Author: Elisa Lee
She sprung up in last year's spring fashion collections in Milan, Paris and New York. She has appeared on the pages of Vogue, Elle, Allure, Mademoiselle and Harper's Bazaar. The former garage mechanic has four tattoos, cropped hair and a navel ring; they say she scared the usually fearless Gianni Versace.
Jenny Shimizu is the hottest Asian American model of the moment and no one knows quite what to make of her.
At 22, Shimizu, who sports a four-inch tattoo of a woman straddling a wrench on her right arm, was discovered at an L.A. nightclub by a casting director who asked her to be in a music video.
Since then, she has walked the runways for designers like Versace, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Anna Sui and Calvin Klein and been photographed by Steven Meisel, Michael Comte, Wayne Maser, Walter Chin and Bruce Weber. She has been spotted around town with Madonna, whom she calls a friend.
Shimizu's popularity has been credited in some part to recent modeling trends favoring "anti-models" like Calvin Klein model Kate Moss, and tattooed, shaved-head model Eve Salvain. "I think it's society and the fashion world getting real," said Shimizu, who at one time swore she would never wear a dress.
She still doesn't wear dresses off the runway, but has come a long way since her Milan runway debut, where she showed up wearing leather biker trousers and a Harley-Davidson T-shirt. "I wanted to quit and jump off the stage," said Shimizu of her first experience.
But Shimizu persevered. "In the beginning I took everything very personally, but you can't do that. You're basically a hanger," said Shimizu whose runway walks are now characterised by an irrepressible personality that her agents forewarn most designers about.
"I have a strong personality and I can't stifle it...sometimes you feed off the energy [of the audience] and get energy from it. I get a kind of attitude. It's only fashion," said Shimizu, who reportedly broke into an embarrassed smile when sent down the runway in a baby- doll dress by one New York designer.
For a woman who grew up wanting to be a cowboy (until she discovered motorcycles), modeling was an unexpected life-change. "I never used to walk around thinking I was pretty. This has done a lot for my confidence," said Shimizu, who went to trade school rather than college.
"The hardest part was feeling comfortable in women's clothes," said Shimizu, who said her agency, Women Model Management in New York, has been very supportive. "The best thing is that I've never been pressured to change my look...Modelling is like an act, a disguise. It's fun for me," said Shimizu.
Fixing motorcycles and cars,said the self-described tomboy, has been a passion since she got her first bike, a `71 Triumph. "It's a physical labour that makes me feel full, and I like getting dirty," said Shimizu. She hopes to save her money and open her own garage someday.
Shimizu finds the biggest difference between the world of the garage and the fashion runway to be the money. "I got to buy my Mom and Dad really nice Christmas presents," said Shimizu, who said modeling is harder work than she thought.
"I think all the models that get paid all the money deserve it. It' s mentally and physically abusing," said Shimizu.
In the world of fashion, Shimizu is the rare Asian American to break the ranks of anonymous pretty faces and become a hot name.
In a multicultural fashion trend, which usually features Eurasian models with vaguely ethnic qualities, Shimizu's clearly defined Asian features, along with her tough image, are helping to change some of the typical standards of American beauty.
"Some women are threatened by her. I've spoken to some girls who are models and they say 'I don't get it,'" said Rosanna (no last name), the L.A. casting agent who discovered her, in an article in New York Newsday.
"I know certain designers who won't use ethnic models," said Shimizu, who nonetheless said that most, especially Calvin Klein have been very open-minded. "Every ethnicity is beautiful. The public is demanding people they can identify with," she said.
"Your roots lie deep. It's like don't fuck with Asians," said Shimizu, who finds herself surprised at being looked up to. "The weird thing is being a role model. I've been thrown into that position and it' s great."
Shimizu is enjoying her new-found popularity for as long as it lasts. "I plan on staying until they kick me out, although I don't plan on being here until 40."