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Julia Lee Is Redefining Beauty, Breaking Barriers, and Embracing Change

Asian-American supermodel, actress, and advocate Julia Lee has captivated the fashion industry with her striking features, effortless grace, and unwavering determination. From strutting down international catwalks to gracing the covers of prestigious magazines like Harper’s Bazaar and L’Officiel, Lee has become an undeniable force in the world of fashion. As the face of renowned brands such as Shiseido, Kate Spade, and Bulgari, she has solidified her status as one of the most sought-after models of her generation.

Born just outside of Philadelphia, Lee's heritage, with Chinese and Vietnamese roots, has fueled her passion for better representation of Asian Americans in the media and modeling world. Recognizing the industry's limited casting of Asians, she tirelessly advocates for an inclusive and diverse landscape, shattering stereotypes and dismantling stigmas. While her modeling success continues to soar, Lee is also carving her path in the acting realm, following in the footsteps of iconic models-turned-actresses like Cara Delevingne and Emily Ratajkowski.

Image By: Najah Mansur / @munglassy

But behind the glamorous facade lies a multi-faceted individual. Before the fashion world beckoned, Lee's remarkable talent as a competitive pianist took her to the esteemed stage of Carnegie Hall. It was during her time as an Abercrombie greeter in Philly that she was scouted for modeling, ultimately landing her a spot among the select few walking in Philly Fashion Week. Despite initial concerns from her mother, Lee's journey took her to Milan, where she experienced unforgettable moments, like gracing the runway for Bulgari amidst ancient Roman ruins. Alongside her modeling triumphs, Lee has also made a mark in the music world, starring in a music video with over 557 million views on YouTube. Yet, life's unpredictable twists tested her resilience, with the heartbreaking loss of her father and the challenge of maintaining composure while fulfilling her professional obligations. Balancing her time between Los Angeles and New York, Lee has embarked on a new chapter, honing her acting skills at prestigious studios, and immersing herself in the art of storytelling.

Image By: Najah Mansur / @munglassy

Savoir Faire: Can you tell us about your journey from being scouted for modeling while working as an Abercrombie greeter?

Julia: I was working as a greeter at Abercrombie when an unexpected opportunity presented itself. While greeting people, a lady from Philly Fashion Week, Noticed me. I went to a casting at Bloomingdales where they picked 10 girls to walk in the fashion show. One of the ten models selected would get a modeling contract with an agency in NYC. I was selected to walk but my mom would not let me. So, I tried it out again the following year, was selected, and skipped school to go to the show. But I got caught, a make-up artist at the show happened to be my neighbor and told my mom I was there.

My parents weren’t always supportive of my career. They often worried about how it would turn out. They really wanted me to be a doctor or engineer with a stable career. I think today my mom is proud of me, but she doesn’t outwardly express that to me often and still has her hesitations that come with being a mother and the immigrant mentality of feeling you have to be in survival mode.

Savoir Faire: Tell us about your background as a competitive pianist and playing at Carnegie Hall.

Julia: My journey as a competitive pianist started at the age of five when I began learning classical piano in Philadelphia. I studied music rhythm and the Kodály method. My mother was quite strict and acted as a "tiger mom," pushing me to practice diligently. Every Friday, I would dedicate my time to practicing. I participated in the World Piano Competition, and winners of the competition had the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall. I achieved this milestone in second grade. However, as I entered high school, I became more interested in sports, and my focus on piano waned.

Image By: Najah Mansur / @munglassy

Savoir Faire: As an advocate for better representation of Asian Americans in the media and modeling world, what steps have you taken to address the limited casting of Asians in the industry?

Julia: I am passionate about advocating for better representation of Asian Americans in the media, movies, and modeling. I've taken various steps to address this issue. Initially, I used my voice on social media to speak out against the Asian hate movement and got involved in related initiatives. This involvement sparked my desire to see better representations of Asians in various forms of media. I even had the opportunity to witness political activism firsthand. It all started from there, and I'm continuously working towards creating positive change.

Savoir Faire: Could you share some of your most memorable experiences in the fashion industry, such as modeling for Bulgari in ancient Roman ruins or appearing on billboards in Times Square for a major campaign?

Julia: There have been several remarkable moments in my fashion career that I hold dear. One unforgettable experience was modeling for Bulgari amidst ancient Roman ruins. It felt surreal to see something I had imagined back when I was 18 become a reality. Another incredible moment was when I appeared on billboards in Times Square for a major campaign. These moments are especially meaningful to me because they defy the traditional expectations of Asian parents and allow me to prove myself. It's important to acknowledge that achieving such milestones requires the collective effort of an entire team, from lighting crews and agencies to artists, photographers, and myself. I couldn’t do what I have done alone.

Savoir Faire: How have you been transitioning from modeling to working in television and film, and what challenges have you faced during this transition?

Julia: To transition from modeling to working in television and film, I've been taking acting classes in Los Angeles. I'm currently in the process of packaging my work and signing with an agency in LA that can help me secure auditions. I've already auditioned for projects like Hallmark and "1923," the prequel to Yellowstone, but I haven't landed any roles yet. Despite the challenges, I'm determined to keep moving forward. Acting requires a different approach compared to modeling; it's about connecting with the character and bringing them to life rather than just fitting into a specific mold. It’s exciting and I find it more challenging.

Savoir Faire: How do you balance your time between living in Los Angeles and New York City, and how have these cities influenced your career and personal growth?

Julia: Balancing my time between Los Angeles and New York City can be a challenge, but both cities have played significant roles in my career and personal growth. Los Angeles has a slower pace and offers sunny weather, which I love. Having grown up on the East Coast, New York City is all about the fast-paced lifestyle and the accessibility to everything outside your door. It's nice to experience both the hustle and bustle and the relaxed vibes. Each city has influenced me in different ways, shaping my career and personal development. I am spending more time in LA these days because of acting but they are both home to me.

Savoir Faire: Apart from advocating for the AAPI community, what other causes or initiatives are you passionate about, such as sustainable fashion brands and clean beauty?

Julia: In addition to advocating for the AAPI community, I've been involved in various other causes and initiatives. In 2019, when my father fell ill, I moved back home to take care of him until he passed away. During that time, I assisted my mother in managing the household and even obtained my real estate license to help sell some of their investments in Pennsylvania. However, while helping my mother sell our Pennsylvania home, I discovered an application my father had filled out for Canada. It had his original address from Vietnam, and it piqued my curiosity since my sister had already been there. I'm passionate about exploring the places my father grew up in and places he visited, I can’t wait to make that journey in the fall to go see it.

Image By: Najah Mansur / @munglassy

Beyond the glitz and glamour, Julia Lee is a true connoisseur of life, embracing her love for art, photography, and travel. In her pursuit of self-discovery, she plans to embark on a poignant journey to Vietnam, retracing the steps of her late father. As a devoted advocate, she champions the AAPI community and supports sustainable fashion brands and clean beauty initiatives. Residing in Los Angeles alongside her beloved French Bulldog Jama, Lee continues to challenge conventions, inspire change, and redefine beauty for generations to come.


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