Breaking records with runways
Supermodel Jessica Minh Anh is known for her ability to transform landmark venues around the world into catwalks that no one else has attempted before
When regular folks look at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Grand Canyon in the US, the Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia, or the Tower Bridge in London, they see iconic locations from around the world. Jessica Minh Anh looks at them and sees catwalks.
The 31-year-old is not your average supermodel. Sure, she gets to visit exotic places, jet around the world, wear gorgeous outfits and strut in front of cameras for a living, but the Vietnamese catwalk producer gives all of it heft and significance by using the platforms to push heavily for the cause of sustainability.
When Jessica began her own production house in 2010, all the fashion shows she could see were being hosted at "standard" venues: hotels, museums, showrooms, warehouses and tents. At a time when the world was still firmly in the grip of a global recession, going the conventional route held neither promise nor interest for her. "I believe the most exquisite designs should be showcased at the best of locations," shares the entrepreneur. "I also want my audience to have once-in-a-lifetime experiences they will remember forever. That's why when I wanted to do a sky-high catwalk, I produced the show at 4,000 feet above the Colorado River on the Grand Canyon Skywalk. Or when I wanted the most iconic venue in Paris, I hosted the Eiffel Tower's first and only fashion show, instead of using it as a background or building a simulation of it in a different location."
Her reach-for-the-sky philosophy has certainly paid off over the last 10 years, catapulting her to the top of the game, thanks to her various headline-grabbing productions that are truly visual spectacles - and the fact that she has not taken a break in 10 years, even though she admits she probably needs one. "Every time you see me on an island, I am working on a project," she explains. "When we promoted sustainability in the Maldives, we filmed from 2am until 12am almost everyday, and I did not have time to swim in the wonderful pool in my own villa. But I am certainly not complaining. I've been very fortunate to work with the biggest brands and experienced some of the most luxurious destinations on earth. You choose the life you lead."
'Embrace the pressure'
For Jessica, it's a life she loves, despite the intense pressure it often brings. Event management, after all, is no cakewalk. Pressure is an excellent thing, she believes, for it provides the framework within which to innovate. "Over the years, overcoming obstacles while preparing for a show has become the norm, but it's always the challenges that have helped push me forward."
Take the time an unexpected storm destroyed the entire backstage area two hours before her fashion show at Spain's Gemasolar power plant in 2015. "Everyone was panicking," she recalls. "I had a choice. I could give up and cancel or postpone the show - or I could get over my shock and work to fix the problem immediately. I decided on the latter, and ended up using the bus that transported all the models to the plant as the new backstage area." The show became one of their most successful productions to date and Jessica, who recently delivered a TedxTALK on the need to embrace pressure in order to transform, says, "Without that pressure at such a critical time, I would not have known my own strength in the face of disaster."
It was the same thing the year before, when she arrived in New York with a plan to produce a show at the Niagara Falls, but decided against proceeding with the venue after a site inspection. Compelled to come up with another location immediately, she looked up and saw America's new symbol of hope and freedom: One World Trade Center. "That was it," recalls the model. "Had I not been put in a challenging position of finding the next best thing, I would not have made that historic catwalk on Level 63 of the iconic tower six months before it was officially opened."
She acknowledges, however, that there can be such a thing as 'too much' pressure. "I think it is subjective and each person must define the level of pressure they can tolerate. If you tell yourself it's not too much, and truly believe it, you will be able to embrace the pressure and overcome it faster. Of course, if you feel that you are overstressed and unable to operate effectively, it is important to take a break from everything to come back more level-headed. It's okay to not be excellent all the time; and telling yourself that will, in itself, take a lot of pressure off."
'Fashion must have a call'
Recently, Jessica has been feeling a different kind of pressure: the need to advocate for environmental issues. It was in response to those concerns that she started her Fashion x Sustainability series a few years ago, highlighting the most advanced renewable energy and recycling initiatives through fashion. The series saw her successfully promote green technology at the Gemasolar power plant in Spain, hydroelectric power atop the Hoover Dam in the US, and 'Waste-to-Wealth' practices in the Maldives. It saw her produce the world's first solar-powered ocean catwalk aboard the Race 4 Water, which is the world's largest solar catamaran.
"I believe fashion shows should be more than just being visually attractive. They should convey a meaningful message or a call for a better future. We are living in a special time when sustainable practices must be implemented to protect our future and the future of the younger generation," she observes. "There are different ways to stimulate global mindsets toward green living - I chose the creative approach. And it's helped me promote everything from solar power, hydro power and wind power to recycling, upcycling, and now the sustainable supply chain, which is a big part of the fashion industry."
As someone who has seen the best of both natural and manmade creations up close, Jessica says both have had a major role in shaping her current view of the world. "I have a great respect for architects and developers of architectural wonders. They have proven that humans are such creative beings, so it is a privilege whenever I get the chance to transform one of them into the world's newest catwalk. But after learning more and more about the environment in the last few years, I have become more determined to highlight the importance of sustainable practices. I believe the new generation has a voice that is as powerful as the hydroelectric power I've been promoting of late."
The supermodel is already on the lookout for her next iconic location and has "definite" plans to return to Dubai (she was last here in 2013). "Dubai is a wonderful place where technology, sustainability, and innovation are currently in focus. I've been considering a number of unique locations in the city and will hopefully surprise the world yet again there!"
She signs off with a word of advice for youngsters who are feeling the pressure of today's fast-paced world, just like she did a decade ago when she needed to make something of herself. "Look at pressure in a positive way," she says. "If you embrace and use it to your advantage, it can make you stronger, more determined, and more satisfied once you've overcome it using your own initiatives, efforts and solutions. In the end, it's all about your attitude towards challenges that makes you a winner."