Burberry’s Boy Bright

The British brand looks to Asia for their next ambassador and they found him in Thailand

Vachirawit ‘Bright’ Chivaaree, Burberry’s new brand ambassador. Photo: Burberry

Burberry has once again found a male face among the many willing Thais to peddle their wares. This time, as brand ambassador. After the unlikely Issan-born Manchester chap Zak Srakaew for their autumn/winter 2020 collection, they’ve now made a more conventional choice—the Bangkok-based actor Vachirawit ‘Bright’ Chivaaree (วชิรวิชญ์ ชีวอารี)—as the guy to front their campaigns and wear their clothes in public appearances. Unlike Mr Srakaew, Mr Chivaaree—known professionally as Bright—is not pure Thai, or as dark-skinned, or unknown. He is a (preferred) luk khreung (literally ‘half-child’) of Thai, Chinese and American decent, but still unmistakably Thai, a man of adequate fairness, and a radiant star of film and music.

Born Kunlatorn Chivaaree in 1997, in the province of Nakhon Pathom, central Thailand, to Thai-American father and Thai-Chinese mother, he was the only child from a family that has not been described as poor. His parents divorced when he was young and he grew up with his maternal relatives. Answering to the nickname Bright, he spent his growing-up years in a music school owned by his uncle. Although he loves to play music instruments and is able to with several, he has not been regarded as musically gifted. The soccer-loving actor told Harper’s Bazaar Thailand, “I’ve been playing instruments—guitar, bass, drums, keyboard and other Western instruments—since a very young age, as I grew up in a music school”.

Bright Vachirawit as Sarawat playing the guitar in the drama 2gether: The Series. Screen shot: GMM TV/YouTube

He did not, however, mention a broadcasted interview with Elle Thailand in which he spoke of a music competition that he and the mates of a band he formed participated during high school (he attended two, but did not mention which). During the audition that was judged by teachers and seniors, they were not selected. On the day of the finals, Mr Chivaaree and his band members “thought that (their) performance was much more interesting, and (their) friends would want to watch (them) play. (They) then prepared to go up on stage to perform, and asked those guys to leave the stage. Everyone was screaming and shouting. In the end, (they) were sent to the student affairs office.” As shocking as that revelation was, he did not seemed remorseful. Former schoolmates shared online their own take of what happened that day. Many thought that he still did not understand the impact of his actions, and was fervently glamourising it. As with the proverbial opening of a can of worms, more accusations emerged (even a teacher joined in the fray). He was accused of bullying, discrimination against LGBTQ classmates, sexual harassment, body shaming, and even colourism.

All this was little known (or not shared) when, at 22, Vachirawit Chivaaree became an overnight star playing the gay lead in the ’boys love’ (BL) TV rom-com 2gether: The Series, broadcast months before the Elle interview. Adapted from a 2019 eponymous Thai novel, the weekly drama would be so wildly popular that it is thought to have brought the BL genre to global attention, even when Japan was the first to introduce yayoi stories in the form of manga, anime, TV series, and other media. Mr Chivaaree took on the role of Sarawat, a musician and a footballer (nothing surprising in those two selves) in university, persuaded into a pretend relationship with Tine (a fellow student played by Metawin ‘Win’ Opasiamkajorn), who is the target of unwanted attention from another schoolmate. Too much noise (and the not-too-polite Gen-Z speak) and too much makeup characterised the unfolding narrative. Fake, as is often the case in Thai dramas, became real, the hard-to-get turned the unable-to-forget.

Bright Vachirawit as the smouldering Sarawat viewers are madly in love with. Photo: GMM TV

Gay characters are nothing new to Thai TV audiences, but 2gether brought sweet gay romance—not misfortune, repudiation, or indiscriminate sex—to a mass audience. Out of the dozen people we spoke to in Malaysia, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and on our island, all of them except one said it was “predictable”. One Malaysian K-drama fan said it’s very kiddy and is “targeted at teens”. In fact, university is one big social club of clubs. No one ever studies. Yet many fans were sucked into the pull of the simple plot and clichéd comedy (the two actors happily told the media that the drama is “light and easy to follow”). Viewers were talking about getting their “Sarawat X Tine fix”, even when some were saying that “the first half was great to watch but in the second, they were just like friends”. A month after it first aired in February 2020, the streaming platform Line TV reported 50 million views, prompting the online suggestion that it was the concomitant COVID-19 lockdown that was on the drama’s side. When production company GMMTV shared the drama on their YouTube page, the first episode alone garnered 29 million views to date. It was even picked up by Netflix, paving the way to American audiences.

The controversial high school reveal that emerged from the 2020 Elle Thailand interview was more or less confined to Thailand. Although he did apologise soon enough for what he said, he did not escape later, just-as-contentious tweets. Within months of the broadcast of 2gether, the show became a hit in the Philippines, and the massive market, China. In early April, Mr Chivaaree, a photography enthusiast, innocuously liked a post shared by a Thai photographer that featured four skylines referred to as “countries”, and Hong Kong, as fate would have it, was one of them. After a Chinese Weibo user shared a screen shot of that post, Chinese Netizens went quite mad about the actor’s seeming disrespect of China’s sovereignty and demanded an apology. He offered one on, but that wasn’t the end of it.

In Singapore this month for Burberry’s TB Summer Monogram bash at Tanjong Beach Club, Sentosa. Photo: Burberry

Not long after, his supposed girlfriend at that time, the influencer Weeraya Sukaram—aka Nnevvy—shared a Thai tweet that questioned China’s motive in not wanting foreign investigators in the country to determine whether COVID-19 was leaked from a Wuhan lab (and concurrently saying foreigners imported the virus). As with Mr Chivaaree’s retweet, Chinese Netizens were enraged. That was not the final misstep of Ms Sukaram. In one old post that they managed to uncover, she had responded to a question about her clothes she wore in a photograph by saying that the style was “Taiwanese”, again apparently acknowledging another neighbouring island to the mainland as distinct and separate from China. Mr Chivaaree, not yet distanced from her, was also embroiled in the anger she once again aroused among the Chinese. He apologised on her behalf.

The uproarious reaction in China mattered little to the Thais. When, in a tit-for-tat move, the former criticised and insulted Thai politicians and even the king, the Thais were happy that there were others doing the work for them (this was, after all, during the student protest of 2020). It is not known if Burberry is aware that their choice of Vachirawit Chivaaree as their new ambassador may rile the Chinese (still), with implications in possibly the brand’s biggest market, but in Thailand, the appointment is considered a triumph for the kingdom. Some Thais, however, did not think Mr Chivaaree is the best pick, considering him too 2020 and reminiscent of the start of the pandemic. He is, they believe, not as popular as before, even if he is still very recognisable, and well loved among Thai advertisers. There are those who think the current favourites, PP and Billkin—either one of them should have been considered by Burberry.

In the latest Burberry campaign. Photos: Burberry

Although 2gether: The Series was given a second season Still 2gether and the film 2gether: The Movie, with Vachirawit Chivaaree and Metawin Opasiamkajorn in the lead roles, it would be another BL drama, the two-parter I Told Sunset About You and I Promised You the Moon, that found another group of fervid fans. The two male-leads-in-love this time are Krit ‘PP’ Amnuaydechkorn and Putthipong ‘Billkin’ Assaratanakul. Both actors are Bangkok-born and are singers (like Mr Chivaaree, Mr Assaratanakul sings the theme songs of the TV series that he stars in), and both have such on-and-off-screen chemistry that there was persistent “rumours that PP and Billkin were ‘together’ during their school years”, one Bangkok media professional told us. Is it true, we asked. “It’s hard to say,” she replied, “but people like to believe that they were. It’s great for the fandom. That’s why I think what they represent seems bigger than who they really are.”

Perhaps what the actors of extremely popular BL drama represent matters not to Burberry as much as the reach of the brand ambassador they pick. Despite I Told Sunset About You’s huge commercial success—in China, too, where they enjoyed a Douban score of 9.4 out of 10—and critical acclaim—A Bangkok Post review enthused: “At times sensual, at times heartbreaking, Sunset was a well-rounded, coming-of-age drama with good writing, and beautiful cinematography to match”, it would be Vachirawit ‘Bright’ Chivaaree’s shinning star that impressed Burberry’s casting director. In the brand’s images just released, Mr Chivaaree, with those beguiling locks and speaking eyes, looks adequately aloof and moodily romantic—an expression that seems to say, as he did when he, in 2gether, met Tine for the first time, “Keep looking at me like that and I will kiss you till you drop.” Totally “grumpy” Sarawat.

Freedom! ’22. She’s Back!

With Fendi’s latest ad, Lindia Evangelista might just be reviving her modelling career, as she wanted to

Linda Evangelista shared on Instagram just hours ago a new image of her, back as a model. So did Kim Jones and Fendi, and those who worked with her on the shoot. The photograph of her, looking recognisably her before the Coolsculpting (also known as cryolipolysis) scandal which allegedly “disfigured” her back in 2015 and 2016, was shot for Fendi to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Baguette, the “iconic” handbag designed by Silvia Venturini Fendi in 1997, during Karl Lagerfeld’s tenure at the house. The Baguette is considered the one that started the ‘It’ bag craze, reportedly moving more than a million pieces in the first 20 years of its existence.

Shot by Steven Meisel, who has put Ms Evangelista before his lens countless times before, the photograph shows the come-back Canadian model looking as many remember her, even when there are three baseball caps atop her head, a pair of shades over her eyes, and two Baguettes (and what appears to be another two mini ones) obscuring her body. On her IG page, the photo received 28,000 likes in the first 13 hours since it appeared (updated). Ms Evangelista does not look in any way marred. This could have been her at the height of her carrier in the ’90s. It is hard to imagine that this is the model who told People in February that a “fat-freezing” procedure Coolsculpting that she accepted left her “permanently deformed”. On IG, she made no comments other than expressing her gratitude to the team behind the shoot.

Last year, Ms Evangelista sued Zeltiq Aesthetics, the company behind the Coolsculpting performed on her, for US$50million (or about S$69.9 million), alleging that what was done caused severe and permanent injuries and suffering to her, and that she was not able to work as model after that. We do not know what is the outcome of that suit or if any settlement is reached. “I loved being up on the catwalk. Now I dread running into someone I know,” she told People. Ms Evangelista’s come-back is in the hands of those she does know and have worked with before, including French stylist Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele, American makeup artist Pat McGrath, and British hairstylist Palau Guido. According to online buzz, Ms Evagelista will be returning to the runway too—in September for Fendi, unsurprisingly. She did tell People that she’s done with hiding. It is going to be the most anticipated show of the season as Fendi plays its trump card.

Photo: Steven Meisel/Fendi

Battle Of The Bulge

Who showed off their pregnant body better? And is Alexander Wang cornering the market for sexed-up maternity wear?

Adriana Lima (left) on the recent Alexander Wang runway and Rihanna (right) in Alexander Wang on a night out in Santa Monica, in March. Photos: Alexander Wang and Backgrid respectively

The message these (still) pandemic days is clear: Show your face and, if you are pregnant, bare your belly. As the world witnesses, Rihanna is leading the way. Since announcing her pregnancy on social media in January, the Fenty mogul has been ramping it up on the fashion front, each outfit she shares online, more revealing—her baby bump more prominent—than the last. Now it seems that the ex-Victoria’s Secret Angel Adriana Lima, too, is following in the singer’s footsteps. At the Alexander Wang autumn/winter 2022 show, the five-month pregnant Ms Lima was outfitted in a dress with a large circular cutout, deliberately positioned to frame the stomach, as if to place the belly in an inset.

This is, of course, not the first time that Mr Wang has created skimpy maternity wear. Last month, the much-followed Rihanna appeared in a bespoke look that was attributed to the designer. It comprised of a sparkly, barely-there brassiere worn under an oversized leather jacket that was paired with a matching, very abbreviated skirt. The outfit, naturally, divided the world, whether among those fashion-bent or not. Highsnobiety weighed in with the headline: “I love Rihanna, but not her Alexander Wang maternity outfit”. It should be noted that the writer behind the the opinion piece did not dislike the outfit as much as the name that custom-made it for the star. Mr Wang had then still yet to entirely shake-off the scandal that beset him almost three years ago. Rihanna’s choice, therefore, held “complicated implications”.

The fashion press has called RiRi’s very public display of her stomach a “master class” in alternative maternity wear. And now that Mr Wang has sent out on his recent runway, a similar look to his choice for the Barbadian mother-to-be, is it indication that he will be the go-to designer for outfits that show off a pregnant bulge that some women now prefer to flaunt, uncovered? The two outfits we have seen so far are less (literally, too) maternity clothes than near-negligees that are worn to accommodate a pregnant woman’s changing body. Amid the boob-baring that other American labels are into, perhaps Mr Wang has found a new category of maternity wear, one that, similarly, uses less fabric than more. Would this, aided by his exhibitionistic expecting supporters, be what he needs to help his career recover—bare-skinned baby bump?

A Face Artists Love

And, purportedly, to use “without permission”. Duan Mei Yue finds herself in an unpleasant spot, again

An easy-to-paint face? Do you see the same girl? Duan Mei Yue (left); photo: Duan Mei Yue/Instagram. And her ‘likeness’ by Russian painter Angelina Poveteva; Photo*: Angelina Poveteva

Model Duan Mei Yue (段美玥) has a unique—some might say, enviable—problem. Her face is a visage so comely artists love to paint it… but without her permission, so Ms Duan has asserted, with utter disgust, on social media. Just last year, she blasted on Instagram the “unethical” use of her likeness without being asked by the Singaporean artist Alison M Low, based on a photograph of her by photographer Li Wanjie. The image later appeared on a book cover and on the floor of a Love, Bonito store as a piece of chipped cut-out. Now, another artist in, of all places, Russia(!), has seemingly given this by-now-recognisable face the treatment of the artist’s hands (she used them in place of paint brush). One Angelina Poveteva (Ангелина Поветьева) has been accused by Ms Duan of a familiar offence: painting her face, based on the said photograph, without her formal consent. Ms Duan is adamant that the subject in the painting is her.

Angelina Poveteva is a portraitist from the town of Michurinsk (named after the famed biologist/horticulturist Ivan Michurin) in the Tambov region of the Bryansk oblast (a federal subject) of Western Russia, near the border with Belarus. She is a graduate of Kochetov Children’s Art School in the rural ‘village’, as some call it, of Kochetov. Although also in Bryansk, the institution that Ms Poveteva attended is some nine hours to the west by car from her home village. It is not known how long she has been an artist or if she is pursuing art professionally. But it does appear that Ms Poveteva is partial to large-scale works. Her piece that Ms Duan took offence to is what she calls “the second in a row in the series ‘Birth’”. On Instagram, she writes: “I create understandable art”. Not quite comprehensible is the subject: why her?

Angelina Poveteva with one of her art pieces. Photo: Angelina Poveteva/Facebook

Her painting of a supposed Ms Duan is last year’s winning entry of the competition segment of the IV International Festival of Contemporary Art, dubbed ‘Artlife Fest’. Her monochromatic two-face piece, titled ‘Time to Open Your Eyes’, was among 400 works shown at the annual exhibition held in Russian capital last October, at the Moscow Manege, a 19th century neoclassical building that is also the site of Moscow Design Museum. Without revealing who the subject of her prize-winning entry is, Ms Poveteva, in a release to the local media, said: “Art for me is a path of endless development, an opportunity to learn all my life, to become better. For me, living without creativity is like living with your eyes closed.” Unfortunately for her, Duan Mei Yue had hers very much open.

Ms Duan, who, coincidentally, is now also an artist, likened Ms Poveteva’s use of her face in a for-sale nude to being traded as a trollop. She told Asiaone: “To see myself depicted naked, exhibited and sold off, I felt like I was being prostituted.” She also commented via a keenly-edited TikTok video that the “hundreds of people” who “posed and (have) taken pictures” in front of Ms Poveteva’s supposed painting of her at the Moscow art exhibition did so “like (she’s) some kind of Oriental freakshow”. This was not exactly Paris Fashion Week (or, Shanghai), and she was not draped in Dior. That TikTok video is viewed over 6,000 times in two days, as well as the 25K+ times after she shared it on IG. Some observers wondered if Ms Duan was aware she herself drew attention to a painting few would otherwise know, by a painter even fewer would be aware of, outside now-heavily-sanctioned Russia.

…“hundreds of people” who “posed and (have) taken pictures” in front of Ms Poveteva’s supposed painting of her at the Moscow art exhibition did so “like (she’s) some kind of Oriental freakshow”

It is, of course, understandable that she would be overcome by shock and anger. No woman, model or not, wishes to see a likeness of herself floating online, and, least of all, sans clothes (in that particular painting, the subject was delineated to the waist naked, with nipples shown). A depiction, even if accurate, is not necessarily flattery. In Ms Duan’s case, she deemed it a flagrant violation. And claimed she cried “for 3 hours” when she saw the images of the painting. “Before (this), I was more upset in terms of how my ambitions of being a model were being exploited,” she told OneAsia. “This time, I feel so personally violated.” It is not clear if Ms Duan’s career has been adversely impacted by the existence of this painting. Nor has she said how so. Or, if, conversely, she had augmented her fame with the strong online condemnation.

To rub salt into the wound, the portrait—Ms Duan learnt—fetched USD10,000 (we are not sure how she came to know of this selling price or if indeed it was transacted at that amount), without a cent going to her. And if that was not insulting enough, the artist denied being inspired by her photograph—first shared on IG in 2018—or even used it as a reference. To prove that she was indeed not guilty as accused, Ms Poveteva allegedly produced a photo of a woman of unknown nationality and indeterminate race, and claimed she painted the Duan Mei Yue lookalike based on this other person. Ms Duan seemed certain that the photograph sent to her as “proof” had been “photoshopped” to look like the girl in the painting. The Russian artist has set her social media accounts to ‘private’ after this confrontation.

Publicity handout of Angelina Poveteva and her painting, Time to Open Your Eyes. Photo: Administration of the City of Michurinsk

Warning: objectionable language ahead

Ms Duan also said via the TikTok post that she was 18 when the vaguely seductive, semi-sultry photo of her was taken. “To see my eighteen-year-old self being painted naked and then being paraded around like that without my consent,” she said, “shattered me.” She told her viewers that she wishes to sue the artist but had learnt that copyright laws in Russia are complicated. She told AsiaOne that she wants to be compensated and to be offered an apology by both Ms Poveteva and the art school “in charged of” the artist in question. The school is believed to be Artlife Moscow (also known as Artlife Academy), an institution that “teach(es) painting online under the guidance of famous artists” and is, interestingly, the organiser of the eponymous exhibition Artlife Fest that awarded Ms Poveteva her win last year. Ms Duan alleges that the school is “super dismissive of this whole situation”. Additionally, she hopes that “a law can be put in place to protect everyone from artists like them”.

Four days ago, Duan Mei Yuan posted on IG a painting she did of that photographic portrait artists love. It was accompanied by a two-page essay on her reason for painting herself (and berating the two artists, so far, who have “PLAIN DISREGARD TO (HER) PRIVACY AND PERSONAILTY (sic) RIGHTS”), and the original, four-year-old photo. In the comments, below the images, she fulminated (and we quote verbatim), “if you wanna use me as the cover for your art, PAY ME. I AM NOT A PICTURE, I AM A HUMAN BEING. I AM NOT SOMETHING TO PUT ON ROCKS OR NAKED TORSOS. I AM NOT TO BE VIOLATED OR TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF.

I AM FUCKING HUMAN.”

*We took the liberty to pixelise part of the image of the painting in view of public decency

Updated: 08 April 2022, 1.30pm

Sock ’Em In The Eye?

Do women really want to look this battered?

Photos: (left) Chanel and (right) Shutterstock

By Mao Shan Wang

Beautiful eyes. Who doesn’t want them, especially those of us not especially blessed, and need some tools of colour for enhancement? But I really can’t make out the make-up du jour. From Chanel’s single blacken eye to Julia Fox’s total black out, what is really going on? Why, at a time when we really want to look healthy and unscarred by a unrelenting virus, does any woman desire to give the impression that she was abused? Willingly! Or, is this some self-pummeling as a beauty expression I—and, presumably, you—know not of? If I were to leave my home looking like that, people I know (and do not) would be very worried. Either my eye make-up skill has gone to the dogs, or domestic violence—no laughing matter—has roosted in my home.

The Chanel models I can understand. They did not have a choice in the colour of their eye makeup, nor the intensity of the make-believe bruise. But for Julia Fox, a woman then dating the most powerful man in music and fashion, the indefatigable Kanye West (they reportedly broke up in the middle of this month), and attending the Kenzo and Schiaparelli shows with her beau, the black eyes offered not quite positive optics for the actress and the man next two her, known to be somewhat misogynistic (how do you call his attack of Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish?). Could this be Mr West’s doing—a compulsory makeover of the women he dates? Or was Ms Fox trying to look as sexy as Diggs of Cats and Dogs?

I am tempted to see this trend as makeup brands attempting to sell more eye colour. Chanel’s runway looks certainly impacted their makeup division bigly before—remember the nail colour Vamp? Or was 1994 too long ago? Dark nail polish (and it would get darker), while totally new then, was not suggestive of violence (Vamp would go on to be so successful that it was ranked fifth all-time best-selling nail colour of the previous century) willfully inflicted on women. But a black eye socket? So that fashionable women could appear as though there were physically assaulted? Or, in the case of Chanel, like they fell off a horse? I give up.

Two Of A Kind: Fred Vs Juergen

Who does it better?

Left: Fred with Tyres (1984) by Herb Ritts. Photo: Herb Ritts Foundation. Right: Juergen with Tyres (2021) by Juergen Teller for Loewe. Photo: Loewe

Juergen Teller is considered a fine-art photographer, in addition to the work he does for fashion, but sometimes one wonders if his output, often described as “unfiltered” and predates TikTok, is destined for that social media. In his latest shoot for Loewe’s spring/summer 2022 collection, Mr Teller places six shots of near-naked him—some in provocative poses—in the brand’s lookbook. One that stood out is he standing with legs shoulder-width apart, holding a tyre in each hand. So that you won’t mistake him for a desperate auto-mechanic, a camera is worn round his neck. He is bare-footed even when the seamless paper backdrop on which he stands has the marks of footwear trampling all of it. Not digitally making it pristine is possibly deliberate—perhaps to better project the blue-collar sex bomb that the subject thinks he is. Still, the studio set up is no match in tyre-yard tip that is seen in the Loewe photographs.

But what struck us immediately as familiar is the pose and the prop. Back in 1984, a photo of a muscular guy similarly holding tires (but with more clothes on) appeared in the Italian magazine Per Lui. It was shot by the American photographer Herb Ritts, and is often considered one of the great images of the 20th century that changed fashion photography forever. The monochromatic photo would come to be known as Fred with Tires. According to Mr Ritts, the commissioning editor Franca Sozzani (when she was with Lei and brother title Per Lui, before heading Vogue Italia) had sent some “hideous rain coats” for the shoot. He “hated” them. With the British stylist Michael Roberts (also photographer and illustrator), they picked jeans and overalls as replacement. The model who posed in full muscular glory was a UCLA undergrad, named Fred Harding. Not much is known about the guy or what happened to him after that.

Franca Sozzani reportedly did not like the photo, but ran it in the magazine anyway

The photo became a massive hit after appearing in the Per Lui spread, not inaccurately titled The Boys of The Body Shop. The compositional effect of that rule-breaking shot is a salute to ancient Greek sculptures and, at the same time, is evocative of the auto-garages and their macho mechanics of the US. The aesthetic is, therefore rather American too, one that is another planet from the glamour of the popular TV series of the time, Dynasty. Ms Sozzani reportedly did not like the photo, but ran it in the magazine anyway. And this was a year before the unprecedented 120-consecutive-page spread for the Per Lui issue called USA by Bruce Weber!

Mr Teller’s photo, in its tell-it-like-it-is naturalism, is the total contrast to Mr Ritts’s formal aestheticism and sexy athleticism. In the body-inclusive world that we presently live in, it is ill-advised to say that the self-shots of Mr Teller, spared grooming, do not appeal to one sense of beauty, which now must be all-encompassing, including the setting in which the subject places himself. In Fred with Tires, Herb Ritts was, by his own account, not availed the best conditions for the shoot, yet he was able to turn those circumstances that should not be so noteworthy into an image that is unforgettable. Rare, indeed, is the photographer who can, through a commercial shoot, immortalise he who was just a college kid, insouciantly coming in for a paid editorial.

Photo illustration: Just So

A “Buffalo Boy” Passes

Obituary | Popular model of the ’80s and Madonna’s protégé, Nick Kamen was pop culture’s definitive pretty boy of that era

Nick Kamen: The career-making photo that made it to the January 1984 cover of The Face. Photo: Jamie Morgan/The Face

One of the most striking faces associated with UK fashion and pop music of the ’80s Nick Kamen has passed away, according to reports in the British media. Mr Kamen succumbed to bone marrow cancer at home in his flat in Notting Hill, West London. A family friend confirmed to the BBC that he died on Tuesday evening after a long battle with the illness. He was reportedly diagnosed four years ago, and had largely kept quiet about his ailment. Despite the fame of his younger days, Mr Kamen led a relatively low-key live in the past 10 years or so, almost entirely away from the spotlight. He was 59.

Nick Kamen started modelling in the early eighties, appearing on Vivienne Westwood’s runway shows, but he was a relative unknown until he was discovered by the legendary British stylist Ray Petri in late 1983. Born Ivor Neville Kamen in 1962 in the town Harlow of the county of Essex, a “working class” area in Southeast England, his good looks were attributed to his highly mixed ethnicity: Burmese, Irish, Dutch, and English. The Asian connection might have accounted for his “cafe latte skin”, as teen mags of the time liked to describe him. Mr Kamen went to a Roman Catholic secondary school in Harlow, where his formal education ended. In his late teens, he and his brother Barry, who was, later, also a model and (with another brother Chester) a musician, worked in a clothing shop in Covent Garden. It was here that the lads met Mr Petri.

Nick Kamen and Madonna in a recording studio. Photo: Sire Records

According to the lore of the ’80s, Mr Petri had gone to the shop to borrow clothes for a shoot. It was that fateful meeting that led to Mr Kamen’s first magazine cover for The Face, an ’80s British title that went into hiatus in 2004. Although it returned as a quarterly and an online edition two years ago, many of today’s readers of e-mags are unlikely to know of The Face and its influence to readers, such as SOTD contributor Raiment Young. “I bought every issue back then,” he told us. “It was a magazine to read, which was not always what mags of the era, way before the World-Wide Web, offered. They covered music raves (which I could only read about) like political rallies! And the covers, always different from the last, were just unlike anything I had seen.” The Face was one of the few that covered emerging sub-cultures and underground scene of that time, putting out covers that were not considered cover material, typical of the Margaret Tatcher years: a visual identity that is exceedingly cool, but not necessarily swinging along with what was fashionable.

Mr Petri had a thing for using unknowns. The images he created was almost entirely his own making, save pressing the shutter button of the camera. His trend-setting photographic partner-in-crime was Jamie Morgan. Together they created an unmistakable aesthetic that The New York times called a “supermarket of styles”. Nick Kamen on The Face issue of 1984 (top) that kicked off the New Year exemplified that mish-mash. Now, we won’t bat an eyelid on styling that appear to imagine a spiffy manager of a ski shop creating his own #OOTD, with a bandaged gash on the right brow, but back then, when designer mania was emerging and Italian, especially, considered the height of chic, the young model looking the way he did was seen as anti-establishment: beanie, military insignia, aviators, and—untypical of magazine covers (Anna Wintour, then creative director at US Vogue before her editorship of the British edition a year later, would have puked)—Band-Aid (like an open inverted comma) and roughly-applied lip balm! This was not the American Gigolo look, made famous by the 1980 film, with costume designed by Giorgio Armani. This was “Buffalo.”

Publicity still during the launch of Every Time You Break My Heart. Photo: Sire Records

Mr Kamen’s ability to embrace realness and defiance so stylishly and, to many, sexily, was his greatest appeal. As soon as he was launched, he became associated with the totally DIY Buffalo style that Ray Petri dreamed up at the time, and with which the stylist (a self-created title, his friends declared) would go on to define British menswear of the ’80s, first at The Face and later at sibling Arena. Buffalo, a word used in the Caribbean to mean boys that were rude and rebellious, was appropriated to be synonymous with fearless self-expression. It became a personal trademark of Mr Petri, and it involved a British clique of mainly guys: fellow stylist Mitzi Lorenz, the photographers Roger Charity, Jamie Morgan, and Cameron McVey (he dated Neneh Cherry, one of the few Buffalo girls, who sang the 1988 hit Buffalo Stance, which sampled from Malcom McClaren’s 1983 track Buffalo Gals), and the crucial models who could express the Buffalo attitude: Wade Tolera; Tony Felix; the 13-year-old Felix Howard (The Face‘s youngest cover model); and, of course, Nick Kamen and his brother Barry.

With Buffalo’s influence stretching across the world, it was Nick Kamen who came to represent the much-touted Buffalo stance, culminating in a career-defining 1985 Levi’s TV commercial that showed him stripped—in a busy launderette—to his white boxers (a now-not-shocking reveal that may have been copped from a Jamie Morgan-lensed fashion spread that appeared earlier—in the March 1985 issue of The Face—when Mr Kamen wore similar white boxers and a black T-shirt under a trench coat). Ringing success embraced the American jeans brand and the British model. It is understandable why Mr Morgan called him “our muse”. Comedian Matt Lucas told the media recently, “If you didn’t have a crush on Nick Kamen in the ’80s, you probably weren’t there.”

Man in skirt, not a shocker now, but back then, scandal-rousing. Styled by Ray Petri. Photo: Jamie Morgan/The Face

The model was one of the earliest of that time to cross successfully over to pop. Mr Kamen’s big break arrived when Madonna came admiring, and handed him the song, Each Time You Break My Heart, one that was omitted from her third album, 1986’s True Blue. The accompanying video, shot by the French fashion photographer Jean-Baptiste Mondino, featured many of Mr Petri’s coterie of friends/models, including the boy-star Felix Howard (who later appeared in Madonna’s Open Your Heart and Sinitta’s Toy Boy MVs) and Mr Kamen’s girlfriend at that time, American model and 1989 Licenced to Kill’s Bond girl Talisa Soto (later, he also dated another ’80s model, the German Tatjana Patitz). So sure of his singing potential she was that Madonna even did the backing vocals of Each Time You Break My Heart, but Nick Kamen did not have a voice that you’d remember; he wasn’t a Sam Smith. He did, however, have a presence that worked well on stage and, with the emergence of music television (MTV), winsome close-ups. Although some haters of that time referred to his songs as “himbo pop”, he would continue to release another four albums, all with varying degrees of success, but none to equal those by the likes of Rick Astley or Nik Kershaw.

As the telling of most who knew him goes, Mr Kamen was an extremely nice individual, so uncommon a trait in the business of fashion and pop music that stars still remember him by his niceness. Boy George, the first to break the news of his death, posted on Instagram, “RIP to the most beautiful and sweetest man”. Duran Duran’s John Taylor wrote on Twitter, “One of the loveliest and gentlest men I ever met.” Madonna was just as effusive on IG, “You were always such a kind sweet human.” Could Neneh Cherry, three decades earlier, too, have referred to Nick Kamen when she sang in Buffalo Stance, “No money man could win my love. It’s sweetness I’m thinking of”?

Who Is Duan Mei Yue?

The model who was unhappy with the delineation of her by a local artist had dreams to land on the cover of Vogue Italia

Our own illustrated likeness of Duan Mei Yue, done, we admit, without her permission. This serves as illustration to this post only, and will not not be used commercially

Warning: this post contains language that some readers might find offensive

Full-time model Duan Mei Yue (段美玥) is trending, but not for a breakthrough runway show or an outstanding magazine cover we usually associate with models who receive ardent media attention. Rather, she’s been making the news for being deeply unhappy with some graphite and acrylic drawings by local artist Allison M Low called Weight of Longing that were discernibly based on a photograph posted on Instagram in February 2018. This photo, shot by professional lensman Li Wanjie, was allegedly used to create a “likeness” without Ms Duan’s expressed approval. (Just because images on social media are posted for all, does it mean they are free for all?) When she discovered that the drawings appeared as a chipped cut-out on the floor of the Love, Bonito store in Funan and, later, on the cover of author Amanda Lee Koe’s award-winning Ministry of Moral Panic, she was livid and so affected that she felt “very violated knowing that someone has profited off my likeness without my knowing or consent,” according to a post on Instagram Stories nine weeks ago. The distress, as she told it (too aggrieved to punctuate properly), wrecked her life—“how can i sleep at night”, “how do i function as per usual”, “how do i not let this affect me”.

Ms Duan’s anguish is understandable. Although she is a model, she did not model for Ms Low. Nor, was she paid by the artist as a model in abstentia. To see photos of her lopped-off face crowned by a head tie and positioned on the floor of Love, Bonito, also a community centre of sort, even under the guise of art, must have been too hard to stomach. It is not difficult to see why she was upset to be placed on that level. But, at Love, Bonito, it seemed to her that the artist was remunerated for the work that was used not only as art-prop, but also as visual for pendants and on tote bags. This could have been a revenue stream for her too, rather than just the artist’s. It isn’t known how much Love, Bonito paid Ms Low for the work (or Empigram Books, publisher of Ministry of Moral Panic), but it was reported that the artist, a Temasek Polytechnic School of Design graduate, made €1,875 (about S$3,000) from a sale of another art piece with Ms Duan’s likeness through an identified gallery. For one who professed that she has “a spending problem”, and “don’t have millions of dollars behind (her) name”, this lost income was, unsurprisingly, maddening. On IG Stories, she proclaimed “i’d be ok with this if it was done after i leave this existence but when i’m still alive and broke? no thank u”. In addition, she declared: “i have no money for a fucking lawyer”.

Interestingly, Ms Duan, who deprecatingly calls herself “just an awkward noodle” and has no problem identifying as “this dumb hoe”, loves to draw, and had often posted her amusing output on social media (on IG alone, she has, to-date, 55.1k followers) when she was still doing her A levels and not modelling full-time yet. Most of them, similar to her likeness in question, were of faces. Whether they were a figment of her imagination or based on photographs, she did not say. But they were expressed, including the self-portraits, in a sometimes quirky manner, not unlike the Arien herself. She said on IG, “im really relatable and im very honest with my vulnerability n flaws”. It is the honesty, perhaps, that led her to confess in her earliest post, that she “fucking love(s) cats”. Ms Duan has a weakness for the F-word: “best fucking strawberry marshmallows” or “dramafest and photography camp made me so fucking happy” (just two of the many examples), but unlike, say, influencer Wendy Cheng (aka Xia Xue), who uses the four letters as cuss word, Ms Duan tends to employ them as adverb and adjective, and possibly also as indicator that she has crossed into adulthood. One expresses irritation, the other, delight.

The works of art that “violated” Duan Mei Yue: (clockwise from left) cover of book by Amanda Lee Koe, the drawing by Allison M Low, and the chipped piece on the floor of Love, Bonito (also by Ms Low). Photos: Epigram Books, Retrospect Galleries, and Allison M Low/Instagram respectively

She is candid and tells it like it is, which for her followers, is her charm and her pull. Accompanying a photo she posted in November 2017 to be used as a profile picture, Ms Duan wrote, with, again, scant regard to punctuation—and, now, propriety, “i’ll let you guys in on a secret; i photoshopped my armpits bc it’s so wrinkly it looks like a vagina”. Her “vagpit” reference prompted 1,862 likes and 54 comments, of which 24 were variations of “the most beautiful”, with one, calling her “仙女本人” (xian nu ben ren or the fairy herself). Her fans rave about her looks, but she is not considered conventional beauty, a point Ms Duan acknowledges. In 2019, she told the Shanghai media, “我从外貌来看就很少归类为传统模特” (wo cong wai mao lai kan jiu hen shao gui lei wei chuan tong mo te or “from my appearance, I am rarely classified as a traditional model”). But this non-traditional look is possibly why the casting agents in the West have been interested in her—she fits the Western perception of eastern beauty and exotica.

On her face, she has what the Chinese would call “丹凤眼” (dan feng yan or phoenix eyes, referring to almond-shaped peepers with outer corners inclined upwards). Her eyes are set rather apart, creating a wide glabella that make-up artists don’t necessarily know what to do with. “You can’t shade that area,” one seasoned pro told us. “She also has a lot of space between the upper eyelid and the brow, which may require a lot of colour”. In a commentary on China’s Sohu (搜狐), Ms Duan was described to have “塌鼻梁圆鼻头” (ta bi liang yuan bi tou or collapsed bridge, round nose), which the writer acknowledged to be “颠覆了国际超模的直挺范儿” (dian fu le guo ji chao mo de zhi ting fan er or subverting the straightforward styles of international supermodels). And those full lips, not seen since Ethel Fong. In sum, her facial features may post a challenge to her creative partners, but most fashion stylists generally say she is fun to work with, as “she has character”. There’s a campy side to her too. In one IG post, she lip-synced delightfully to Olivia Newton-John’s Hopelessly Devoted to You!

Duan Mei Yue, now 22, started modelling full-time in 2017 after completing her A-Levels (if modelling didn’t work out, she would have considered psychology in university), but had earlier already wanted to be a model after discounting the possibility of being a fashion designer. She told Female magazine in 2018 that “K-pop and anime were part of my motivation to become a model. I saw how the K-pop idols I obsessed over at that time walked Seoul Fashion Week and they were invited to various fashion shows during the fashion week circuit in Europe and New York so I thought maybe I should become a model to meet them lol”. And ultimately, to be on the cover of Vogue Italia. She also told Cleo in 2019, “I started when I realised that I needed to express my love for aesthetics and fashion”. She has, so far, walked the runways of Shanghai, Seoul, Tokyo, New York, and Paris, but was conspicuously absent at the biggest fashion show of the year on our island: last week’s Louis Vuitton presentation, when the “bigger” star at the moment, Yong Kai Gin, had her SG moment in the klieg lights—and the rain.

Ms Duan gives the impression that there were many artists, professionals or amateurs, who desired to draw her face. On IG Stories, she wrote, “every other artists (sic) has either properly compensated me or has agreed to stop the selling and apologised sincerely”. Perhaps, it is true: Her unusual features are more interesting to artists than standard symmetry or placid perfection. That Allison M Low, herself considered a “looker”, chose that fated picture, one that would have been a weak shot for casting agents, is telling of the appeal of Ms Duan’s off-kilter looks. In her response to the controversy, Ms Low told The Sunday Times that “the artworks… were about the strength and grace in women…” but while there seems to be tremendous strength on both sides (and among their respective supporters), there has not been a palpable sense of grace, as the war wages online. As one marketing manager said to us, “Duan Mei Yue has grown-up. The modelling around the world has opened her eyes.” When that photo was shared on the model’s IG page on 18 Feb 2018, this was her comment (and we’re quoting verbatim): “grey eyes from @ttd_eye queen grey go spend some of dat angpao moneys and get yoself some cool grey eyes with a cool discount by using my code “dmeiyue” ✨ portrait by @uuanjie as usual hehe makeup done by moi :*” That girl is no more.

Illustration and collage: Just So

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Wild West Wang

Alexander Wang has defended himself against some serious allegations that are sexual in nature. Will his brand survive these personal charges?

Alexander Wang in a publicity shot to promote his collaboration with Uniqlo. Photo: Uniqlo

Note: this post contains potentially offensive language and descriptions

Alexander Wang’s autumn winter 2020/21 collection was not presented on a runway. In fact, he announced a year earlier that he was giving the live show a miss, in favour of a massive party that he’s known to throw to celebrate the brand’s 15th anniversary. Last September, photographs of the thirty-nine-look collection were sent to the media. The clothes, as styled, were as party-ready as ever. Amid the still-raging pandemic, they were a dispensable reminder of a time when clubland was very much alive and throbbing. These would, no doubt, have delighted the ever-loyal party animals of the high-profile Wang Squad.

But now, chatter among the gang has been, “did he or did he not do it?” For the past weeks, Mr Wang, 37, was accused by at least eight male models—and, curiously, trans—for non-consensual, sexually aggressive behaviour, and, following that, passing straight vodka for water and offering the alcohol as a “party trick”, according to the singer Florence Welch and the writer Derek Blasberg, YouTube’s head of fashion and beauty partnerships. Although there has been talk much earlier of Mr Wang’s supposed indiscretions that the media noted went largely under the radar (accusers unidentified), one explosive allegation did emerge two weeks ago.

According to a British model/graphic designer/fashion stylist, Owen Mooney, 26, Mr Wang had groped him in a night club, back in early 2017. The indecent sexual advances allegedly took place during the monthly gay rave, Holy Mountain, hosted by the Canadian DJ/events producer Ladyfag, at Slake, a mid-town Manhattan (predominantly) gay dance club known for its hip-hop and EDM playlist. Slake was operated by the legendary New York club Webster Hall; it closed permanently at the end of 2017. During its heydays, Slake welcomed revellers to, as one review stated, “explore the twisting labyrinth with three floors of mystery and debauchery.” It’s in such a setting that the alleged violation occurred.

The alleged victim of Alexander Wang’s unwelcome advances, Owen Mooney. Photo: Owen Mooney/Instagram

Mr Mooney, who has 5,666 followers on Instagram (vs Mr Wang’s 5.5 million) and, in one post in 2015, called himself a “cuntry boy”, revealed the details via TikTok in a form of a (Q&)A: “I was by myself at one point and this guy next to me obviously took advantage of the fact that no one could fucking move. And he just started touching me up. Fully up my leg, in my crotch. It made me freeze completely because I was in so much shock.” Mr Mooney did not immediately extricate himself from the invading hand; he wanted to identify the perpetrator. “Then I look to my left to see who it was and it was this really famous fashion designer and I just couldn’t believe that he was doing that to me. It just made me go into even more shock. I just had to slowly move myself away.”

Mr Mooney did not, in that TikTok post, reveal who the molester was. One of his followers offered a name, and Mr Mooney continued with another post, in which he said, “…and turns out, Alexander Wang is a massive sexual predator. And there has been loads of people he’s done this to… he just needs to be cancelled.” Although he had posted before the big reveal, “Craving those sweaty nights out. Can’t wait to dance again”, the incident affected him massively. “Now, anytime I see his name mentioned, or I see him with celebrities and, like best friends, and whatever, like… it just reminds me of what he did, and it’s just a fucked-up memory to have.” Not long after, Shit Model Agency, an IG account that is touted as a “safe space 4 models”, shared Mr Mooney’s post, as well as other anonymous allegations that recounted supposed spiking of drinks with MDMA (a psychoactive drug) and sexual assaults. Just as quickly, Diet_Prada, with a following of 2.4 million, including industry leaders, too, shared, six days ago, a compilation of the charges, titled “The Internet is exposing Alexander Wang’s history of sexual harassments.” It was the holiday news to digest.

In response, after a brief silence, Mr Wang and his lawyers provided The New York Times a statement. “Over the last few days, I have been on the receiving end of baseless and grotesquely false accusations,” it stated indignantly. “These claims have been wrongfully amplified by social media accounts infamous for posting defamatory material from undisclosed and/or anonymous sources with zero evidence or any fact-checking whatsoever.” There was no addressing of Mr Mooney’s TikTok self-disclosed posts.

Probably off to or emerging from a party. Photo: Getty Images

Alexander Wang was born in the Bay Area city of San José, California. His parents were Taiwanese. According to what he once said to Suzy Menkes, he does not speak Mandarin or the minnan dialect (闽南语), and speculation that he does “is a false background”. Mr Wang’s early education took place in San José. Although some reports claimed he was interested in fashion since young, it was not until a summer design course in London’s Central Saint Martins when he was 15 that marked his formal foray into fashion. He continued his studies stateside at New York’s Parsons School of Design, but famously did not graduate. In 2005, half-way through school, he started his eponymous label. Just three years later, he won the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, which came with a USD20,000 prize to grow his business. With continued support from Anna Wintour, Mr Wang soon found himself, in 2012, with a job offer from the Kering group: to succeed Nicolas Ghesquière at Balenciaga.

Mr Wang’s debut Balenciaga collection was met with some enthusiasm. But many felt he did not quite live up to the pre-tenure hype. While he did make Balenciaga more commercial, his designs took no one’s breath away. More exciting was how, according to one social media post, Mr Wang and his posse behaved in Paris: ah lians caught in the dazzle of the City of Lights. In 2015, his contract with Balenciaga came to an end. Kering did not renew it. His one-term stint, like a one-term US presidency, did not appear to dent his by-then burgeoning name. When he left Balenciaga, Alexander Wang’s “models-off-duty look”—an amalgamation of athletic styles and nightclub staples—was the downtown aesthetic adopted by many women already abandoning the no-longer-necessary “office wear.”

Mr Wang is known to party hard, just as he has a reputation for throwing hard-core, packed-out parties, where his shindig togs are routinely worn by attendees, proudly. Whatever allegedly happened at the Holy Mountain rave, inspired by indie film maker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1973 art house movie, The Holy Mountain, it seems to suggest that Mr Wang is not alien to the gay party circuit, during which men often take off their shirts as they dance through what Owen Mooney called “sweaty nights”. Last year, before Mr Mooney’s accusations, the favourite rapper of the fashion world, Azealia Banks, Mr Wang’s “former muse”, who had also performed at his after-parties (as well as appearing in a T by Alexander Wang ad), shared on IG Stories different anonymous messages claiming Mr Wang’s sexual abuse (they’ve since been deleted). In the beginning, it seemed that these charges will be circumscribed within the walls of dance clubs, left to go off-track in the beat. However loud the music, it’s hard to drown out the din of the anger felt and expressed online by the abused. Hitherto, the accusers are not known to have filed police reports against Mr Wang, but that is not certainty that there won’t be repercussions on the brand, however he Wangs it. His famous “Wangover” could turn out to be Wang over.

Atypical Asian Pick At Burberry

He’s too dusky, he’s over-tattooed, and he is half-Laotian, half-Issan. In Bangkok, he wouldn’t normally be cast in any major advertising campaign, but newcomer Zak Sakraew is in Manchester. And luck came a-calling

When Burberry shared two photos of its autumn/winter 2020 campaign in mid-November, the fashion world of Bangkok went wild. Newcomer Zak (pronounced ‘Sak’ in Thai) Srakaew, who doesn’t live anywhere in Thailand, is suddenly the son of the soil, hero of the heartland. Mr Srakaew has not only starred in a fashion ad, “he is a Burberry model”, as one Bangkok-based stylist proudly told us. And he appeared in the same campaign as the Manchester United football star Marcus Rashford. The 25-year-old is the only second Thai (but the first male) model, after the more established Wilhelmina lass Jan Baiboon, to come this far, or to the house of Burberry. Suddenly it was as if the nation’s Loy Krathong collective wishes amid a fierce pandemic have come true.

The thing is, if Zak Srakaew were to be doing his go-see in Bangkok, he may still be looking for a job. But Mr Srakaew lives in Manchester, a two-hour train ride to London. And inclusiveness is presently a major theme among the advertising and branding professionals there. In Bangkok, where most of the casting of local campaigns are conducted, Mr Srakaew’s Northern Thai look would be considered not outstanding enough, even common, and would not have excited those with control over large advertising budgets. One former marketing head told us that “You hardly ever see anyone dark-skinned in major campaigns. Local brands prefer the fairer models—both the men and the women. That’s why Nadech Kugimiya (Lieutenant Commander Dawin Samuthyakorn in The Crown Princess) is still hot and Cindy Bishop (host of Asia’s Next Top Model) still does shows.”

Thai model Zak Srakaew, first from left (and forth), in Burberry’s autumn/winter campaign. Photo: Burberry

That would generally mean the luk khreung (literally, ‘half-child’ in Thai, or mixed race, usually Thai-Western unions), such as model/actor Mario Maurer (half-Thai-Chinese, half-German)—in the just-concluded-on-Channel-U Thong Ake, The Pharmacist of Chaloang—and compatriot model/actress Urassaya Sperbund (half-Thai, half-Norwegian), popularly dubbed as “the first ever Thai celebrity featured in American Vogue”. Or the luk chin, those who are Chinese-looking but don’t have to be half-Thai. For the males, they would be boyish and would ideally look like they come from a wealthy merchant or property development family. Prime example in the Bangkok male modelling scene is the singer (and actor) from K-pop band 2pm Nichkhun Horawetchakun (mostly known by his first name): his parents are Chinese, and his family is wealthy, which, in South Korea, got him the nickname “the Prince.”

Zak Srakaew is/has none of the above. Burberry choosing him would be considered, in Thailand, casting against type. He does not come from a moneyed family and has virtually no presence in the entertainment industry. Mr Srakaew was born in Thailand, in the northeastern province of Roi Et, in an area known as Issan, which shares a border with Laos. The language and culture here is quite unlike the rest of Thailand. Issan is considered to be the Thai nation’s poorest region, and most Issan folks who move to big cities, such as Bangkok, normally go for work, and usually as manual, industrial or construction workers. Or, for the guys, muay Thai boxers. In fact, we are not aware of any Issan individual who has made a name for himself (or herself) in the modelling industry.

Zak Srakaew, first from left. Photo: Burberry

Mr Srakaew did not make it to Bangkok to seek a better life. At a young age, his Laotian father and his Issan mother were divorced, and he lived with father. His mother remarried and moved to the UK. But before he knew anything or understood what being brought up by a single parent really meant, his father died of a heart attack, leaving young Zak at the cusp of puberty without adult care or supervision. At age eleven, he was sent to be with his mother, who had settled down in the northern city of Manchester, home of The Stone Roses. As he told the curious members of the Thai media, his early years in the UK were hard, primarily because he “didn’t look like the other kids in school” and, more unfavourably, he could not speak English.

In fact, Mr Srakaew was illiterate. He told Vogue Thailand, “I have never been educated. I didn’t study; I couldn’t even read and write in Thai.” It is not revealed if his eventual education in the UK bore results. He did only say that he worked in an unnamed fast food restaurant. Modelling was not on the cards, but a photo he took with a model-pal caught the attention of an agent. Although he told GQ Thailand that he didn’t believe there was a model in him, “fate was determined that I had to go by this route.” Early assignments were mostly for sports brands, such as Fila; outdoor labels such as The North Face and Stone Island, as well as the e-tailer Asos. When the quintessential British brand Burberry called, he said, “At first I thought it was not true. (At the shoot) I felt like I was in a room we didn’t own.”

He now speaks with what could be a Northern English accent faintly lilted by an Asian twang of indeterminate origin. While home is in Manchester, Mr Sakraew has been looking towards Thailand. The income from modelling means he could fly his mother home frequently, and also to build a house for her in their Roi Et hometown. As he told, Vogue Thailand, “I lived in a small flat with my mother, struggling to pay the rent. But when I started my modeling career, I was able to pay for a room.” This Asian sense of place and piety, coupled by his Issan bad-boy look do set him apart from the pale and pretty perfection that is the Bangkok modelling scene, so much so that GQ Thailand swooned—Mr Srakaew “proves that the Thai style is outstanding internationally.” Did they take “Thai style” to mean upcountry or baan nork?

He is tall: 1.83m, according to his London men’s-only agency Supa Model Management. And he has those sprawling tattoos, which spread across half his upper body and down both arms. A yakuza would be duly impressed. In many of the photos shared on social media, Mr Sakraew has a pai kia intensity about him and is often dressed in what he calls “sporty look”, but to posh Londoners might be considered a tad chav. Even if not quite major among Bangkok fashion folks, his appeal is gaining traction among those in the gay community who “like them blue-collar looking or na hia hia (natural ‘rough-looking face’, with no makeup)”, as a graphic designer told us, and those who consider Mr Sakraew as aroi (delectable) as som tum (papaya salad), a dish with origins that can be traced to Issan and Laos. Newfound fans find his red-blooded provincial vibe charming as it contrasts with another trait: the guy loves cats!

Photos: Zak Srakaew