After being model scouted at a young age while living in Singapore, John Lwin enjoyed a successful career, modelling all over Southeast Asia between 1989 to 1995, from Hong Kong to the Philippines. Later, he moved back to Myanmar to start Stars & Models International and Myanmar’s International Fashion Week. Here he discusses his experiences in the industry and becoming the “Father of Models” in Myanmar.
How did you become involved in the modeling industry?
When I was young I never thought that I’d become a model. I was in a bus stop in Singapore and someone approached me and asked if would be interested in being a model. At that time I worked in the factory where I earned 25 Singapore dollars per day, so I said why not!
What did your experiences as a model teach you about the industry?
In Singapore they taught me how to do the catwalk, how to present clothes and how to shoot photos campaigns. In Myanmar only actresses did that kind of work. I wasn’t interested in modelling – I only wanted the money. In one month I could make up to 25,000 Singapore dollars. But my heart wasn’t in it. The first show that I did was for underwear and there was a dresser checking all the people that went on stage. And she thought my private parts were not in the right position so she reached in to make an adjustment! I didn’t see anything for the whole show – I was so shocked! After that I realised that they treated us like a mannequin, they didn’t care about who we are.
What made you return to Myanmar?
In 1995 one of my friends wanted to do a fashion show in Myanmar and so he approached me to ask if I would come back to help. Then I recruited a lot of models. We went to universities, we went to schools and Bogyoke Market to recruit models. Then I trained them for one month. I did this show and I became very popular. I’m the first person to set up a modelling business here; my government company registration is 0001. That’s why people call me “Father of Models” because they say that I am the one who gave them the opportunity to become a model.
You are the CEO and founder of Stars and Models International, what are you looking for when you select a model to be part of your agency?
I have to see something in them, something that tells me that this person can be famous. There has to be an X-factor. I can’t explain it to you.
How did you come to start the International Fashion Week in Myanmar?
When I moved back here, I saw that there was no Myanmar designers. I decided that we had to promote designers to help grow the fashion industry. This is the 7th year of the International Fashion Week, it started in 2011. Now it is very different. The first time we did it, the designers did not understand how to show their work. But now they can see other designers from around the world on the Internet. They understand about colour coordination and what colours to use each season. It’s more professional now.
What is the process for choosing a designer to be featured in the show?
I don’t approach designers who are already famous. I want to promote new designers. But some designers in the show are famous so we have a mixture.
What are you expectations for Shartra’s collection?
This year he will use lotus fabric in his show. A lot of young designers can’t afford to buy their fabrics, they need support. So I found a lotus fabric supplier to support the show so he came make his dresses.
Mogok Pauk Pauk is returning this year – how would you describe the impact that she has had on Myanmar fashion?
She is a very famous designer and I think her show will go very well. She learnt her skills in Europe and after she came back she talk to me and told me she was now a designer. I organised for her to design the dresses for a show in Yangon and she became very famous.
Why do you think it is important for Myanmar to have an International Fashion Week?
There’s a lot of young people and old people interested in fashion. I hope everyone that’s interested in fashion will come to our show, it’s free but they need tickets. They can come to my agency or approach a designer for tickets. But no ticket means no seat – so please get one!
The Myanmar International Fashion Week by John Lwin runs from 7th to 9th December at Hexagon Complex, Yangon.