Why Eileen Gu is luxury fashion’s dream model

For followers of freestyle skiing and fashion alike, the buzz surrounding Winter Olympian Eileen Gu at this year’s Games has come as little surprise.
The 18-year-old’s gold medal performance in the big air competition thrust her into the global spotlight Tuesday, sparking such a furor in China that social media platform Weibo crashed under the weight of interest. But Gu has spent years establishing herself as both a top athlete and a hugely bankable model who appeals to brands in both Asia and the West.

In 2021, as she won gold medals at the skiing World Championships and Winter X Games, Gu was also forging lucrative partnerships with fashion houses and luxury labels. Signing for IMG Models, the agency representing Bella Hadid, Kate Moss and Hailey Bieber, she has penned deals with Louis Vuitton, Victoria’s Secret and Tiffany & Co., as well as the luxury Swiss watchmaker IWC and cosmetics brand Estée Lauder, among others.
In fact, the California-born athlete is among the most heavily sponsored athletes at these Olympics. She arrived in Beijing with more than 20 commercial partnerships, ranging from Beats by Dre headphones to Cadillac.




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But it is Gu’s mass appeal in China, where she is known by her Chinese name Gu Ailing and has been nicknamed the “Snow Princess,” that makes her especially valuable to brands.
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Having switched her sporting allegiance to her mother’s home country in 2019, Gu’s fluency in Mandarin has helped secure her place on Chinese TV ads, billboards and even milk cartons (as the face of Inner Mongolia-based Mengniu Dairy). E-commerce giant JD.com, cafe chain Luckin Coffee and telecoms firm China Mobile are among the growing list of mainland brands that she’s modeled for in recent months.
China is on track to become the world’s largest luxury market by 2025, according to consulting firm Bain. The Asian edition of marketing and advertising industry magazine Campaign estimated that new endorsements there could be earning the athlete around 15 million yuan ($2.5 million) apiece — and that was before her gold-medal success.
According to Bohan Qiu, whose Shanghai-based creative agency Boh Project works with major fashion brands, Gu’s surging popularity in the country comes at a time when nationalist pride in China has seen “the relevance of Western celebrities” decrease.
“For this generation, a lot of the celebrities here are quite domestic-oriented — so (Gu) being half-American half-Chinese, and speaking both languages fluently, has a very global appeal,” he said over the phone, adding that the country’s Gen Z demographic contains “third culture kids” who simultaneously understand Chinese and Western contexts. “She is definitely a once-in-a-decade type of talent.”
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Gu has coupled big-money deals with reputable magazine features and appearances at A-list fashion shows. Spotted at events like Paris Fashion Week as far back as 2019, she has since been seen on Louis Vuitton’s front row and the notoriously exclusive Met Gala, where she arrived on the red carpet wearing a Carolina Herrera bubble dress.
“The fashion world has helped balance my training,” she told Vogue Hong Kong, appearing on the cover of the magazine’s July issue. “Just like skiing, modeling requires incredible expression and personality. It requires creativity, confidence, and the ability to learn and adapt… The transition between modeling and skiing became a break and a practice for each other that helped me eventually feel more motivated in each area.”

Gu has also appeared on the cover of Chinese editions of GQ and Elle. And as guest editor of Vogue China’s Gen-Z-focused bimonthly issue, Vogue+, the athlete recently explored the complexities of her identity under the theme “code switch.”
“I wanted to explore and showcase the inherently malleable nature of adolescent identities, Gu wrote on Instagram, “a quality I’ve found myself tapping into time and time again as I display different facets of myself (athlete, model, student, Chinese, American, teenager, writer, public persona, etc) in different environments. Everyone code switches, and I think it’s time we start celebrating that multifaceted nature.”

A ‘safe bet’ for brands
Gu’s social media is also littered with fashion. Whether posting to Instagram or writing to millions of followers on Xiaohongshu and Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Instagram and Twitter, respectively), her feeds flit between sport and style, with pictures from the slopes posted alongside modeling shots and her latest fashion editorials.
Her unguarded approach has helped her connect with young fans, in both China and the West, who want to see “above and beyond the training, the sports, the more official side of things,” said Qiu. “A lot of Chinese celebrities are much more protected by their agent or management, or they have a hard time sharing the more real sides of their lives.”
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Shortly after last Friday’s opening ceremony, Gu posted a “lookbook” of outfits she had worn at the Games so far. Elsewhere, she has shared messages support from supermodel Karlie Kloss and a viral video of her unboxing gear from Chinese sportswear brand Anta for an impromptu fashion show in the Olympic village.
“My god, that vest and down jacket give off supermodel vibes,” wrote one user beneath the latter video on the Chinese version of TikTok, Douyin. “The Frog Princess is so fashionable,” read a comment on another video, using another Chinese nickname given to Gu on account of a green ski helmet she wore as a child. “Cheering you on to be the best at the Winter Olympics.”

Source: https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/eileen-gu-china-fashion-brands-olympics-intl-hnk-mic/index.html

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