Perched above Boucheron in Place Vendôme is a hidden, luxurious and magical maison. The maison, exclusive to Boucheron’s VIP clients, is lavishly decorated. Furnished with walls of white and golden paneling, chandeliers crafted by Pierre-Yves Rochon and Lalique decorate the ceilings - the perfect mix of vintage finds and contemporary design. The space is fit for a star. Enter Mao Xiaoxing. The Chinese-born, Parisian-based model who is one of three triplets and their names literally translate to little star (Mao), little moon and little sun.
Words by Sandy Aziz.
Mao has an immense energy that instantly lifts spirits and, though softly spoken, her actions speak volumes. On a sunny, August Parisian morning, she is radiating light as she steps into the Boucheron Maison. She doesn’t shy away - immediately introducing herself to each and every member of the team. We laugh as our first official meeting was actually during Paris Fashion Week at an event when I complimented her scarf. Laughing, Mao adds, “Londoners have a different energy. I love it. I think the creative scene there is chaotic in a good way. Yes, the Paris scene is chic, but it feels less experimental than London.” Probably true, but back to Paris...
It is in the majestic, marble-clad bathroom that boasts a view of the Eiffel Tower that Gabriel de Fries is trimming and texturizing Mao’s signature short, black locks. As he styles her iconic microbob, Mao begins explaining the origin of her intoxication for style and fashion. “My mom used to always dress my sisters and I in the same exact outfits. I had to tell her that I wanted to dress differently and I needed to pick out my own outfits.” Most people spend their whole lives searching for their individuality, meanwhile Mao claimed hers in primary school, and with each experience she continues to confidentally expand on it.
Faint murmurs of Edwin Freyer and Alton Hetariki shifting the make up of the room for the next shot and look lurk in the background as Yusaku Nakahara begins to painting Mao’s youthful, glowing skin. The conversation continues. With every brushstroke, we pause to take stock of Mao’s bravery. In the midst of socioeconomic and political uncertainty, the model left everything she knew in China and moved to Bordeaux to study French. If that isn’t commendable enough, we aren’t sure what is. Shortly after, Mao reveals she met a friend who was moving to Paris to study fashion design. “When I saw his homework, it reignited my love for fashion and design, and I decided to apply too,” says Mao. So, she too went to Paris to study fashion design. “While I was on smoke breaks outside, students would ask me to model their collections. I had so much fun, I realized that I loved modeling more than school.” Mao reminisces that it wasn’t easy being one of the few Chinese people at the fashion school, and though she dealt with it gracefully, she ended up eventually quitting school anyway to pursue modeling full time. “I think life is too short,” declares Mao thoughtfully, “there is no time for doubt - so rather than being scared, I think it is better to just go after what you want.” Wise words to live by and the first of many in the conversation. The reality is that even if Mao wasn’t modeling, thankfully for us she would still be in the creative arts as a singer, DJ, or maybe even a writer. I smile with flattery, starstruck. Mao smiles back, “I write Chinese poems about family and the world we relate to.”
“The world we relate to” transports our conversation to Mao’s appreciation for other cultures and love for travel. Not only did she quickly embrace Parisian culture while making life-changing decisions, but since then she has been jet setting across the globe in the name of fashion. “Italy is a dreamy country,” reveals Mao. “I love the vibe, the food and of course the people. Italian people have fantastic attitudes.” After exchanging travel anecdotes, the emphasis becomes on movement. It is here we unpack Mao’s slightly more serious shift in tone. Understandably, the model feels that the fast speed at which the fashion industry is moving is not only a disservice to models and consumers, but also to the designers. “There is a lot of pressure on the designers to create at such a high frequency, and it shouldn’t be like that. Designers should create when they want to create - it should be natural. Only then will we experience the best authentic creations,” explains Mao. Hair clips clinging to corners of her parted fringe, natural eye makeup close to completion, she delivers the thought with simultaneous charm and intention. “We are always working,” she laughs. Relatable. “Actually, we just need to do what we want and to do it with intention.” It all seems fittingly interconnected… we work too much, too fast, and not always with intention versus working less to create authentically with more intention. After much discussion, we decide it isn’t so simple, but it is truly all about balance. Ironically, and perhaps coincidentally, Mao wears an oversized canary yellow faux fur Michael Kors coat - while draped on a mixed convex and concave black marble coffee table. Literally testing her balance, she only laughs with no complaints - her energy as vibrant as the coat.
Naturally, balance and energy are important to Mao who has many rituals and mantras rooted in these topics. She is also a believer in Astrology saying it is “magical” and a way to “give better vision and understanding” of how and why people are the way they are. Mao chuckles as she admits, “it helps me understand and work on the dark parts of myself, for example, my pessimism.” We can’t blame her for any pessimism given the tragic state of the world the last eighteen months and we arrive with heavy hearts at society’s increased obsession with definitions and labels. As if Mao’s kindness wasn’t already infectious, she pauses to remind us that even in the current state - beauty comes from letting people be “100% authentically themselves.” As Mao lays her head under an all glass table for the next shot, we start to more clearly that her responses harbour reoccurring themes of intention, understanding and individuality.
“Embrace your individuality and authenticity
and don’t compare yourself to others".
Social media is of course an unavoidable topic when mentioning society these days. “I think it is good for access - it gives people a platform to voice their opinions and show their creations,” says Mao. “But it is also dangerous sometimes because it creates this unrealistic image that life is a certain way, and that isn’t necessarily good.” While we’ve all probably fallen victim to the pitfalls of social media, Mao agrees that self-awareness is key. “Embrace your individuality and authenticity and don’t compare yourself to others. Simply embrace their different perspectives, but don’t let that influence you.” A mantra which gives more than enough insight into how the rising star rose to her success and continues to shine.
Less than four years into her modeling career (and not to mention an unprecedented, global pandemic), Mao is already truly a star and her accolades are out of this world. Since debuting with Marine Serre in 2019, she’s officially a “Top 50 Model” according to Models.com, and she’s been gracing the covers and pages of Vogue - both British and China. The model has multiple, successful campaigns with Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Prada, Fendi, Moncler and Chloé and has walked the runways for Bottega Veneta, Balmain, Tod’s, David Koma, Max Mara and more. In spite of this, Mao shares that she still does get “nervous” at times - but the way she handles it is to “just rock it.”
Despite dwelling in a fast-paced world decorated with glamour, parties and nightlife, Mao prefers to stay home, spend time with loved ones, cook Chinese food and dance in her spare time. There it is again, balance. “I have been dancing for about 8 years - mostly Latin and salsa,” she shares. Mao brings up movement again by way of one of her favourite modeling highlights to date - a Louis Vuitton shoot that included freestyle dancing. “I love getting to move naturally on set,” Mao says. Probably also why she prefers campaigns and editorials over runways. She elaborates, “you get to know everyone on set and you feel the creative energy all day. On runways, it is true that you cannot beat the pre-show adrenaline rush - but it is quick and fleeting.”
In all the magic that is Mao - she leaves us with more magic in the form of a daily ritual. “When you wake up, don’t open your eyes immediately. Do it slowly. Check in with yourself.” She smiles. “Gratitude,” she says, “give gratitude that you are here today and it will set the mood for your whole day.” And just like that, we are ready to aim for the stars.
You can find this piece in the Fall Winter 2022 Issue 9: Purchase your copy here.