Lee Song-yi is an actress and a model who, with her fast perception and sunny disposition, manages to draw the attention of anyone she meets. She has worked in the fashion industry since she was a student; on top of that, she ventured into the film industry a few years ago, proving that she has the talent for acting already with her debut role – she won Best Actress Award at Chungmuro Short Film Festival for her work in the short Right Now.
We talked to Lee Song-yi about her career as a model, how she manages to balance out the stress that comes from working in the demanding South Korean fashion industry, her experience working as a fashion model on fashion TV shows like Project Runway 2, and the excitement that comes from spreading her wings into the film industry.
You have been present in the fashion business for a while now – what made you decide to pursue a career as a model in the first place?
When I was a high school student, everyone told me I look like a model. I took their words and I got an audition, but I didn’t get chosen. It was my first failure but I gave up then. I went to a university in Korea as current society expects students to for a year; then, I was off to Shanghai to learn Chinese. During my time in university, I was lost like every university student. I had no idea what to do in my life. One day, I met a friend who was studying fashion design. She recommended a part-time job as a fitting model. And that’s how it all started… my life as a professional model.
You work as a model as well as an actress, and you seem to travel a lot – how do you manage the balance between your professional and personal life?
Oh! Good question! This is very important to me. My job seems to be elegant and gorgeous, but at the same time, it is a freelancer job and I have to make my own schedule, as well as maintain a good personal physical and mental balance. If I work for a long time without rest, I get too sensitive. On the other hand, if I get too relaxed, I also get too lazy. It is important that I keep a certain tempo and that I keep my mood in check. Also, when I feel overwhelmed, I try to travel as much as I can. Travelling makes me take a step back, to see myself and the world. That time gives my heart the space to breathe.
What is your favourite thing to do on a day off?
Travelling, driving, reading, watching Netflix.
Let’s talk about your beauty regimen: how do you keep yourself healthy? Do you have any tips for our readers?
Every morning, I say hello to me in front of the mirror. Then, I flex my facial muscle around to stretch, and give myself a prescription. For example, maybe I should drink more or wake up early to do yoga.
Fashion trends are ever-changing. Which fashion trends were your favourite this year – did any of them really match your personal style?
Of course, it’s all about the 90’s this year! I wear wide pants with tight top or unisex clothes on normal days. Recently, however, I’ve been trying on a more feminine style of clothing and I think it’s growing on me.
Modelling industry is known to be a harsh environment; how do you perceive Korean modelling industry? Is there anything you really wish would change?
In my opinion, our industry is extremely capitalist and very fast-paced. People want something new every day and models get thrown out unless they are making money. In fact, many models suffer from mental disease due to these tremendous pressures. It might not be much different everywhere else in the world… but I hope the industry and the public will understand that we are more than just moving mannequins.
In 2016, you debuted as an actress and you won the Best Actress Award at Chungmuro Short Film Festival for your role. Your second acting project got screened even at festivals abroad. That shows that acting is another talent for you – are you interested in taking on more acting roles?
My first short movie was Right Now, and my first feature movie was Walking Street. I was invited to film festivals in Singapore and Philippines for Walking Street, and that was a great time. I got to sit next table to Darren Aronofsky!!!
I am so excited to think about my future acting roles! I have no idea what the next one might be, but I am sure it will make for another challenge in my career.
Since Walking Street was your first big acting venture, how did you prepare for your role?
My character in the movie had lived a rather intense, and chaotic life. She was living a life on the streets, under a total control of her mom. In order to put myself into my role, I had to do yoga and meditate every morning, thinking how “my life” would be if I was in her shoes and lived her life. It was not easy to sympathize, but I did my best to portray Jenna.
You also appeared on some television shows like Project Runway 2 and Challenge Super Model Korea 2 – how was the modelling experience on TV different for you when compared to working at regular fashion shows?
It’s quite different. TV show runways are for entertainment; every moment can be a story. For example, I was a little late to the set once when I did Project Runway 2, and the producers didn’t get upset and actually liked the fact that I was late, because it made for a good story for the TV. On contrary, at a “real” fashion show, time is everything. Everything must be on time because you cannot re-do it when something goes wrong, just like many things in life. The Show must go on!
Is there any habit you follow before you walk out on the stage or in front of a camera for a fashion shoot?
As a routine, I try to do yoga or stretching. That helps me relax.
What do you think is your greatest strength as a model?
I think I have good body proportions and I try to keep a positive attitude. As I mentioned earlier, this industry can force models to be edgy sometimes. So my positive vibe and optimism bring smiles to the people I work with.
Do you see yourself strictly as a model or do you ever feel the pull to create fashion designs yourself?
I am not really interested in designing clothes. Acting and screenplay writing have been a big part of my life these days, and I’ve always been active in the green-life movement.
Which part of your job as a model do you find the most difficult? And which is the most rewarding?
Surviving. Models of my age are disappearing in Korean model industry. Most agencies or companies look for younger and newer faces. Instead of quality photo-shoots, where creative directing and artistic values are called for, most photo-shoots are for social networking services, mainly Instagram. But I don’t blame them for it, because the world is changing as we speak. Hmm… The most rewarding moment for me is when I get the feedback about how I am an inspiration to some people and that they admire my style in fashion.
American designer Bill Blass once said, “When in doubt, wear red.” Red is generally established as the colour that brings out confidence. Which is the colour – or colours – you find yourself the most comfortable wearing, and which colour(s) give you confidence?
I wear all colours. But when I’m not at work, I normally choose black. I feel like I can pretty much match any colour with black and I don’t have to worry about spilling something on my clothes.
Any plans for this year’s Seoul Fashion Week?
We’d like to thank A.Conic for their assistance in the interview and to Lee Song-yi who kindly took the time to answer our questions.
Interviewed, written and edited by Sanja Struna
All Pictures © A.Conic