Not Exactly White But Asian Enough To Be A Top Model

Last week, half Singaporean-Chinese, half-Portuguese Jessica Gomes was unveiled as the new face of Australia’s oldest up-market department store David Jones, replacing world-renowned Aussie model Miranda Kerr as its ambassador.

It is the first time the retailer has chosen an Asian person to be its nationwide front face, recognising the fact that everyone is beautiful regardless of their skin colour in an increasingly diverse Australia.

Ethnic faces are starting to make an appearance in fashion catalogues today. Photo: Mabel Kwong
Ethnic faces are starting to get featured more beside Caucasian faces in fashion catalogues today. Photo: Mabel Kwong

However, this decision is not necessarily an ode to multiculturalism on some levels. The department store’s choice is arguably an image-branding tactic to boost sales amidst an unstable local economy. Also, local media and modeling industry experts have been quick to harp praise on the multicultural-esque decision while forgetting the true essence of diversity.

The decision to make half-Asian Gomes as its ambassador can be seen as a strategic move by David Jones to shore up a multicultural façade that can inevitably assist the retailer in financially cashing in on the influx of Asian tourists to Australia.

Chinese tourists visiting Australia with fat wallets have tripled in the last decade and shopping is often on their to-do list here. Individuals are more likely to buy an item if it is modeled by someone of the same ethnicity. As such, a familiar or recognisable “Chinese face” such as Gomes’ – who has been featured extensively in commercials for Korean products in Asia – can potentially convince Chinese tourists Down Under that Australian fashion looks stylish on Asian bodies and so entice them to shop at David Jones.

It appears that David Jones has selected an ambassador who pulls off looking both Western and Asian / ethnic. Perhaps it is just the way I perceive looks (or me being harshly judgmental about faces), but from certain angles, and I dare say with the aid of make-up and good lighting, Gomes appears to have a sharp nose, high chiseled cheekbones, plump lips and wide eyes.

That is, she has an uncanny resemblance to a tanned skinned Caucasian person, exhibiting the physical stereotypical traits of Western “beauty” when dolled up nicely. Looking closely, Gomes looks somewhat akin to a skinnier Megan Gale, David Jones’ long time Brand Ambassador.

At other times, Gomes emphatically looks Asian.

Having a “fluid faced” ambassador assists David Jones in cementing itself as a local and global retail icon, appealing to a wider range of markets than ever before. On one hand, Gomes’ Asian looks can potentially draw Asian tourists and the Asian-Australian community’s attention to the retailer. On the other, Gomes’ capacity to embody “white beauty” is likely to sit well with the majority of the population accustomed to Western standards of beauty. Or Anglo-Saxons who do not take a liking to an exotic face.

On the back of Gomes’ appointment as the new face of David Jones, local media and the modeling industry have been playing up “otherness” / ethnic looks as a brand and interpreting the concept “multiculturalism” quite loosely. Quoting Australian Fashion Council Chair Karen Webster, The Age mentioned in an article titled Faces of Change, “Australia is so much more multicultural. There’s no one look anymore.”

In other words, according to the media and the fashion world, looks define the basis of multiculturalism and ethnic looks such as Gomes’ are presented as an emerging entity in the fashion world.

In truth, multiculturalism is not just about having people of different races standing side-by-side. Multiculturalism is fostered when we interact with people of different races and appreciate different cultures, people and cultures that have been around for centuries.

Although half-Chinese Gomes is now one of Australia’s prominent models, it is highly unlikely David Jones will get her to showcase contemporary Asian/ethnic-inspired designs in its stores soon since this has never been the case and may not necessarily appeal to local mainstream fashion industry palates.

And this is also probably due to the fact that the modeling industry is always unfortunately solely about looks as opposed to appreciating the efforts that go into weaving designer garb.

Although more and more ethnic models are making their mark, Caucasian faces still dominate the industry. Photo: Mabel Kwong

At the end of the day, David Jones’ decision to make half-Asian Gomes as their new face should be applauded especially after previously stating they would never pick an Asian person for the position – a multicultural spirit is evident here.

It is heartening to see Gomes weaving the topic of her heritage into interviews. As she tells Vogue Australia:

“I’m really proud to be Australian and I’m proud to be half Asian…I think it’s fantastic that Australia is using more ethnic girls now, and so they should – we are a very multicultural country so I think we should embrace all beauties.”

It is also inspiring to hear Gomes openly discuss insecurities faced by ethnic minorities in Australia, issues prevalent but under rug swept today. There is a strong desire on her part to present herself as more than just a pretty face, a model who values the importance of being comfortable in one’s own skin regardless of race.

Working hard at her career while being proud of her Chinese heritage in a white dominated industry, Gomes is one top model of Asian ethnicity who has a good head on her shoulders.

A role model indeed for Asian girls in Australia to look up to.

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12 thoughts on “Not Exactly White But Asian Enough To Be A Top Model

  1. Pingback: Not exactly white but Asian enough to be a top model | The Plaid Bag Connection

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  3. This is a valuable deconstruction of role models. I love the way your post looks with depth at what the essence of diversity is. As long as the issue continues to be discussed then my own thoughts are that change will happen! Great writing as always.


    • Thanks so much, Lita. Race is a touchy subject. It can be hard not to offend at times. I suppose when it comes to talking about diversity and having an insightful discussion, welcoming different viewpoints is important.


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