By Instyle
Updated Oct 18, 2018 @ 9:00 am
InStyle November - Liu Wen - Lead - 2
Credit: Phil Poynter/Serlina Associates. Gucci jacket, shirt, and skirt. Versace beret. Maria La Rosa socks. Valentino Garavani loafers.

Fair warning to Liu Wen’s New York City neighbors: The model recently acquired a ukulele and has big plans to learn how to play it.

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Credit: Phil Poynter/Serlina Associates. Alberta Ferretti blazer and trousers. DSquared2 belt. Dior boots.

“I’m actually really bad at music,” she admits. “My [childhood] teacher used to say I have no talent at all.” But for Liu, having natural ability (or not) has never factored into her choice to take on a challenge. “When I’m ready [to try something], I just put all my power into doing it.”

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Credit: Phil Poynter/Serlina Associates. Alexander McQueen jacket, top, trousers, and boots.

That was certainly the mindset she brought to a modeling competition near her hometown outside Yongzhou in southern China at age 17. “My friends were going, so I figured I would too,” she says. Still, Liu, who considered herself a gangly tomboy, had never seen a catwalk let alone imagined walking on one.

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Credit: Phil Poynter/Serlina Associates. Fendi blazer, shirt, trousers with attached skirt, and socks. JJ Hat Center, NYC hat. Coach 1941 creepers.

Cut to winning the grand prize (a laptop), landing the occasional regional gig, and catching the attention of well-connected creative director Joseph Carle at a fitting in Beijing in 2007. Suddenly she was strutting in some of fashion’s biggest shows, from Burberry to Jean Paul Gaultier, for the fall 2008 season. And while Liu felt completely out of her league (“I had never even worn high heels before modeling!”), she was determined to rule the runway.

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Credit: Phil Poynter/Serlina Associates. Salvatore Ferragamo blazer and trousers. Church’s brogues.

“I didn’t know anything [about fashion], so I would study magazines and watch videos of other models,” she remembers of her whirlwind early career. “I was trying to learn something from them but use it to be myself.”

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Credit: Phil Poynter/Serlina Associates. Louis Vuitton jumpsuit. Giuseppe Zanotti sneakers.

Today it’s hard to imagine Liu as anything but a pro. Now 30 years old and often called the first Chinese supermodel, she has been in this business for over 10 years and is still at the top of her game, with a spot in Chloé’s 2018 campaign and a contract as a face of Chanel’s Les Beiges makeup collection.

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Credit: Phil Poynter/Serlina Associates. Prada jacket, sweater, skirt, and pumps.

Although she remains in high demand with the industry’s biggest houses, Liu is continually looking for other ways to push herself. She posts charming videos about her life and her travels for her 22 million followers on Weibo (a micro-blogging site that’s become one of China’s largest social-media networks) and currently has a coffee shop under construction in Ningbo, a town just south of Shanghai, that she hopes will serve as a place where she can meet online fans. And this fall she will début her first-ever clothing line in collaboration with Chinese cashmere brand Erdos, which she painstakingly developed from first sketch to final packaging.

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Credit: Phil Poynter/Serlina Associates. Dior blazer, blouse, petticoat, tie, and boots.

“It really helped me grow,” she says. “Every detail is mine. It was stressful, but I learned a lot.”

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Credit: Phil Poynter/Serlina Associates. Max Mara coat, jacket, pants, and belt. Giuseppe Zanotti sneakers.

So what will she be tackling next? “I have lots of things I want to try,” she says enthusiastically, rattling off a list that includes acting (she recently did a short-film project in China) and exploring ways to promote sustainable fashion (her shopping bags for her LiuWen x Erdos capsule collection encourage reuse). Then she pauses for a moment, pensive. “But who knows? I might just retire in 10 years and have a little house with a garden in some village — that is the dream!” Sounds like the perfect place to master the ukulele.

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Credit: Phil Poynter/Serlina Associates. Dolce & Gabbana jacket and pants. Manolo Blahnik loafers.