Model & Creative Director
Yueyao Li (@wawalyy) is a Chinese model & creative director based in Paris and NYC. She started modelling only three years ago, but has started to make a name for herself in the industry. She is also a keen painter, and has started to work as a creative director. We got the chance to ask her a few questions about her experiences so far, Read on to find out what she had to say...
Solstice: Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? What did you like to do as a child/teenager?
Yueyao: I was born and raised in Northeastern China, in a small town called Harbin. My parents were both busy working when I was little, so I spent a lot of time at my grandparents. I loved watching grandpa practicing calligraphy and painting all day. I also loved helping grandma to cook. She used to make sweet red bean pancakes all the time, and I would make flower-shape pancakes with leftover flour.
Solstice: How did you get into modelling? Were you scouted or did you apply to an agency?
Yueyao: To be honest, my experience could be a little different from other models. 6 years ago, I went abroad for my studies. It’s impossible to work with a student visa, so I signed up for an internship for LA Fashion Week. The last day of the show, a designer was short of models. Then he saw me and asked: “Can you walk in high heels?” I nodded. Then I got my 1st runway experience. Even though I wasn’t able to be signed immediately because of my visa after my 1st runway show. I never stopped trying or gave up modelling. After graduating I signed with my mother agency and officially started modelling.
Solstice: How has the pandemic affected you and your work?
Yueyao: I graduated the September of 2019, and that was also the time I started modelling. Covid happened when I just started having more bookings. I was lucky to be able to get “distracted” with my school at that time. I started my study for Fine Art at Parsons the Spring of 2020. The huge chunk of free time also made me able to think about my future career. Besides modelling, I also do creative directing, producing and paint with oil paints. Covid indeed gave me a chance to see the future path clearly. Funnily enough, I actually got signed internationally during Covid through my current mother agency, DNI Models. They scouted me through Instagram and had me signed with agencies in Europe.
Solstice: You are based in both NYC and Paris, how do the cities differ to each other in terms of lifestyle and work? And which one do you prefer?
Yueyao: I have to say NYC and Paris are very different in every way. Paris is very into natural beauty and classic fashion style in very inspiring ways. While NYC is more about personalities, diversities and uniqueness. Working in NYC is a lot of hard work and tight schedules. Paris is way chiller, with coffee breaks and professional teamwork. I am a workaholic myself. It took me a while to get used to Paris’ working style. However once I’m used to it, I realised how amazing it is to slow down a little and enjoy the process. NYC is home, Paris is the world for upcoming adventures. I love both NYC and Paris.
Solstice: You’ve walked down the runway at NYFW, what is the experience at a fashion week like? What is like to walk the runway in front of so many important fashion personalities?
Yueyao: NYFW is quite a week of hustles. Running from one casting to another, from Brooklyn to Manhattan, you and your next destination is just an email away. A while before the fashion week I would have 4-5 castings a day and a few last minute ones. Once casted, you will need to do the fitting. After all of these, here comes the most exciting part - The final show. When walking on the runway, I imagine myself becoming part of the design. Every design piece has its own unique story, I want to tell the stories and spread the inspirations for my designers while walking on the runway. Wear it, own it and become it.
Solstice: Are there any models or fashion industry personalities that have had a big influence for you or acted as a great source of inspiration?
Yueyao: My favourite designers are Alexander McQueen and Elsa Schiaparelli. Nothing is impossible as long as you have passion and pure heart to create and inspire.
Solstice: Which are your favourite shoots/campaigns that you’ve worked on, and why?
Yueyao: My favourite shoot is my 1st confirmed job when I moved to Paris. Being a model who just turned 25 and moved to Europe the very first time, I was excited and a little scared because of all the uncertainties. The first two weeks after I moved, there was no work at all. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure if I made the right choice. Is Europe the right choice for me? Then, I was booked for YSL Beauty campaign. I cried when hearing the confirmation. My agency in NYC doesn’t have many strong clients. So when I was working in NYC there’s always a voice telling me that:” You deserve better.” Following that voice, I decided to move to Paris and prove myself to myself.I did it and it was the best decision ever. No matter what, never stop dreaming; never give up your dream.
Solstice: What are the best and worst parts of being a model? Has your perception of the modelling industry changed over time?
Yueyao: For me, the best part is definitely meeting amazing creative and talented people through work. I met my favorite human beings in the world, Ela, a designer and Willie, a make up artist, during photo shoots. Now they are not only my best friends, but also part of my team for creative projects. I don’t think there’s a “worst” part when it comes to modelling. Of course there’s a lot of “being chosen” and “being judged”, but all of these taught me to accept and embrace all parts of me, the good and the bad. Nobody is perfect.
Solstice: How do you keep yourself fit and healthy?
Yueyao: Before tuning 18 I was always the chubby kid in the group. Then one summer I decided to lose weight. Nine months later, I had lost 80 lbs (36.2kgs). I had a hard time with food at the beginning, but I have learned that the most important thing is to embrace your body and be happy with the gift of life your parents gave you. Once you are fine with this, staying fit and healthy is easy. I love nature, and travelling by myself, So I always take the train with my backpack. I do sports like squash and tennis three times a week. When it comes to food, I love cooking myself. I rarely cook with oil because I love the natural flavours of veggies. Mediterranean and Japanese cuisines are always my go-to.
Solstice: What is your favourite outfit/piece of clothing/style?
Yueyao: Vintage clothes are my all time favourite. I love mixing classic with modern vibes. Whenever I have time, I would take a trip to small town for thrifting. Listening to the store owner telling me the stories of a pair of earrings is the most enjoyable thing in the world to me. Old objects have souls and that’s what makes them special. I also love colourful socks. I own tonnes of them with different colours and words. Believe me, a pair of socks can change your entire look!
Solstice: You’ve also been in quite a few music videos, is there a big difference between working on fashion shoots and music videos?
Yueyao: The music videos are more about music and the singers. So a lot of movements and dancing are happening during the shoot. Just like a fashion shoot, It could happen at a desert, a grocery store or even at central park. The purpose of it is more to serve the singer and the vibe of the song.
Solstice: A model’s career is relatively short, so do you have anything that you’d like to do after modelling?
Yueyao: I have been doing creative directing for a while. For sure, I will continue my creative projects and directing work. Also, now that I finally settled in Paris, I will start doing oil painting as always. Meanwhile, I am building my own brand making customised phone cases. It would be my first time having my own “business”. Lots of challenges and upcoming unknowns, but I am sure I will learn and grow a lot out of this experience. I believe that I got this!
Questions by Ava Fletcher