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The thrills (and spills) of life as a catwalk queen
By Tan Weiyun

SINCE being picked by superstar creative director Riccardo Tisci to walk exclusively for Givenchy in Paris in 2010, Shanghai model Xi Mengyao has been riding a wave of success in the fashion world.

Earlier this month the 23-year-old walked the runway as a special guest for the final of the 29th Elite Model Look contest in her home city and took some time out to chat with Shanghai Daily.

Q: How did you cope with your overnight success following the Givenchy show?

A: I never think I'm a celebrity or a star. Never. For me, modeling is a job, a career that I quite enjoy. Things don't change much, except when I'm walking on the street, some people come around and wave at me, "Oh, I must have seen you on TV; you are that, that, that…" I always smile and nod, "Yes, you're right. I'm that, that, that…" The funny part is that they are sorry for not remembering my name and they try harder, "Trust me I really know you." Then I answer, "Yes, I know you know who I am. Thank you very much."

Q: What's it like being a model?

A: It's my first job and I didn't think much about it when I graduated from the Shanghai Donghua University. As a child, I loved playing with dolls and making clothes for them. "See, it's so easy to be a fashion designer! Just design something that no one sees before!" That was how I thought as a girl.

People always think we models make money so easily by just walking on the stage. "What a perfect job it is," they often say. "Yes, what a perfect job, plus traveling around world." I totally agree!

But they don't see how much pain we also have to take. We work around the clock, sometimes without sleeping for days; we almost freeze to death in the snow wearing only bikinis; we fly around the world and have to fight against jet lag every day.

I remember once I was assigned a job in Thailand, but somehow the air tickets sold out. I had to fly in the opposite direction, first to Europe, and then transferred to Thailand. It took 26 hours before I landed in Thailand. I didn't have time to adjust to the jet lag because everyone was waiting for me. We worked from 5am to 2am. I just wanted to die!

But I'm not working alone. There is a large group of people - the make-up artist, the photographer, the lighting guy and many others. I don't have any reason to complain. It's my job and I have to be responsible.

Q: Have you ever had any incidents on the runway?

A: I once fell heavily and banged my knee. I got up quickly. What else could I do? All I was thinking about at that moment was, "I'm dead!" And lots of people posted pictures of me slipping on the Internet. It's an interesting experience to look back on, but I definitely don't want it to happen again!

Q: Do you feel pressure as so many young beauties are coming through in the industry?

A: It's nothing to do with me. I don't care, actually. No one can stay on the peak forever. If someone could do that I think they would become tired and unhappy because it is such a tough thing.

For me, I work hard and enjoy everyday life. That's enough. I believe when you are really into something and work hard, it will come to you naturally.

Q: You look strong and confident when you're striding up and down the catwalk but on your weibo microblog account you seems quite cute and soft. Which is the real you?

A: I think everyone has many sides. On stage we are made to be the person we need to be. Many models are no more than 20. Are they really that mature? With the make-up, hair-style and the clothes, we present the looks we're required to present. But off the runway, everyone has her own characteristics.

I'm just an ordinary girl. I'm crazy about those cute, girly stuff. I love dogs and I have one at home. It's a pity that I don't have much time to spend with her.

Q: Do you have your fashion icon?

A: There are many people I look up to, but I don't have an icon. I try to follow examples and learn from people. I'll admire someone for a time, but it's just a crush that ends.

Q: What are your future plans?

A: I'm desperate to know the answer too! If someone could tell my future now, I would be so grateful!

As a matter of fact, I haven't thought that far. I'm only 23, so why bother to think about things that you may not be sure about? I know many models become designers, but I don't know if it's right for me. It's not as easy as it sounds.

Everyone is unique. There are still many possibilities and all we should do is just to wait and see.

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