Though Tao Okamoto is stuck with a rather plain face and silhouette to work with, somehow, she takes it all into stride as the icon for the Asian model, and as a declared supermodel-in-the-rising with the support of regional Vogue magazine counterparts. She’s the ultimate amalgamation of every Oriental fashion stereotype, which doesn’t count much for versatility, but in this being the era for the Other, it certainly has put her on top of the game. You quite simply, need to know Okamoto because when Asians became cool, hers was the face the fashion industry associated the status with.
Okamoto hails from Japan, and was born May 22nd in 1987. Her beginnings are obscure (started modelling around 14, went to Singapore for a year after six years, then went to Paris after), and the most concrete fact about her start is that her first agency was Elite, to which she was signed on to in 2006. That year, she walked the runways for Emanuel Ungaro and Martin Grant in Paris, then for Marc Jacobs and Cynthia Steffe in New York in the following. But it wasn’t until 2009 that she truly became a global phenomenon, with a Ralph Lauren FW2009 campaign.
It was truly a gig from heaven. The campaign opener was of a backstage shot of Okamoto – so when she got the booking call from her agent, she also went straight to post-shoot final details. And then that advert put Okamoto on the map.
She began getting booked for racial-friendly international campaigns for the remainder of that year.
For the most of her career, Okamoto never stopped posing for her native basicwear haunt, Uniqlo. The further the global network for the brand expanded, the more significant her casting became as the standout feature Asian.
To this day, Okamoto continues to represent Asians in multi-racial campaigns. We’re all by now, just waiting for her to get to the pinnacle, Estee Lauder.
But Okamoto’s appeal came with the haircut she debuted at the Ralph Lauren show in 2009. Reportedly she decided to cut her hair when her old agency told her that rejection surrounded her over her typical Asian look, replete with long black hair. The bowl crop became her golden ticket – it made her the face for the edgy Asian. In fact, her look was so high in demand, Philip Lim had all his models wear wigs inspired by her crop in FW2009.
Editorially, Okamoto’s portfolio strength lies within that exclusive raw, avant garde feel. The combination of deadpan with an icy bone structure assures her ferocity with every take.
I admit, I never really like her in feminine drapes.
Her bone structure takes a pretty picture…
But her strength lies in an innate sense of empowered intrigue. Her look truly is a modernized update of the commercial Western-Oriental Other dichotomy.
Trends (individuality ones more so than others) might come and go, but Okamoto has made an indellible elevation to the Asian model’s profile in her era. And that’s quite the accomplishment for a 23-year-old.
What do you think of Tao Okamoto?