DESIGNSCENE Interview with Kelly England Prehn by Ana Markovic, shot by Paolo Guadagnin
Kelly England Prehn is the ultimate cool girl on a mission. We find out what it is like being discovered by Shu Uemura, shooting on Mount Fuji and how she is changing the fashion business…
When starting your modeling career did you ever think your career path will go in such an impressive direction?
You are very kind Ana, thank you. But honestly, OMG, if someone told me this I would not have believed them. Being scouted by Models One agency on a school trip to London Covent Garden was an unexpected surprise and I felt lucky to be in the fashion business for one day, let alone weeks and now it is years! I am from a very small beautiful village in the UK countryside and grew up on family farms and roaming in field. So this world of travelling and working with amazing creative people and brands is still as exciting to me today as when I first started as a teen. Every day is an adventure.
How did spending a lot of time in China change your every day life, did some of the local traditions become part of your daily routine?
I am totally hooked on Asian beauty and health and have been since first learning about their tips. I go for acupuncture every week and have for years – as soon as I get off a plane I have an appointment. A Fung Shui Master visits the offices and my home, and we move furniture and decorate to what he suggests – my British friends think I am mad! Plus, all the business and life etiquette you just absorb and do naturally after experience – and in Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai, the rules are all totally different, so yes, I love the traditions and respect them.
During your extensive modeling career, what's your most memorable experience?
Being a model is a huge privilege as you are basically in a dream scene every day. Every set is filled with people’s ideas they made into a reality and you arrive, do hair and makeup, and pose to complete the puzzle. It is life in a fantasy and frankly all creative people known that reality is overrated! Waking up doing a shoot below the Eiffel Tower in couture and spectacular Cartier High Jewelry (with heavy weight security on set) was a great experience. But equally shooting on a working coal mine in industrial China, for Levi’s Jeans, was unforgettable and bonkers! Mount Fuji at sunrise with a highly organised crew of 100 Japanese – and 5x makeup artists per model (including one for shiatsu massages) was also very cool.
You were the face of Japanese beauty brand Shu Uemura, in your opinion how different is conception of beauty in Asia from the one we are accustomed to in Europe?
The big secret is that Asian people are generally big on prevention rather than cure. Suntanning is really not encouraged at all in Asia. If they could bathe in SPF they would! As a model, my manager would literally walk besides me shielding me with a UV umbrella on shoots just to walk 5 steps on set to avoid the sun. I thought it was silly at the time – but now I appreciate their thoughtfulness – and I guess they were protecting their ‘product’ because clients would send home models with any kind of a tan! Asian people are also really into how food affects health and beauty. My Asian friends have scolded me gently for eating too many juicy lychees as they make the body too hot according the Chinese medicine. Also, you get used to only drinking warm or hot water, never ice cold as they believe this is more gentle for the body. Tea is also a hot topic, and you need to think about what your body needs before ordering. You need friends to teach you as this kind of thing is so different from how I grew up in England. Everyone thinks Asian people just use face masks everynight to look good – but it is way more complex than that and they treat health management like an art – even taxi drivers have special teas mixed by their doctors. I still use Shu Uemura as they have formula’s that have stood the test of time and were created by Mr Shu who was truly a genius and a groundbreaker. He gave me my big break and I am very loyal.
You like traveling. Could you please name your 5 favorite destinations?
Tokyo – for the TOTO bathrooms, if you didn’t try them, you need to. That is all I am saying
Rome – for the food and the beautiful people – Italian’s do it better!
London – for the architecture and the Royal Parks.
Los Angeles – for the people watching.
Madrid – for the weather and the night time vibes.
What's your morning routine like?
I want to tell you proudly about how I drink lemon water and meditate – haha – but honestly, I am so busy, at home I usually wake with a cat or two on my head and then am straight into my phone to check messages from different time zones around the world. But on more peaceful mornings I have a Pilates class at my place or a massage and that gives me lots of energy. When on the road, even if I am trying to eat super healthy there is an unexplained note on my hotel records in different cities that l like ‘Rice Crispies’ - so now for years I find them in my room often wrapped beautifully like a special gift which is always funny.
What's your recipe for a perfect complexion?
I started with perfect skin and honestly didn’t appreciate it, until I had crazy skin for a while and went to all the best most famous western style doctors around the world. After trying all the medicines, facials, and detoxes, they just couldn’t fix me and I felt helpless. I went with little optimism to a Chinese doctor and she said she would try me with herbs and acupuncture for 6 weeks and then she would know if she could help or not. Well, she performed a miracle, and since then I sent other people to her with great results too. Day to day, I use a lot of gentle Japanese and Korean skincare and natural recipes from the Philippines that I make at home as they are really in touch with nature and I like to keep things simple.
Where do you see Chinese fashion in the next 10 years?
Buy, buy, buy is what I see! There are so many people, so many cities, so many businesses all growing. People are spending money and want to have the latest and greatest products and be a part of the fashion world. However, I also think high consumers are resisting looking similar to everyone else and they want to be unique. Chinese are also increasingly interested in eco fashion and being sustainable – they are quite committed to causes when they get interested and are proud to be making a difference.
How would you describe the fascination of Chinese shoppers with European fashion market?
It has only been around ten years that large numbers have been able to get visas to travel to Europe to shop. European fashion is extremely exciting and a seriously cool way to spend time and money. Chinese luxe shoppers want to know everything about the brand owners and their lifestyle too. Look at Dolce and Gabbana and Donatella Versace – they are Icons, Idols, Stars to many Chinese shoppers. Italians know how to be the dream and that begins and ends with the clothes – but in the middle is the vision of fashion and style – and that matters.
What is the biggest difference between Chinese and European fashion industry?
There is no middle in the Chinese fashion industry. No highstreet. It is high or low. Luxe shoppers have no limit to their spend on beautifully made clothes, couture and Alta Moda is their catnip! And fast fashion is faster than you can say dim sum!
Favourite Chinese brands
Firstly, JALA skincare is now coming to international attention. My good friend and one of the first people l met in China created it with his wife and it went from zero to outselling foreign brands in ten years and is now an iconic company Shanghai is very proud of. Secondly, Wendy Yu is a Patron and Investor with great instincts and is a super smart person. Thirdly, Huishan Zhang is a Chinese born and London based designer and one to watch.
What advice do you have for people who want to build a career like yours?
There really is no roadmap, and a lot happens by magic. I do believe in being in the right place at the right time. You must follow your passion and then commit and work hard, even through the night, through holidays – whatever. Stay focused in your mission – don’t be distracted by others, as you are unique. When you enjoy what you are doing, you feel happy and full of energy, so look for that, and just keep going.
What are your future plans?
I’m doing a new exciting project related to fashion and kindness to animals. Donatella Versace recently announced that ‘Fur is Over’ which is a big breakthough, as she is a leader and inspiration. Prada, Armani, Tom Ford and Stella McCartney are all fur free too. I love the photographer Alexi Lubomirski who makes beautiful fashion pictures and is proudly vegan. There is a lot of great positive energy in the fashion business and we are together finding more creative ways to make beautiful clothes with lot less impact on the environment and animals. I am happy to be pushing ahead in this subject and proud to be one of the driving forces.