Soo Joo is an exceptionally special model currently in the highest of demand.
She’s special firstly because of her unique looks that have won the hearts, covers and campaigns of the industry. She’s also special because when she turns up almost unannounced at my office, bundled up in a fur parka, she softly suggests we conduct our interview in the pub. Thus over a vodka tonic we discuss the mix of drive and luck that has carried her to the top of her profession.
In this winter’s Chanel campaign, Soo Joo portrays a particularly glamorous astronaut, clad in silver patent leather on a space ship. It’s a cliché to call a model’s look alien, but how else to describe her, the Korean girl with bleached white hair and endless limbs? Staring out from the pages of various Vogues, or the Tom Ford adverts, or Carine Roitfeld’s CR Fashionbook, she’s how one might imagine women the look like in the distant future, once we’ve colonised the moon and the races have become one.
Soo Joo is in fact from the more pedestrian Anaheim, California. She moved there age ten from Korea after asking her parents to send her to live with her grandparents. I mention that the only facts I know about Anaheim are that it’s the home of both Disney and fellow bottle blonde Gwen Stefani, to which she laughs. “Just like Gwen Stefani! Tragic Kingdom! Except for me it was the Magic Kingdom, I was still very young… It’s kind of a strange case because I don’t think a kid around ten is usually willing to part with their family. But for me it was like, this place is so amazing and I want to learn about a different culture, it was just really fascinating.”
In essence, from the age of ten, Soo Joo has been modern. Driven to up sticks across the Pacific, she then went to study architecture at Berkeley, before working as a graphic designer in San Francisco. It wasn’t until she went blonde a year and a half ago that her modeling career starting building momentum, after an unexpected Vogue Korea shoot whilst visiting her cousins. From there she booked three shoots in Carine’s self titled fashion tome, and hasn’t looked back since. “My connection to Chanel was through Carine. I was still at home in LA, after New Year, chilling [laughs], because haute couture wasn’t even on the radar for me. All of a sudden I got a phone call and they’re like “So Chanel want to meet you.” I had to get my Mom to drop me off at the airport, and then the next day they saw me and booked me as an exclusive. I still remember that. It’s one of the most momentous occasions.”
“Tom Ford, that was also with the help of Ms. Roitfeld. I was in London, doing okay at the time. I go in, I met him, he really liked me – last season he called it cross cultural, multi ethnic, so he really liked the fact I was from California, he called me Miss Anaheim, I spoke English and had blonde hair, and a weird personality so I got along with him really well.”
Prior to her modelling career going stratospheric, Soo Joo was working on her music. Models having a ‘slash’ career is common, but it seems natural to want a creative avenue when in the rest of your working life you’re a blank canvas for others to project their fantasies on. “I’ve started listening to Hip Hop again, and not even obscure Hip Hop but like Pop; I love Drake and Lil Wayne. Otherwise I like Crystal Castles and more stuff like that.” She’s also a fan of K-Pop artist G-Dragon, with whom she shared the cover of Vogue Korea in August, and talk turns towards the new generation of Korean creatives such as rapper and style icon CL, who are influencing visual culture worldwide. “In Korea everyone is afraid of not being the norm, the standard, and my parents were the same way. They were extremely disappointed when I decided not to do something more academic or stable, but I think now they enjoy it and are proud of me.”
Aside from her music, her next project involves “Shaping my image into something that’s more than a model. More creative. I would love to collaborate with publications or brands. Right now I’m talking to one of my friends who has a line of sunglasses called Regard, it’s handmade in horn.” Becoming her own creation seems to have been her lifelong project, ever since she set the wheels in motion by transplanting to Anaheim. For her modelling career she wanted the best, saying “I always wanted to do high fashion editorials, I didn’t really care about money.” With this ambition realised, it’s exciting to see what she’ll do next. In her own words, “I was never really happy being the norm, but I just didn’t really know how to go about changing it.”
Words: Jack Sunnucks
Photography: Rory Payne
Styling: Matthew Josephs