Tuesday 6 December 2016

Top model Yomiko Chen: When I came to Ireland I spoke no English and had never worn high heels

Published 03/05/2015 | 09:00

Top, The Kooples, Brown Thomas. Shorts; headpiece, both Claire Garvey Designs. Photo: Kip Carroll.
Top, The Kooples, Brown Thomas. Shorts; headpiece, both Claire Garvey Designs. Photo: Kip Carroll.

Yomiko Chen is one of the most recognisable faces in the Irish modelling industry, but finding her feet in the business took a great deal of steely determination.

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The half Chinese half Japanese beauty arrived in Ireland ten years ago, keen to carve a career for herself.

""I wish I was spotted," she laughs, "but, no, I came here and decided to go around and try all the modelling agencies. And I went to Derek [Daniels] at Assets [Model Agency] and they signed me up straight away."

Over a decade later, Yomiko remains one of the most visible models with bookings for various commercial and editorial shoots and shows every day, but she recalls that it was a "big learning curve" to get to where she is today.

Corset, Claire Garvey Designs. Shoes, Zara
Corset, Claire Garvey Designs. Shoes, Zara

"In the beginning, it was a big learning curve," she says, shaking her head with amused wonder. "Because it wasn't just the work, it was living here, too. It was everything. At my first job, it was so much, all at once. I had never worn high heels before. I had never done catwalk. I didn't know how to walk on a catwalk. I was there, eating a bag of chocolate, with no water with me. I had no English!

"Even my shoe size I didn't know," she exclaims. "We don't say size four or whatever, we say 37. So I didn't know what shoe size I was, and so I said I was 6, and I get these huge shoes. So I have high heels and too big. And I don't know how to catwalk. But I finished. And I didn't fall."

If Yomiko is one thing, it is determined. She likes to be challenged, she likes to rise to a challenge, and she never rests on her laurels. The learning curve of her early modelling career was a pleasure as a result.

"I'm so grateful I got the opportunity to model, that I worked really hard. And I understood, you know, that this is a small industry in a small city, so I had to work a little bit harder," she says, indicating that she very quickly had the measure of the relatively parochial Irish.

Top, The Kooples, Brown Thomas. Shorts; headpiece, both Claire Garvey Designs. Photo: Kip Carroll.
Top, The Kooples, Brown Thomas. Shorts; headpiece, both Claire Garvey Designs. Photo: Kip Carroll.

"In London, for example, if you make a mistake, it's easier. At each job, you might meet different people and have different clients, so it's OK if you make a mistake. But in Dublin, if you make a mistake, people can talk and it will be bad. So I made sure that they knew I would never be late, I would always do my best, I would never make a bad atmosphere on a job."

Yomiko doesn't think that being one of the few Asian models in Ireland has been an advantage or a disadvantage for her career.

"The competition is the same," she says. "Sometimes my look works for me, works for a job, sometimes it doesn't. Clients give me one chance. And I do my best to learn fast so I can keep them."

With no English, however, were Yomiko's early years in Dublin not very lonely?

Kimono, Zara. Shoes, River Island. Bodysuit; belt, both stylist’s own. Photo: Kip Caroll
Kimono, Zara. Shoes, River Island. Bodysuit; belt, both stylist’s own. Photo: Kip Caroll

"No, it was not difficult for me to make friends," she says. "Everyone was so friendly and they all tried to help me and explain things to me, and basically, we are all very happy together. We don't really need a language. Body language is enough." She says she does not have one particular friend, but a lot of really good ones.

"I think my agency is my family," she adds. "I spend more time with those girls than with my family back home. Girls like Sarah Morrissey and Karen Fitzpatrick, I see them every single day sometimes."

Read the full interview with Yomiko in today's LIFE Magazine with the Sunday Independent

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