Clara Lee - Fans Ask "When Will She Return From Her Hiatus?"
By Alexander Michaels
Photography: Teo kim
Processing and Design: MODE Studio
Hair & Makeup: Seon Yun kim
Stylist: Sky kim
Location: Philippines, Cebu
One of our favorite cover models, Swiss-born South Korean actress Clara Lee, has sadly been missing from the celebrity circuit as of late and things are almost quiet without her in some circles. Although already a successful actress, the enchanting Clara solidified her fame as a sex symbol by throwing a carefully orchestrated first pitch at a baseball game in tight striped leggings, and the rest, as they say, was history.
Clara's celebrity status had been gaining momentum and she was seemingly everywhere with her throng of fans following her every move. Her sun was rising and the next step was to expand her celebrity focus to the United States. Since most of Clara's fan base was South Korean, she had to straddle the delicate and sometimes spiky fence between being a celebrity across the East and West. It was time to navigate around the speeding train movement of a new South Korea that generally welcomes and even supersede all things pertaining to fashion and looks of the West whilst at the same time satisfying the ingrained societal pressures of modesty, respect and purity expectations of East - at least on the surface.
Clara was the first Asian model on the cover of Mode Lifestyle Magazine. She flew in specially for the September/October 2013 cover shoot featuring her and martial arts expert and celebrity trainer Master Sang Koo Kang. Everyone, and I mean absolutely everyone, on the set fell in love with her. She was fun, bubbly and seemingly not pretentious. She followed directions extremely well and brought her own kind of energy to the shoot. We have worked with many people over the years and I can tell you that the experience is not always as pleasant as it could be. People are different and some are nice, others not so nice. Our experience with Clara was that she was nice. Furthermore, our readers loved her and with her fame seemingly on the rise to stratospheric levels, our readers voted her Mode Lifestyle Magazine's #2 Most Beautiful Woman in The World 2014.
Some people were not surprised and others were, as is always the case and to be expected in anything to do with the words "Beautiful" and "Most" in one sentence. Her true fans were delighted and her enemies pounced without mercy, some even suggesting that she had attained such supernatural powers that she could single-handedly overpower our whole editorial team and thousands of readers too, as well as actresses and models all over the world that we communicate and work with, to appoint herself that position. One would wonder that she did not make herself #1. But that silliness did not matter and was indeed to be expected. Anybody remember when Miley Cyrus was voted the Hottest Woman in the World by another publication and the craziness that went with that? So no surprises here as it goes with the territory.
A fascinating thing that came to our attention was that so many in the South Korean community would be so surprised that the readers of an international lifestyle and fashion publication would rate an Asian woman so highly. A serious and sometimes spirited debate was brewing online between people on various sides; those that decried the increasing impact of celebrity fascination, K-Pop, plastic surgery and other perceived ailments in South Korea as a whole, and those that proclaimed that it was high time more Asians were recognized for their beauty. There were those that were comparing the relative beauty of Nana and Clara, and those that sent us "Dear Alexander Michaels" emails to basically chat about the burgeoning fashion and lifestyle environment across different parts of Asia, not just South Korea. All in all it was fun, a little unusual in some ways for MODE, but fun and generally lighthearted.
If it had continued that way all would have been good and jolly but things took a slightly different turn for Clara. The ominous gray clouds started hovering over Clara's head when she became embroiled in a fast-paced and ever morphing legal dispute with her management company, Polaris Entertainment, in which she accused the president Lee Kyu-Tae of sexual harassment and argued that it should be a basis to nullify her contract. So, just as in a contentious divorce case, people that were once best friends can become the worst of enemies. Each party would be trying to drag up whatever that is negative they could on the other, potentially destroying each other in the process and tainting everyone around them with the fallout. Sometimes nobody wins in a divorce and everybody, especially the children (representing the real things of value in the relationship), loses.
COVER SEPT/OCT 2013
Photography: Maksimilian Dikarev
Photographer’s Assistant: Redmund Flores
Picture Editing: Katherine Villari
Processing and Design: MODE Studio
Hair & Makeup: Jody Du Priest
Makeup Assistant: Ellen Gondola
Stylist: Germaine Kahans
Shot on Location: Miami
Black Chiffon Cape Dress: Filomena Fernandez, $330
Jewelry: By Silvia Fassardi - Septimo Jewelry-
Corrente earrings with black onyx dangles 18 kt gold plated $147,
Antonia short double snake necklace 18 Kt gold plated $135,
Poison long snake pendant 18 KT gold plated $180
On Master Sang
White Shirt: Armani, $130
Tuxedo: Armani, $1995
Black Shoes: Gucci, $585
The loss here for Clara is that she lost valuable momentum. Just when she was on the verge of transitioning into an international celebrity with possible work in TV and movies in the US, some would argue, she probably attempted to cut the umbilical cord, from which she was perhaps feeding and had outgrown, a little too quickly. In attempting this, she may have overstepped some unspoken boundaries and upset some very powerful people, all of which may have been avoidable with a little more patience and perhaps the advice of an experienced, trusted connected, and capable confidant. The entertainment industry can be a precarious place to navigate, where beauty can certainly open doors but can also become a burden that can attract unwanted attention.
The loss for Lee Kyu-Tae is that the filing of a sexual harassment suit by a celebrity with Social Media prowess and one who was not intent on bending to the whims of the status quo, would be impossible to shut down, irrespective of the validity of the aforementioned claim. The damage had already been done and the increased negative exposure surely would not help in his investigation by the Korean Government and IRS for fraud in the delivery of military related services through Ilkwang Group, the company that owns Polaris Entertainment. So now Lee Kyu-Tae is arrested for fraud and Clara Lee is facing potential charges for blackmail, according to Polaris. See, everyone loses in this unfolding drama.
A challenge for South Korean celebrities with international designs such as Clara, is the changing face of the Korean pop and celebrity market. The modern South Korean society has a fascination with K-Pop with its seemingly endless stream of new boy and girl bands popping up every couple of months. The Europeans and Americans went through that trend most recently in the 80's, 90's and mid 2000's, and have now settled down into a less rigorous but still changing landscape of new talent, many created through the power and exposure of social media.
The new K-Pop phenomenon, although representing a cultural evolution in many positive ways, also has something that is somewhat insidious that not many people seem to talk about. For example, it is clear that America is now a very sexualized society and that is mostly OK because sex is possibly the most natural thing in the world. Most European countries are more open about sex and sexual images, and are not as bipolar about it as the US. Everywhere you go or look in America you will see advertisements for cars, fashion, drinks, and other products and services that are clearly using sex to sell. We all know that those sexy suntanned women in bikinis sitting on the 600HP sports bikes in a bike show have probably never ridden a motorcycle in their lives, and we also know that they are not the target market for those bikes. But we don't mind, mostly, we accept this as the way things are done. But just try showing a woman's nipple on the cover of a magazine and all hell breaks lose. She can wear the tiniest skimpiest thong and top that barely covers anything as long as there is no nipple. Crazy, I know, but that is where it is at the moment. In South Korea the mainstream models, singers and actresses are very clearly moving ever closer to overtaking the West in sexualized advertising and imagery but, just like the no-nipple America, the celebrities are forced into a different highly unattainable task of trying to project an air of purity juxtaposed with respect for tradition. The look is invariably that of a prepubescent child dressed in sexy clothing but perhaps wearing tights under the short-shorts or short-skirts. It's like both the men and women are supposed to look extremely sexy but we are also supposed to believe that nobody is having sex. Yes, that can be a challenge you see, because South Koreans have sex too, just like everybody else, and that we can all agree, is generally a good thing.
For some years my daughter and some of her friends were absolutely fascinated with everything K-Pop and South Korean and I could not hear the end of it. It was fun though, and even I began to get into it, especially since some of my associates and most sincere people I know happen to be South Korean. So this article is an honest account of what I have seen in the company of a people that I admire and is meant to show that, although the world is moving together and becoming one in many ways, there are many historic and traditional differences that are still clearly there. Rather than see these as obstacles, they are indeed to be celebrated. The differences in behaviors, expectations and perceptions can lead to misunderstandings, pain and even conflict, however, they can also lead to excitement, adventure, mystery and add to the overall vitality of the human experience. Still that variety can make it more challenging for a young and newly minted celebrity to try to simultaneously satisfy the expectations of different cultures and fan base.
Will Clara make it back and regain her momentum and if so how long before she returns from her hiatus? That is the question on many people's minds. I certainly believe she is capable and can maybe even rebuild her career trajectory into something more solid, more long-lasting, and more multi-dimensional. She is still young, she is pleasant to work with, she is undoubtedly easy on the eyes, and there is no doubt that she has the social media marketing savvy. We're hoping that the dust settles soon and we will be seeing a revamped and reenergized Clara 2.0.
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