Yumi Lambert, the hugely successful Belgian model with exotic features thanks to her Japanese heritage, has achieved international recognition working with the biggest names in the fashion industry. Yumi has walked more than 300 shows and shot campaigns for top fashion houses including Chanel, Prada, Hermès, Versace, Givenchy, Oscar de la Renta, Dries Van Noten, Chloé, Dior.. the list goes on with her latest Swarovski.
In front of the camera she gives a truly inspiring performace and off camera we discover an intelligent warm multi-faceted woman, with a wicked sense of humour and with both feet firmly on the ground. Someone who is refreshingly clear about who she is what she wants, energetic and eager to change things Yumi is a breath of fresh air.
Words by Andy Durán.
Photography by Edwin S Freyer. Styled by Alton Hetariki.
* This is an interview extract. Find out the full version in the Fall Winter 2019 Issue 3 *
Tell us a little bit about your background before you started modelling and how you got into the industry?
I'm Belgian-born but of Japanese descent. Growing up in a small country town outside of Belgium, I looked different from the kids in my neighbourhood. My Japanese heritage set me apart and I grew to be tall and skinny very fast. I didn’t think that I had any modelling potential, but at 15 my friends convinced me to try. I went around numerous agencies with my parents in Brussels and managed to get representation.
So, you were born in Belgium, you have Japanese heritage, and are currently living in in New York City. Three very different cultures. What could you highlight from each of them? And how have they influenced you?
Belgians are very humble and love to joke around, which has taught me to be grounded in everything I do. My Japanese grandmother is my biggest inspiration and role model. She is a beautiful, strong-willed and respectable woman. Every day I aspire to be more like her! I try to visit Japan as often as I can so I can surround myself with her energy. New York is a crazy place that truly never sleeps. It’s a city that welcomes people from all walks of life and it’s where I’ve spent most of my adult life – you’re free to be who you want and you’re surrounded by some many like-minded people. You can establish yourself there and build your own destiny.
You started modelling from such a young age, and in a very short time you were hired by top-tier brands. Apart from physical qualities, what other things do you think are important to succeed as a model?
I started modelling in what feels like a different time to now. Social media didn't exist, so we had to show our personalities, to be special and stand out in order to be desired. The first advice I was given was to be respectful to everyone and make a great first impression. Of course, that’s still very much the case today but with social media, models are a lot more accessible to the public. People often judge you on your abilities to sell yourself online.
My Japanese grandmother is my biggest inspiration and role model. She is a beautiful, strong-willed and respectable woman. Every day I aspire to be more like her!
Your breakthrough was that amazing campaign alongside Stella Tennant and Ondria Hardin for Chanel. What was that experience like and what are your best memories from working under the direction of such an iconic designer like Karl Lagerfeld?
It felt like a dream! When I used to play dolls with my sisters as a kid, I used to pretend I was walking in a Chanel show. Securing the campaign was unbelievable and so surreal. I will always remember Karl Lagerfeld as a kind and funny person. It was an honour to have met and worked with him. I have so much to say about him, but I will wait until I’ve left modelling to tell my entire story! I promise if I write a book, Karl will have a whole chapter dedicated to him.
You have walked in around 300 shows and you should have so many stories and memories of each of them, which stands out for you?
To pick the most memorable is really hard, I’ve had the opportunity to do so many amazing shows. But it’d have to be a show from my very first season. Marchesa, Moschino, Dior, Chanel – there’s just so many to choose from. Being part of the Victoria’s Secret family is also crazy, I really, really couldn’t pick just one.
Prêt-à-Porter or Haute Couture?
Once again, they’re very different! I love haute couture, all these beautiful, extremely detailed pieces are stitched right up until the last minute. I love it. But haute couture only happens in Paris. Prêt-à-Porter is a month-long celebration of months of hard work showcased in many countries. When I started, models would do up to 75 shows in a month, what a thrill!
How did you feel the first time you saw yourself on the cover of a magazine? What are the ones that have meant the most to you?
My very first cover was for the fashion supplement of a Belgian newspaper. It felt weird mostly because a lot of my school friends saw it. At the time, I still didn't believe I would ever be on the cover of Vogue. After my first season of shows, I shot the cover of Jalouse magazine with Erwin Olaf. This was the first major cover I shot and I remember it like it was yesterday. After Jalouse came Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, and the rest.
What kind of work do you think is the most important for growth and success as a model?
Like in any job there are many different ways to be a successful model. When I first started, shows were very important in order to be discovered by casting directors, but now they can check on social media to see who’s new. There are also now a lot more ‘new faces’ than there once were. I think the most important thing for any model is to remember where you’re from, where you want to go and what makes you happy.
Makeup by Barrie Griffith using Rodial Cosmetics.
Hair by David Wadlow using Biolage by Matrix.
Yumi appears courtesy of IMG London. David appears courtesy of The Wall Group.
Read Yumi's interview in the Fall Winter 2019 - Issue 3. Get your copy here.