Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Jessica Gomes is the Megan Gale of South Korea

There were only two models at last week’s Australians in New York Fashion Foundation party to announce the 2011 AINYFF grant winner, each representing opposite ends of the Australian modelling spectrum. The upwardly mobile high fashion girl Bambi Northwood-Blyth, who seems to be getting thinner and thinner. And the more voluptuous Jessica Gomes (whose surname FYI rhymes with “homes”). Gomes has, not surprisingly, found a niche in the ‘sexy’ arena, whose imagery primarily appeals to straight men - as distinct from the flatter-chested, ballerina-like gazelles who tend to populate the world’s top runways and ‘highbrow’ fashion editorial. A few models have managed to cross over between the two arenas, Miranda Kerr being a good case in point. Gomes is on the December cover of Australia’s Men’s Style magazine and has appeared in Sports Illustrated’s famous Swimsuit Edition three times. Not forgetting her lingerie-clad cameo in the 2007 tvc for Sean Combs’ steamy 'Unforgivable Woman'which was banned in the US

After shooting commercials for Hyundai and LG, Gomes, who is half Chinese and half Portuguese, has also become quite the celebrity in South Korea over the past two years, mirroring the career trajectory of another Australian model in Italy - Megan Gale. 

Gomes now spends a lot of her time on the Korean peninsula shooting advertising campaigns, editorial and making television appearances. She has also starred in two seasons of her own South Korean reality tv show called ‘My name is Jessica Gomes’ on the On Style channel. 

I recorded this quick chat after the AINYFF announcement.

Frockwriter: What are your holiday plans?  
Jessica Gomes: I’m going back to Perth for Christmas and then I come back to Sydney. And then I fly to Melbourne for a big wedding on New Year’s Eve. My friend Rebecca Twigley and Chris Judd. They’re getting married on New Year’s Eve in Melbourne.

FW: So is she wearing a backless dress?  
JG: (Laughs) I don’t know, probably. It’s going to be so much fun, I’m really excited about it. Then I come back and I’m shooting with some Korean clients.

FW: Because you have a Korean talk show, don’t you?  
JG: I do.

FW: It’s in English?  
JG: In English. It’s a fashion channel called On Style. I have my own tv show where they follow me around and I talk about fashion, I go shopping, they come with me to my photoshoots. They follow me to New York. And then I’m actually going back to New York for the Sports Illustrated party. We’re doing that in New York and in Vegas. Yeah, so lots of things are happening. It’s fun. 


FW: So you’re based in New York now? 
JG: Yes. Well…I’ve been living in New York for seven years, but now I’m spending a lot more time in Seoul in South Korea.
FW: In a profile on Seven Network's Sunday Night program in July - entitled 'Thin is in' - you were quite vocal on the body image issue, talking about how you had been told you were too 'fat' to work as a mainstream fashion model. 
JG: I think you’ve just got to be comfortable with who you are. Every girl has their own opinion and I guess there’s pressure in, you know, every business that you’re in. But there is a lot of pressure obviously to keep really thin. And we definitely do criticise ourselves and compare ourselves to other girls. And so I just wanted to say to other girls that, you know, it’s cool to talk about it. It’s there. I’m not saying that I’ve got anything against it.
FW: Did you cop any flak from it? 
JG: Not at all actually. I got a lot of fans. A lot of girls were writing to me saying, ‘Like OMG you’re so inspirational’. I guess people just thought it was humbling to see a girl talk about it.
FW: But you have found a niche in the ‘sexy’ modelling area – lingerie, swimwear etc. And obviously, those girls earn a lot more money than straight high fashion models. Forbes’ annual high earning models list, for example, is filled with Victoria’s Secret models. The high fashion arena, however, likes models to be ultra thin - with few exceptions, eg Lara Stone.  
JG: Yeah exactly, whom I absolutely love. All I’m saying is, curvy girls can wear fashion and look really cool. And photographs, you know… you’re portrayed in a different light. It just depends how you’re styled and what they’ve done to you and what angle and what lighting and makeup.. And I’m just trying to say to all the other regular girls out there that aren’t models, to realise that it is a fantasy and it’s not all real. And not stress out about it and get eating disorders.
FW: Some girls are extremely thin. 
JG: I mean I guess it’s to each their own. For me, I love my food and I want to be healthy and I think that being voluptuous is beautiful and womanly and brave. And I guess if there are more girls like me and Lara Stone who can still work and do everything, then that’s awesome. Because it just paves the way.
FW: The general public would find it very hard to understand that you would be considered ‘plus size’ compared to a regular (ie size 0) fashion model because you are for all intents and purposes extremely slim.
JG: They probably think it’s nuts. I did have some people say to me ‘Oh I can’t believe that you’re saying that….you’re so skinny’. I am bigger than most other models. And that’s why I felt like I was…’Ooh I’m plus size’ or whatever. I mean it’s just the way the industry is. I mean it is very kind of ... almost……crazy. (Laughs) I mean it is. It’s crazy. It’s crazy.
FW: How long have you been modelling?
JG: I’ve been modelling for over ten years now,
FW: Do you think it’s crazier now than when you started? 
JG: I think it’s just getting good. Like I’m actually just really enjoying it and I’m really starting to be confident with myself. I really feel like I’ve now got a place and I have an identity. And I feel really good about it. And I’ve definitely grown up doing it, so I feel really mature about it all now, so that’s really great and refreshing for me. Because now I’m like, ‘Oh I get it. I’m not mad’.
FW: What about pressures in South Korea? Their best known fashion model, Daul Kim, sadly committed suicide.  
JG: Not for me because I have created my own brand over there. And that’s what I am over there: I’m the girl who looks like she could be Korean, but she’s also got this amazing, sexy body and that’s kind of what the whole niche is. That’s kind of what Megan Gale did in Italy. I do a lot of the commercials over there, I do a lot of magazine work, I’ve been on a lot of talk shows, I’ve got my own talk show. So I’m very recognisable over there.
FW: How long have you been working in South Korea? 
JG: For the past two and a half years.
FW: Do you have an apartment over there?
JG: No but I will be looking into that next year for sure.
FW: Interesting place. I’ve been three times.
JG: I feel like it’s a small Tokyo. The Koreans are very cautious and they’re strict and they’re very clean and orderly and they work so hard.
FW: The bathhouse culture is fascinating.
JG: Yes the bathhouses are amazing. I’ve been to a lot of them and love doing that. But you know, it’s nice coming home and just hanging out here in Australia. Sydney is so beautiful and I love coming home and working and doing shoots here because everyone is so cool and nice. I love New York as well.
FW: So are you a bridesmaid on Friday?
JG: No I’m not, just a guest. I think her sisters are bridesmaids.
FW: Having now spent 10 years in the industry, what would be your advice to any girls who want to be models?
JG: Just be yourself and never lose your integrity and always follow your own rules. Be smart, think about the business and about setting yourself up. Because that’s what's so great about it. Because I’ve been able to travel and learn a lot of things. I think it’s all about being smart and staying true to yourself is also very important.


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