RÉSUMÉ: After bursting on to the scene in 2011 – working with the likes of Helmut Lang, Alexander McQueen and Bottega Veneta – Zhang took some time out from the industry to start a family. However, after being cast for the Balenciaga SS19 runway show and starring in a campaign for the Parisian fashion house, Zhang’s career has hit an all-time high – last season alone, she walked in more than 30 fashion shows.
GROWING UP, FASHION WAS NOT A BIG PART OF MY LIFE. It wasn’t until I started modeling that I took a real interest in fashion. Before I became a model, I dreamed of being an actor or a professional sports acrobat, which is quite similar to a rhythmic gymnast. However, my mom was always very particular about her clothing when I was a child. She was really skilful and would buy amazing fabrics to make clothes for us both. So I guess that did instil me with a sense of pride in what I wore.
MODELING CAME SO NATURALLY TO ME. Being a model is quite similar to being an athlete – you are constantly pushing yourself to do better. Both require natural ability, but that’s not enough: you also have to put in a great deal of effort. When I started modeling, at the age of 19, it felt as if I had found a new way to channel and harness the drive, determination and passion I had always put into sport.
BECOMING A MOTHER HAS CHANGED MY OUTLOOK ON LIFE. I chose to get married and have babies at a point when my career was really starting to take off. After taking that time off and having two children, I came back into this super-competitive industry at the age of 29 – something I never thought I’d be able to do. It was tough, but I think my career has now entered a new and even more exciting phase.
I DREAM ABOUT MY HOME TOWN – THAT’S HOW MUCH I MISS IT. I live in Shanghai now, but I grew up in a small rural town in the Anhui province of China. Although it’s extremely poor, it’s such a beautiful place. There’s a real sense of community and everyone is willing to help each other out. I had a simple, happy childhood; I spent my summers helping my grandmother harvest her vegetable garden and fields of wheat. I have some wonderful memories from that time.
Practicing deep breathing, meditation and hitting the gym as often as I can all help to keep me balanced”
IT’S IMPORTANT TO MAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF. I always make sure to eat well and prioritize a good night’s sleep. Practicing deep breathing, meditation and hitting the gym as often as I can all help to keep me balanced, too. I love swimming and Pilates, but my work schedule doesn’t always allow me to do them regularly, so I always make sure to do a simple stretch routine – something you can even do in a hotel room.
I’VE MASTERED THE ART OF PACKING. I’ll admit that, when it comes to getting my cases ready for fashion month, it’s a challenge. You start off in New York, where it’s deep winter and often snowing, and then, by the time you hit Paris – the last stop – it’s springtime! I need two cases for that mammoth trip, but when it comes to quick jobs, I can get everything I need into a carry-on bag. Of course, I’d love to plan a vacation soon to some tropical islands but, honestly, when I’m away for work, the only place I’m dreaming of is home.
AS A MODEL, I TRANSFORM INTO A NEW PERSON EVERY DAY. It’s an amazing creative outlet, but because I get to experiment at work, in my day-to-day life, I like to keep my look quite simple. I basically live in blazers; having an off-duty uniform stops me from being fatigued by fashion. I’m the same when it comes to makeup: I never wear it outside of work. My only beauty-bag essentials are hand cream, lip balm, SPF and miniature perfumes, which are super-handy when traveling.
The model featured in this story is not associated with NET-A-PORTER and does not endorse it or the products shown