Think your morning commute is insane? Try Elaine Kwok’s for size. The Hong Kong-born, London-based model spends two hours — one way, mind — everyday travelling from London to Nottingham University, where she’s currently majoring in media and communication.
Still, Kwok, 20, doesn’t mind the exhaustive journey: “A two hour commute might sound mad to you but I was travelling to London for shoots every weekend the past year, so it made sense for me to based in London most of the time.”
It’s easy to see why Kwok has been so inundated with jobs — her skinhead ‘do fits perfectly with fashion’s current preference for individuals who possess highly distinctive looks. The more alternative, the better. The cut, Kwok says, was entirely spontaneous as she was annoyed with her formerly long ‘do and decided to shave it all off after a photoshoot.
It’s no loss; her shorn head only served to enhance her soulful features and it’s certainly netted her a lot of attention. Since then, Kwok has modelled and walked for both fresh-out-the-school designers and established bigwigs, including Nike, Fred Perry and the graduate shows at Central Saint Martins.
A key highlight of her year-old career, however, would have to be her work for Balenciaga: she got a DM on Instagram from a New York agency asking if she’d like to be shot for Balenciaga and the rest, as she puts it, was completely surreal.
Here, we speak to Kwok on how she got her start and what keeps her going in an infamously cut-throat industry:
What was the catalyst that made you decide to try modelling?
“I never thought I would still be modelling actually. It has been a bizarre and terrific journey — I started a little more than a year and half ago simply because I wasn’t satisfied with my life in Nottingham. I wanted to meet like-minded people, expand my horizons and step out of my comfort zone (I used to be petrified abut having my pictures taken). So I randomly reached out to heaps of brands and influencers on Instagram to connect and shoot. It was completely out of my expectations that almost every single one of them got back to me and was down for it. Then I started to travel to London for shoots every single weekend for the entire year, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
How did you come to be signed with Nii (her agency)?
“Initially, I was just modelling for fun, wanting to be surrounded by creative and inspiring people. However, when agencies started to approach and showed interest, I was really sceptical as the industry can be so toxic and damaging to your body, mind and soul. That was until I found out about Nii Agency through an i-D video — it was an interview with the founder Campbell Addy, who is the sweetest and most humble person I’ve met. I resonated with his vision and how he wanted to create diversity and make changes to the industry. I dropped them an email around midnight and got a response straight away. We arranged to meet up and the rest is history.”
What made you decide to go for a skinhead ‘do?
“It was spontaneous. I was having a shoot in Essex with my friend Louise. I was telling her how annoyed I was with my long hair and shaving it all off was always something I wanted to try out. The next thing I knew, we were driving to her mum’s house to get the clipper. I became bald overnight. It was literally the best decision I’ve ever made. I’ll never grow it back.”
What would you say have been the biggest influences so far on your trajectory as a model/creative?
“I do what I do because I want to prove you don’t have to alter anything about yourself to feel ‘good enough’. This is the message I want to tell through my work. Especially in the modelling industry, people primarily judge you by your looks. If I can inspire one person to be proud of who they are and believe in themselves, I’m successful in my opinion. All the rejections and discouragement are worth it. It feels so nice to have a small and tight circle that everyone supports one another and have each other’s back. We are really simple people. We just want to make art and be happy.”
Your most memorable project to date would be…
“The shoot for Chrishabana — a New York-based jewellery brand — was one of the most enjoyable shoots I’ve ever done. They put fake tattoos all over my face, neck and arms and had me wear a monk robe made by the designer himself. It was also a pleasure to work with Darren for the shoot, a photographer in London who I’d been following for awhile now. Darren and I had such a magic chemistry that long story cut short, I ended up posing naked on the streets in Chinatown.”
Three fun facts about Elaine Kwok:
“1: My mum is my best friend 2. I strive to give off good and positive energy to my loved ones or just anyone I interact with. 3. I’m enjoying my youth but I also can’t wait to be an 80-year-old grandma covered with tattoos and know that I’ve lived life to the fullest.”