The Summer 2021 cover star says that the time has come for people to talk about anti-Asian racism. “They are sharing global experiences and something that Asian expatriates grew up with. The situation has worsened over the past few years, where casual racism has been openly acknowledged.”
The sees Fernanda Lea coming down the runway and posing in editorial and advertising campaigns, which is Cool’s hallmark. She experiences both a quiet magnetism and an air of mystery, which some may interpret as a stalemate. Fernanda Liye is hot and self-effacing with soft edges in real life. For someone whose presence attracts attention to the camera, she is very noticeable when she is away from the watch. Except when it matters. Then Ly appears and is not afraid to speak.
Her YouTube channel provides perhaps the most intimate look at Real Ly, showing many aspects of her prismatic personality. Originally intended as a behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to be a working model in the fashion industry, it has evolved, thanks to epidemics, into a channel for Ly’s diverse and sometimes distinct interests – his Luxury handbag and shoe collection, her thrill and beauty in creating a mechanical keyboard, her love of anime and cosplay. But she doesn’t hesitate to dig deep, especially when sharing the realities of being a model – the good and the bad. “The fashion industry is truly secretive, even if it has such a great image,” Lee says on a zoom call from New York. “I want potential models to be aware of what they are signing up for and to bring awareness to tasteless parts.”
Ly first blazed into the fashion world with her pastel-pink hair at the age of 19, when she walked in Louis Vuitton’s Fall 2015 show, which was full of runways. He was booked by creative director Nicolas Gesquière, who signed him for a five-season special runway. Ly not only mesmerized attendees at Paris Fashion Week, but also attracted the fashion world’s collective attention – it was practically trembling with enthusiasm.
This was a very impressive achievement for the girl who was scouted in a shopping center in her hometown of Sydney, Australia, just two years before her final high-school exam. Prior to this, Lee had been in relatively normal existence. He was born to Chinese parents who moved from Vietnam to Australia in search of a better life and grew up in the suburbs of Sydney. The Honors student was pursuing an architecture degree at the University of Technology Sydney, until her career was catapulted to a catwalk appearance. Once the work started, he stopped his studies and focused all his attention on modeling.
Ly booked shows and advertising campaigns for fashion heavyweight such as Dior, Chanel, Tiffany & Co. and H&M. He traveled the world for a photo shoot near Mount Fuji from Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve (to raise awareness for elephant conservation). Meanwhile, her quirky fashion sensibility made her a street-style favorite and her striking pink hair topped every beauty mood board. (FYI, her acclaimed cotton-candy varieties were a DIY dye job, thanks to some bleach and manic panic.)
Despite his success, Lee attempted, in his own words, to be more than “a hanger”. In 2017, she contributed to a series of personal essays on Model.com, highlighting sexual harassment within the modeling industry. She shared her experience of being inappropriately touched by a stylist and pointed out that models are abused in various ways. Several models who shared their experiences surveyed the website opted to remain anonymous. Before adding, she admits, “I too pondered this a lot:” It feels more personal when you know who experienced what and what. I wanted people to know that they are not alone. “
This decision may seem odd with the model’s reticent personality, especially since Lee has always protected her personal space. “There are some things that I feel are more important than my privacy, which is why I choose to speak about them,” she explains. This is why she deliberately slips, she has more weight.
Ly inadvertently became a cool Asian model who came with her own set of pressures and expectations, especially for someone her age. “People had an image of me, and I wanted to reach that image and do as they thought I would, without really knowing who I am within myself,” she shares.
She also became aware of how the industry views Asian models. “Asians are not a stone pillar,” Lee says. “Everyone thinks an Asian person is Chinese, Japanese or Korean. They always think of East Asia, but so is Southeast Asia. And when they want an Asian model, it’s always black hair and pale skin. Is a model. People don’t realize that we also come in many different colors and varieties. There are billions of Asians, so why would people think that we all look the same? “
When it comes to identification, Ly has struggled to put them in boxes and none of them fit neatly. She is too much Australian to become an Asian model, too Chinese and not enough Chinese to become an Australian model because her parents are from Vietnam. Once she moved overseas, she realized that she truly felt Australian the most. Ironically, this is part of his identity about which he is frequently questioned.
Earlier this year, anti-Asian hate crimes grew and gave rise to the Stop Asian Hate movement, which added another layer to an epidemic that was already full of challenges. “It’s about time that people became aware of our experiences, which are not limited to the US alone,” she says. “They are sharing global experiences and something that Asian expatriates grew up with. The situation has worsened over the past few years, where casual racism has been openly acknowledged.”
Lee is also no stranger to this. “I think you will work hard to find an Asian man who has not experienced any kind of racism in his life,” she says. “I have – through work. People try to talk about me, not knowing that English is my first language and I can understand them. It seems small, but it has been a lot of anger within you for years. And creates resentment. “
As more people are vaccinated and see a ray of hope, Lae’s discomfort continues. “There’s always this dull feeling of sadness and anger because we’re all worried about what the next big thing will be,” she says. The easier it is to step outside, the bigger it has become. “Going out is considered safe, but it’s still very scary. What if I’m ahead?” When his friends go by bike, in addition to their masks, they wear sunglasses and a hat and tie their hair back so that they are not easily identified as Asian. “This is something they are about to do for leisure,” Lai laments.
Despite the challenges of the epidemic, some expectations remain. Lai, who confesses to being a homebody, has learned to adjust. She taught herself video editing for her YouTube channel. Last December, she brought home a kitten named Butter, who smoked and entertained her. When the fashion industry turned to the zoom shoot, Lee welcomed some of the creative control she gained as a model. “We had to do our makeup ourselves or wear our accessories, which was really fun,” she says. And the epidemic has strengthened some of his friendships as well.
At the moment, her modeling work has started picking up again. Another thing that probably will not remain the same for a long time is the color of Lai’s hair, which has been blonde for the past two years. When she dyed it after coloring in the same color for about seven years, she decided that it was her new one – big and sensible. But any further color palette she lands on, she has already proved that she is more than just a “pink haired girl”.
photography by Lily and lilac. Styling by Devian lan. Creative direction by George Antonopoulos. By hair Ben Jones for Bridge Artists / Redken. By makeup Eli Smith for Bridge Artists / Mac. By manicure Alina Ogawa for Bridge Artists / Zoya. Photography Assistant: Chris Cook. Fashion Accessories: Pierina Carlin, Jacqueline Ben Schumpe. Makeup Assistant: Tomomi Gonzalez.