Filipino Models On The Power Of Representation And Identity

Photography by Danilo Hess

“I was born in a world where I didn’t fit in, I will create a world I do. Fashion will help me on this mission,” declares Leyna Bloom on what she loves most about being a model. Being “Asian, black, and trans, queer and a feminine energy”, Bloom reveals to Vogue Philippines that she “had to face every challenge you can ever imagine.” 

Nonetheless, the Filipino-American continues to break barriers as she makes a name for herself, with billboards in Manila and Times Square, appearances in the hit Netflix show Pose, and numerous catwalk stints. She’s also made history as the first openly transgender person of color to land the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, as well as headline a movie at the Cannes Film Festival, of which her film Port Authority also received a nomination.

This however wasn’t the case at the beginning of her career. “When I first started modeling back in 2012, there was no representation in the States of Filipino models in [particular] really working in the industry,” shares Bloom, whose mom hails from General Santos. 

Leyna Bloom. Photography by Danilo Hess
Noah Carlos. Photography by Danilo Hess

Noah Carlos’ recollections are of a similar experience. “Being a Filipino model working in the West was very challenging when I first started out. It was very seldom that I met another Filipino in fashion. I would hear of someone, but our paths would never cross,” declares Carlos, who has since appeared on the cover of i-D, and walked the runways of Mugler, Rick Owens, and Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty. 

This makes the fact that both of them, along with almost 70 Filipino models working abroad, were just recently part of the photography project Diaspora even more impactful. The portrait series, conceptualized by Audie Umali and Danilo Hess, sought to highlight the beauty, individuality, and diversity of our people whilst inadvertently becoming a catalyst for connection. 

“This is a powerful moment for my community and my heritage. I’m happy to see all of [the] islands and cities of our Philippines represented in mainstream fashion,” shares Bloom. “This should have happened a long time ago. It’s happening now, so let’s not miss the mark to tell our stories today.” 

Hannah Locsin. Photography by Danilo Hess
Chloe Magno. Photography by Danilo Hess

Hannah Locsin is just as thrilled. “I feel proud and excited to be part of a project as big as this! It’s really heartwarming to see how much the Filipino community in the fashion industry has grown over the past few years,” declares the Gucci, Ralph and Russo, and 3.1 Phillip Lim muse. 

Chloe Magno, cover star for Vogue Philippines’ maiden issue, and Chanel, Calvin Klein, and Miu Miu model, is equally appreciative of the strides that have been made towards inclusivity. “I feel very happy and fortunate to see the growth in Filipino representation through the course of my own career and lifetime,” she conveys. 

“There is so much room for improvement, but we will continue to see growth as new waves of Filipino artists and creatives see that there is more than enough space for us, and the world needs to hear what we have to say. We have the talent, we have the work ethic, and we have the voices,” Magno elaborates. 

For Carlos, who identifies as non-binary, it was also about representing the queer community, as much as it was about their Filipino roots. On the Diaspora project Carlos says: “Growing up, I never saw much Filipino representation in mainstream media. I did this one for the culture. For the kids that are like me: queer, Filipino, and fabulous! I want to show them that anything is possible if you are being your most true authentic self. That the world is changing and people like to see that.” 

Photographs by Danilo Hess. Creative Director Audie Umali Stylist: Stacey Cunningham. Casting Director: Eric Cano. Makeup: Chichi Saito. Hair: Chika Nishimaya. Model: Chloe Magno of The Lions, Hannah Locsin of Supreme, Leyna Bloom of CAA, Noah Carlos. Photographer’s Assistant: James Yarusinsky.

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