Photo: Liu Wen/ AFP

Top names Cara Delevingne and Miranda Kerr failed to make the cut for Forbes’ 2017 list of top-earning models, but Chinese supermodel Liu Wen retained her footing in the ranking.

In fact, at No. 8, she is the only non-white model in the recently released list that is headed by Kendall Jenner, 22, who pulled in an estimated US$22 million (S$30 million).


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Liu’s estimated earnings of US$6.5 million also moved her one step up the ranking from her No. 9 spot last year. This proves that the Hunan-born supermodel, 29, who has chalked up a string of accolades in more than a decade’s work in the fashion industry, has staying power.

She is the first model of east Asian descent to feature in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show and the first Asian model to make Forbes magazine’s annual highest-paid models list – back in 2013 when she placed in the top five.

She has remained in demand even as the likes of younger, more Instagram-friendly models such as Jenner – who replaced veteran Giselle Bundchen this year at No. 1 – Gigi Hadid (No. 6 with US$9.5 million) and Bella Hadid (No. 9, US$6 million) have taken big strides forward on the runways.


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Amid the onslaught of younger faces, Liu’s earnings this year took a small dip from last year’s US$7 million. Still, the 1.8m-tall supermodel continues to carry the flag for Asia since her emergence on the scene 12 years ago, with admirers including fashion designer Anna Sui and philanthropist Wendi Murdoch.

She is not afraid to be a role model too. “It’s a turning point,” Vogue cited Liu as saying. “Being a supermodel is when this career transforms from a job into something that now involves social responsibility. A part of your world now also belongs to everyone else.

“Your behaviour and attitude can now impact others in a greater way, so there is now a responsibility to inject some positive energy into the world,” she noted.

Liu knows her every move is watched for she has 3.4 million Instagram followers and more than 18 million on the Weibo micro-blogging platform.

To her fans, her unlikely success story is an inspiration.

Indeed, her early years in the industry were a tough slog after she earned second place in a 2005 modelling contest and relocated from southern China to Beijing at 18.

Her perseverance paid off in 2008 when she was invited to walk the runways at Paris fashion week.

Now that she has broken into top-end modelling, she hopes to take the next step on the acting stage.

She has said “modelling is close to acting and I hope that, in the next five or 10 years, I can do some acting”. However, “I don’t want to be just a beautiful girl in a movie – I want to be a cool girl like in a James Bond movie”.

She has already made the first foray on television. In 2015, Liu and South Korean singer Choi Si Won paired up for We Are In Love, a Chinese spin-off of the South Korean reality show We Are Married in which celebrities date one another.


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In real life, she has not had much romantic success. Back in 2010, when she was 22, Liu admitted to never having had a boyfriend.

“All the models talk about boyfriends. Even my mum asks me, ‘Where is your boyfriend?’ But I’m a little busy for that. Besides, in China, girls marry at 24. So I have two years.

Four years later, Liu again revealed that she was single. “There’s nobody in my life – this is very sad. Perhaps you can put it in the interview that I’m looking for a boyfriend; they can contact my agent.

“There’s a lot of travelling with my job and I can’t say to a boyfriend, ‘Please wait for me, I have to go on a job’,” she added.


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Given the continuing demand for her services, as reflected in the Forbes ranking, it is unlikely she can fit a man into her busy schedule just yet.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.