Even for those familiar with Fernanda Ly’s career origin story, it bears repeating. In true supermodel-fairytale style, Fernanda was scouted in a Sydney shopping mall during her final year of high school. An instant favourite with casting agents, editors and designers, Fernanda’s first big gig was a coveted role - cast by Nicolas Ghesquière - as the face of Louis Vuitton’s global advertising campaign. In the seven years since she’s worked hard as a young model, becoming one of the industry’s most recognised faces.
Known for her pink hair, intuitively cool style and easygoing personality, Fernanda has also become something of an advocate and voice for other third culture kids in Australia. In a 2018 essay for Vogue, Fernanda wrote, “I am an outsider, neither entirely Chinese nor what people expect of an Australian. Although physically from the East, my mind and consciousness are Western. It is a strange disconnection I still feel. Exactly what am I?” As an articulate young person thrust into the spotlight - just as she herself was navigating the world as a first generation Australian - Fernanda’s thoughts and comments about her experience and racial dysphoria generally have helped widen acceptance within and beyond the industry.
Back in Australia recently, What Else? caught up with Fernanda for a photo shoot and to ask her a few questions about her thoughts on the fashion industry and her opinion on how, together, we might make it a better place.
What does the Australian fashion industry mean to you?
It was originally something I unconsciously strove to achieve recognition within, but it didn't seem to have a mutual interest in me.
How do you think we can work towards changing the industry here for the better? Both collectively and as individuals?
In my opinion it's a cyclical problem; if change occurs in one part of the cycle, the rest of the steps would have no choice but to also change. A lot of modeling agencies are overly keen to have their new faces debut internationally before they're mentally ready or have developed any understanding of what it actually entails or the skills it requires.
I’d like to see change occur at multiple points: to stop glamorising children and using them in advertising targeted at adults. This would help give models time to develop properly instead of being thrown in the deep end. Which would subsequently mean that models were more properly emotionally equipped and skilled, leading to a greater chance of a long career.
If we could shift the power balance to give models more agency I feel things would improve on most fronts.
What remains a status quo in the global fashion industry that could create change for the better?
Models are a cheap commodity; easily replaceable and seen as lesser. Rather than rapidly searching for the next flavour of the month and forgetting about the previous favourite, if models were properly taught, rather than plucked from streets and immediately walking an entire fashion week circuit, there would actually be longevity to their careers.
What is the best advice you would give to young models who look to your trajectory for inspiration?
I didn't go into this field intending to make it my career and neither should you. The entirety of my career began mostly as a result of luck. And even then succeeding to the point that I have means I'm of the 0.001%. Honestly, I'm still prepared to be told to go home at any time.
What has surprised you in life lately?
That when I was in Australia I actually got work. People remembered me, or knew of me. I assumed people had forgotten I existed because I spent a while away.
What is your favourite film?
Everything Everywhere All at Once is a recent favourite film. It really resonated with my upbringing and difficulties growing up as a first generation Chinese-Australian. I've been collecting Vivienne Westwood pieces ever since high school, where I would save lunch money for months in hopes of finally getting something.
In terms of music, embarrassingly, I love a lot of anime idol groups, my favourites being Aqours, Raise a Suilen, and Roselia.
Food: I named my pets after my favourite foods, namely soup (Tong Tong, a yellow labrador) and butter (my orange cat in nyc).
You have shared your experiences of modeling across a youtube channel you created, what do you most often reflect upon when thinking of your work history?
I always wonder if my career would be different if I kept silent on these kinds of interviews like most others. Would my bookings be better? Would clients have kept me instead of dropping me? Despite this I'm proud to have spoken out and grateful to have an audience who listens.
What would you say is necessary in terms of keeping you engaged and inspired in your work?
That Fernanda Ly the model and Fernanda Ly the person are separate entities. As a model I don't feel much shame or embarrassment with what I occasionally have to do - shooting in public places where people can see or wearing outlandish clothing. I can be serious about it all because this is a legitimate occupation.
You are an industry leader within fashion - what are the routines you follow (physical and mental) to keep centered in this job?
There's a world out there that doesn't revolve around fashion and modeling. Having hobbies and interests outside of the industry is the most important for me. A model doesn't get much creative input, so I use a lot of that energy making clay sculptures or editing videos I occasionally post to YouTube. I also joke that I spend too much time playing games, but it's actually my way of decompressing.
What is currently inspiring you in fashion?
I've been purchasing vintage pieces that could be mistaken for pyjamas so I'm at the ultimate level of comfort when outside.