BAZAAR Cover: Gwen Lu On Making It On The Global Stage

Malaysian model Gwen Lu graces our BAZAAR cover as she looks back on carving her name in the global fashion scene, with her humility still very much intact.

Photography by Chee Wei. Styling and text by Abdul Aziz Draim.
Gwen Lu wears looks from Dior Spring/Summer ’24, with jewellery from Cartier. Shot on location at the SP Setia Corporate HQ in Shah Alam.
BAZAAR cover April '24 Gwen Lu

Harper’s BAZAAR Malaysia, April ’24, featuring Gwen Lu.

Born in Butterworth and growing up in Bukit Mertajam, Penang lass Gwen Lu now calls Athens home, where she is settled down with her husband since 7 years ago. Turning 40 this June, the 5′ 9” stunner is proof that a model can very well find work outside of their twenties, as she continues to captivate the world with her sharp features and lithe frame in campaigns and runways across the globe. To think that modelling wasn’t always in the cards for her—she was a quantity surveyor before modelling even came into the picture. “I started modelling quite late,” she said once in an interview with BAZAAR. “I must also tell you that it took a lot of convincing to get me started—that was back in my early twenties. But once I made up my mind and saw my real potential, I gave it my all.”

BAZAAR cover April '24 Gwen Lu

Asymmetric shirt, DIOR. Trinity earrings; Trinity necklace; Trinity bracelets; Trinity ring, all from CARTIER.

 

Throughout her career, Gwen has scored editorials in some of the world’s premier fashion titles—from Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand to China,  Japan, France and Mexico—as well as campaigns for the likes of L’Oreal Professionnel, Redken, Shiseido, and Adolfo Dominguez. She continues to walk the runway for labels such as Lemaire, Ganni and Remain but is most famously known for being something of a regular at Balenciaga, having walked for the House’s 50th Couture show as well as for the Balenciaga Spring 2023 show held on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange, among others. “I got goosebumps at the start of the show when they rang the trading bell and all the models were lined up with latex masks on, looking like glamourous outlaws,” she said of the show. “It was just beyond thrilling.” She was also featured in the Balenciaga Spring ’22 advertising campaign.

In spite of her international sucess, Gwen remains down-to-earth, arriving to our set with traditional biscuits to share with the crew. BAZAAR takes time out with the self-confessed hardworker to talk about her modelling journey, coping with rejections and the advice she has for Malaysia models wanting to make it big on the international scene.

On Suganya: Pleated silk chiffon dress, DIOR. Trinity earrings; Trinity necklace; Trinity ring; and Panthere de Cartier watch, all Cartier. On Gwen: Asymmetric shirt; trousers; and Dior Boy loafers, both from DIOR. Trinity earrings; Trinity necklace; Trinity bracelets; and Trinity ring, all from CARTIER.

 

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Tell us a little bit about your modelling journey. How did this Penang lass find herself on the fashion circuit to become an international model? Was modelling always on the cards since you were young? Who or what influenced the decision to pursue this career?
As a kid, I was quite shy and didn’t exactly fit in. I was transferred to my primary school at age 8, I had a weird name that my classmates made fun of, I hated being at the last row in class due to my height, and never ever had I thought about being a model when I was young.

A friend who was also Miss Penang encouraged me to join beauty pageants. Due to curiosity, I inquired at a local agency for a modeling course after I finished my college. I wasn’t happy with what I learnt in Penang, I started to dig more about supermodels and the international fashion scene online. When I completed my online degree, I didn’t waste time to look for vacancies in Kuala Lumpur in hope of pursuing modelling on the side. It turned out that my side gig took over, as I was signed by Elite New York during my first season in Singapore Fashion Week.

When you competed in the Elite Model Look Malaysia back in 2005, in all honesty, did you think you would win? What went through your head when you were declared the winner?
I didn’t think I would win as all my peers had their own strengths, and anyone could’ve won. I was overwhelmed. That was my first time to represent Malaysia on an international stage.

BAZAAR cover Gwen Lu for April '24

Oversized denim jacket; tank top; and flared mid-length skirt; all DIOR. Trinity earrings; Trinity necklaces; Trinity ring; and Panthere de Cartier watch, all from CARTIER.

 

You once said Ai Tominaga was a big influence on you, as an Asian model who made it big. And now with the global popularity of K-Pop and Thai stars, there’s even greater acceptance of Asian beauty though it wasn’t always like that a few years back. What was it like when you first arrived in New York, trying to make your mark as an Asian model? Did you have to work harder because you were Asian? 

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I think it wasn’t about being an Asian, but because of my family values, I had always and will always work hard. Just as I had to study hard, be at the top of my class, so I could have a “prize” of my choice every year. When I first arrived in New York, there wasn’t as much Asian culture and influence as we are seeing today. But there has always been the presence of Asian faces on the runway and in fashion campaigns. Even if it is of a smaller ratio, that’s what makes us stand out! I still adore Ai.

As a model starting out, I assume you were not immuned from rejections. Did it get to you sometimes? How do you cope with rejection?

I get rejections all the time, that I’m immuned to it now. When I was starting out, it made me think that I wasn’t good enough, it was a motivation to be better, to try again next time. Up to a point that no matter how hard I tried, the outcome was still the same, I thought about quitting. Mental support from my close friends helped me through. I learnt to find a balance amid the rejections, like picking up new skills, doing things that I enjoy, or even simple things like making a hearty meal at home. I will always strive to be better and I still won’t give up. But I don’t get hurt from rejections anymore.

You’ve been modelling for some time now and have become one of our geatest pride, a Malaysian model who continues to find success on the international scene. But when was the moment when you realise that you’ve made it as a model?

I don’t know! I had been modelling for so long… and I think every little step, every achievement was something, right? They all “made” who I am today.

Flared long dress and shirt, both from DIOR. Trinity earrings; Tirnity bracelets; Trinity rings; and Tank Louis Cartier watch, all from CARTIER.

 

What would you say is your most favourite runway gig thus far, and why?

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Balenciaga Winter ’22, that snowstorm show dedicated to Ukraine. The atmosphere was heavy that Fashion Week, so to be able to convey Demna’s message of the people at war gave me goosebumps all over. Can I pick another one? It’s Balenciaga again, the 50th Couture collection in the silent salon, Demna’s first for the House, and my first couture show, probably the only one.

Harper’s BAZAAR Malaysia is turning 21 this April. Do you remember what you were like at that age? What would you say is the one lesson you wished you had learned when you were 21?

Happy 21st Birthday! I was fearless at 21. I wished I was less rebellious, because that hurt the closest ones to me.

And how have you evolved since then, as a person?

I learnt to love, to accept and to forgive.

BAZAAR Cover April '24 Gwen Lu

Flared long dress and shirt, both from DIOR. Trinity earrings; Tirnity bracelets; Trinity rings; and Tank Louis Cartier watch, all from CARTIER.

 

Modelling is an industry that hinges on youth, and fresh new faces. You are turning 40 this year, and is living proof that there is life as a model after your 20s. What would you say is the key to longevity in this business?

Be humble at work—and be real! A pretty face can last a good few years, the personality will last for a long time.

What advice would you offer to Malaysian models who want to find success on the global scene? 

Having good representation is very important to pursue this industry internationally. Find someone whom you could trust, someone who can groom and mentor as you develop, and work hand-in-hand. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, it is your career: how much is the visa, the tickets, the advances; what is the model rate; how much is the commission percentage. Read the terms of your contract and keep track of your statement accounts—it is your money!

Can you share with us some of your personal beauty tips?

I love to pamper myself with a proper skincare routine. Don’t forget the sunscreen. And most importantly, you are what you eat! I avoid sugary and processed food, and focus on a balanced diet.

Sheer dress; bra; panties; Adiorable pumps; and Dior Toujours Bag (medium); all from DIOR.Trinity ring;Trinity earrings; andTrinity bracelets, all from CARTIER.

 

We are celebrating 21 years in Malaysia this issue. So for a quick-fire round:
Favourite Malaysian food? 

Street food – Penang Laksa.

Favourite Malaysian designer? 

Khoon Hooi.

Favourite Malaysian vacation spot? 

The unspoiled nature of Malaysia [Prior to our shoot, Gwen had just returned from spending time off with her family in the wild jungles of Kuala Tahan National Park].

Favourite Malaysian singer? 

P. Ramlee.

Do you plan to continue modelling in the long run? Or do you have other plans in the works?

I can’t predict the future, I will continue to model as long as this path is open to me. Meanwhile, I’m working on different projects on the creative side of things now.

 

CREATIVE DIRECTOR Abdul Aziz Draim
ART DIRECTOR Khairani Ramli
HAIR Ckay Liow
MAKE-UP Khir Khalid
PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS Ainina Hasnul & Syazrel Boharin
Special thanks to SP Setia Berhad for the use of their premises.