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Here's What a Male Model Thought of 'Zoolander 2'

We took Sang Woo Kim to watch the return of Derek Zoolander and talk about real-life fashion industry excess, the need for fashion police and the wretchedness of professional modelling.

by Amelia Dimoldenberg
15 February 2016, 2:24pm

Sang Woo Kim (second from right) in a United Colors of Benetton ad

Last Friday, the long-awaited Zoolander 2 opened in cinemas across the UK. The film is just as ridiculous as the first one and, bar Kirsten Wigg and Penélope Cruz, includes the majority of the original cast – it's just that, this time, they all look 15 years older and know how to work a selfie stick.

As with the original Zoolander, the sequel attempts to satire the fashion industry. However, the film has already been roundly criticised both for just not being that funny and for inviting members of the industry to take part in the film. Zoolander was so successful partly because it was made by outsiders lampooning people who take themselves exceptionally seriously, whereas this time round it relies heavily on cameos from some of the most famous names in fashion, begging the question: can Zoolander 2 work as satire of the fashion industry if the fashion industry is now in on the joke?

A question as big as that can only be answered by someone with firsthand knowledge of the fashion world, so we decided to take male model Sang Woo Kim to see Zoolander 2 in the hope he'd be able to help. Sang, born in Seoul and based in London, has fronted campaigns for DKNY, Dolce and Gabbana, Armani and, most recently, Diesel, so certainly has form when it comes to being professionally good-looking.

The trailer for 'Zoolander 2'

VICE: What were your initial thoughts on the film?
Sang Woo Kim: It's the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen in my life. I thought it was great because this time Ben Stiller has managed to manipulate really famous members of the fashion industry into being a part of the film.

What do you think about the fashion industry's relationship with celebrity in general?
The majority of people in the fashion industry just want to be famous. I think it was a sign of desperate measures for people from the industry to appear in the film, in order to gain some kind of celebrity status. But I also think that a lot of people in the fashion industry who were asked must have rejected the roles. I reckon Cara Delevingne's managers didn't allow her be in the film. Cara is trying to take this whole acting thing really seriously, and good for her.

How are you different from Derek Zoolander?
Although I do my job as a model and things have gone well for me, this isn't what I want to do as a career. But for Derek and Hansel, modelling is their life; they are the two biggest models ever – taking on all the female roles. So, in that sense, the film is really taking the piss, because there isn't a Derek or Hansel in the real modelling world. A guy could never get to that level. Also, the elements of action in the film are completely out of the question.

So is modelling just a stepping-stone for you?
It's difficult when people ask me what I do. I always say I'm a model, but I really should say artist first – but I'm almost embarrassed to say that, because I know everyone knows me as a model. That's what is hard, because my passion is art. I haven't really done anything to become a model. I've been very fortunate – I thank my parents for the way I look, and thank god I'm Asian at the right time. Diversity is a trend now and that's why I get picked.

What is the reality of modelling?
For me, the film isn't really the best advertising of what I do. Modelling can be difficult at times. I think the hardest part is when people start seeing you as something you don't see. People see you as just a face, and obviously I don't think that way about myself. All my friends from my old school act very differently towards me. Being a minority race at my school, it was difficult, being the one who looked different, and I was ridiculed for that. I had to do a lot of thinking about my appearance and my insecurities, which other kids didn't necessarily have to think about. It made me grow up a lot quicker, but I'm confident with myself because of that, so when someone tries to question who I am, that's what I find difficult.

Are there issues within the fashion industry that you think the film could have poked at more?
I think the film makes fun of stereotypes rather than actual issues within the fashion industry. If they actually started to pick on the real issues then it would have been more of a sensitive – and a less ridiculous – film. Obviously diversity is an issue, and it's always going to be an issue. The film didn't pick up on that so much. Personally, as an ethnically Asian model, I've always found myself in a really fortunate position because of the fact that I can speak English and communicate with people and maintain relationships. Whereas all of the other Korean or Chinese models find it really difficult to be able to do anything abroad, apart from runway shows, because of visa problems or language barriers. Although that doesn't give brands an excuse to not pick Asian models.

Sang in a DKNY ad

Does your agency stress the importance of having a strong online following?
The use of social media was a really big part of the film. The agency definitely pushes you as a model to use Instagram because it's something that generates money at the end of the day. With social media, the industry has the attitude that the more you can get your face out there the better. As a model, all publicity is good publicity. For example, when those Kate Moss photographs surfaced, the only consequence was she was offered more major campaign deals. Models can get away with those kinds of things because people don't see you as a person; you're basically an object used to sell.

What's the maddest fashion party you've been to?
The party for Philipp Plein was in Milan and the whole middle circle of the area was a huge bar. They had people in jet packs flying out of a swimming pool. It was the most surreal thing in the world. Then Snoop Dogg performed in his own blue-lit room, singing "Drop It Like It's Hot". That's real-life ridiculous.

Have you ever felt like your life was in danger as a model – that you could potentially be assassinated?
No, you can't do anything that might be unsafe. Sometimes stylists can't even cut people's hair because they need to speak to the agency first.

Sang in an Armani ad

What has being in the fashion industry taught you?
I have learnt a lot about certain experiences that I wouldn't know if I stayed at university. Learning about money, for example. I'm earning quite a lot, so now I know about taxes, and the privileges of paying taxes in some respect. I feel like many of the things you learn throughout your twenties have been condensed for me through modelling into the space of a couple of years. The amount of people you meet and the constant travelling has tuned me into the world around me. I'm very grateful for that.

In the film, Mugatu is put into a fashion prison. Do you think there should be actual fashion police?
I think people should get red cards, like in football. If London Fashion Week starts and you have an awful collection you get a yellow card, and if it's absolutely outrageous designers can get a red card, which means they are banned for a season. I could preside over the jury: "Anna Wintour, you've been issued with a red card, which means you are confined to the second row for two seasons."

Finally, have you ever finished walking a show then looked up into the sky and asked yourself, 'Who am I?'
Yeah! You get alienated in this world – modelling isn't even a job; it really gets into your mind. Loads of times I've had to question what I'm actually doing in this industry. As a model you are constantly being told that you are beautiful, which fools you into thinking you have a good life. I'm always going to parties surrounded by loads of really drunk male models, who are all asking, "What am I doing?"

Thanks very much, Sang.

@ameliadimz / @sangwo0

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