designing.
Zhao presents herself as an active sports girl. "I am just like a boy, a happy tomboy," said Zhao. Zhao swims and plays tennis. "Now I don't play basketball. It will make me too strong and too fat to be a model," Zhao smiled.
Zhao never forgets those who have helped her. "My father has always been supportive of me throughout my basketball and modelling career," said Zhao.
Zhao expressed her special gratitude to Tao Jiajing, also an outstanding model with Starz People, who Zhao said was her elder sister, bosom friend and good teacher.
Rocketing toward super stardom, 1.79-metre-tall Zhao Jun looks unthreatening and unassuming. Yet what is it about Zhao that leads her to be chosen as the representative of China to participate in a world-renowned model competition?
Just as the name she bears (jun means pretty in Chinese), Zhao Jun is pretty, in a fresh-faced, outdoors-girl kind of way.
Unlike some models who seem elusive and surreal, Zhao looks mainstream, realistic and palpable. Zhao is an interesting paradox: adolescent and mature, athletic and gentle, traditional and modern, Chinese and international.
Zhao will soon leave Shanghai for Beijing where she will receive final intensive training before flying to France.
"Had I ended up as one of the 15 Elite Chinese models, I would have been satisfied," said Zhao, noting she was totally surprised when the master of ceremony announced she won first prize. "I don't know what will happen in France," said Zhao. "But I will give it my all and try my best."