Seoul International Model Arena: Meet Collin and Sarah

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International Models in Seoul

In recent years, Seoul (Korea) has become one of the leading figures for world fashion. But even so, only a handful of foreigners work in Korea’s entertainment/fashion industry; it is especially hard to come by foreign models who actually live and work in Seoul.

So, I decided to interview two foreign models (separately) active in Seoul to write on their experience of not just a modeling industry, but the modeling industry in Korea. Our models are Sarah Banim who lives in Dongdaemun, Seoul, and Collin Dean Harris who lives in Itaewon, Seoul. After the interview, we had a short photoshoot around the neighborhood to showcase the outfits Sarah and Collin decided to meet me in.

Sarah

Hello! Please introduce yourself.

Hello, my name is Sarah and I am from Paris, France. I was born and raised in Paris, France. My father is Italian and my mother is from Cameroon.

When did you come to Korea and what brought you here?

My brother worked in Korea a few years back; at first, he was only supposed to stay for six months but he ended up staying for seven years. During that time he suggested that I visit. So I came in 2008 for two weeks. When I was here, I had a great time with so many amazing Korean friends. I came back as an exchange student twice, once more to visit in 2014, and within a month of staying, I started working as a reporter.

I’m always curious about how people go into modeling as a career. Was becoming a fashion model a childhood dream of yours or a job you just happened by?

Well, in my case, the modeling world kind of fell onto my lap. At the time, I was just trying to pursue my career as a foreign diplomat, my major being International Relations and second major, Korean studies. But my family and I have always been interested in art, too, and one day, I went to this photoshoot and the photographer there said to me, “Oh my god you are beautiful!” He suggested that I pose for a few photos and sent those pictures to several agencies. Soon after, I was offered modeling jobs.

What is your favorite aspect about working in the industry?

Modeling is very freeing and has taught me a lot. Many people don’t know that I am naturally not a people-person. I really like my personal space, but working in this industry has made me more confident as a person. I was never the “pretty girl,” I was just the girl with glasses sitting at the corner of the classroom. As I started modeling, I became bold and more sociable with others.

“People would call me Stick or Skeleton as my nicknames”

What is the hardest part of being a model here in Korea?

Many people in this business aren’t genuine and the fact is that a lot of what I do has to do with one’s physical appearance. Sometimes people have acted like my best friends and they were the ones to hurt me the most.

Can you tell us about some of your bigger modeling accomplishments?

As far as Korea is concerned, working for Push Button Line X Friends, Doii Mag, Logan Mu Studie, Eudon Choi, Elle, and Vogue have been some of my bigger accomplishments. I’ve worked for other smaller brands like The Face Shop, Too Cool for School, and Samsung. Other brands I have worked for are Slingstone, Noir, Antimatter, Nineteen Eighty, and Yhel.

Describe your personal style? Has your style changed since becoming a fashion model?

The first thing I look at when choosing what to wear is comfort. If it’s not comfortable I won’t wear it. You can see just from what I’m wearing right now that comfort is the key to my style. Models in Korea mainly wear black, but if you look at photos I took a few years back, you’ll see that I wore anything but black. These days, I wear a lot of black and am more of a dress person than a pants one.

What are your favorite places to hang out during your free time?

When I’m free, I usually hang around my area (Kyungri-dan area). I used to live in Hannam-dong so anywhere between Kyungri-dan and Hannam-dong are places that I frequent for dates with friends. I am a huge foodie and this area has a lot of good food to offer.

Tell us about a particular shoot that you enjoyed

My favorite shoot has to be the Pushbutton X Line Friends one. I might be biased but I just love the brand and the people I worked with were great fun!

If you quit modeling what would you do?

I wanted to become a diplomat, but after I graduated University I changed my mind. As of now, I think I would pursue reporting to write more cultural articles about other countries.

Future Goals?

I don’t know if I will continue to live in Seoul, but I am still interested in exploring reporting about culture-related topics.

It was great interviewing Sarah who has been setting her mark in Korea’s fashion industry still predominantly composed of Korean models. Follow Sarah through her Instagram account (@paris2seoul) for more information on her upcoming projects.

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Collin

Hello! Please introduce yourself

Hello! My name is Collin Dean Harris. I am from Chicago, Illinois, USA, and I am 23 years old.

When did you come to Korea and what brought you here?

I arrived in Seoul, June 2016. I originally came as a student, but then I realized how much I enjoy modeling so that is what I’m doing at the moment.

I’m always curious about how people go into modeling as a career. Was becoming a fashion model a childhood dream of yours or a job you just happened by?

Well, I started modeling back in 2015, when I was in college. I had several small jobs related to the field but it was only until I came to Korea that I began to really focus on a modeling career. So I contacted some people in the industry and from then on, I was given many modeling gigs.

What is your favorite aspect about working in the industry?

I love that there is a mutual respect between people when work is involved. There is an understanding of professionalism that is established between the model and designer which is a beautiful thing because it helps in creating teamwork for producing great results.

What is the hardest part of being a model here in Korea?

Honestly, I don’t find modeling to be that difficult, but waiting periods when no work comes in can be hard. During the wintertime, work can be scarce because many photoshoots and runways are scheduled during the spring and fall seasons. Yes, waiting times are the hardest part because your career is kind of put on hold and you need to have patience for the right opportunity to come up. It’s also quite nerve-racking to have to be chosen mainly for your aesthetical qualities/physical appearance.

Can you tell us about some of your bigger modeling accomplishments?

So far, I have modeled more than fifteen clothing brands. I also walked for Seoul Fashion Week runways, which I am very proud of because it is a big deal in the modeling world to take part in such shows. Other accomplishments include walking for Korea Style Week, featuring in several KPOP music videos such as Girl’s Generation Hyo Yeon’s MV, “Wanna Be”.

Describe your personal style? Has your style changed since becoming a fashion model?

My personal style is a mix of urban, free, and “I don’t care” fashion. I wouldn’t attach a formal concept to what I wear because it always depends on how I feel at that particular time. I grew up in a very strict family so I have a rebellious side that I often like to explore through my outfits.

What are your favorite places to hang out at during your free time?

I enjoy hanging out in Itaewon because many of my friends are there and I really enjoy the atmosphere. Otherwise, I just relax at home, write lyrics to songs, or hang out with my roommates if I don’t have any appointments.

Tell us about a particular photoshoot that you enjoyed

Recently, I did a collaborative shoot with my good friend, Kim Se-hoon, and another friend who is a video director. It was my first time modeling with a “darker” concept wearing a formal suit. The three of us worked well as a team and it was just an amazing experience.

If you quit modeling what would you do?

I have no idea. I love modeling so much that I’ve never really thought about doing anything else. If I had to choose, though, I would probably stick to something related to my major (Marketing) and work for the marketing division for a fashion brand or magazine.

Future Goals?

My goal is to continue being myself and encourage people to do the same. Many people around us are so bent on changing themselves to appeal to others but I don’t think that’s the way to go. I also want to do more work in countries like Milan, Paris, Tokyo, for their fashion weeks and be on the spread of major magazines such as Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Elle—especially Elle Magazine because I love their aesthetic.

Anything more you would like to say for our readers?

First, I’m really grateful to those who have supported me throughout the years. They have been the motivation that has brought me thus far; I appreciate the encouragement and inspiration they have been for the work that I am doing now. I love you all!

It was an honor to interview Collin who has been setting his mark in Korea’s fashion industry still predominantly composed of Korean models. Follow Collin (@choxopanda) through his Instagram account for more information about his upcoming projects

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By Amiira Ismail, reporter for The AsiaN

(Photos by Liam Kim)

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