Miss J is ruling the runway

Miss J is ruling the runway

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Miss J became famous on America's Next Top Model.
Miss J became famous on America's Next Top Model.
Photo: Scad HK

If anyone knows how to make an entrance, it's runway coach J. Alexander: "Fabulous, great, wonderful. Do I look fat on camera? No? Great."

Striding into the studio room at Savannah College of Arts and Design (Scad) Hong Kong, he immediately takes charge before settling his nearly 2-metre frame on a stool at the front of the room. 

"Most questions will be answered," he announces. "If you don't get the right answer, you'll get AN answer."

J. Alexander - born Alexander Jenkins - is known for being flamboyant and energetic. He has served as a runway coach on the world's foremost catwalks, is a designer and has also done some modelling himself. 

He gained television fame as a runway coach and judge on America's Next Top Model, where he is affectionately referred to as Miss J.

He came to Hong Kong to help prepare models and support student designers at the Scad Hong Kong Fashion Showcase. 

"People want some of what you guys have here in Hong Kong," he says. "Because right now, everyone is running to China because [it is] a huge market and there's more creative talent coming out of China."

 He says that this market draw has been affecting everything from the clothes on the runway, to how designers are thinking about branding, to the ethnicity of models both on the runway and in magazines.

"I think as a rule, Asian girls as models ... are much more disciplined," he says. "And they deliver." As the fashion world turns to Asia, more and more Asian models are appearing on catwalks and in print. 

And J. Alexander says this also helps with encouraging creativity. "I still think that China is a bit conservative in many, many ways, but it's a lot of the young kids that are coming in and branching out and changing and breaking the rules," he says. "And fashion is about breaking rules. If I didn't break any rules I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you."

J. Alexander has made his career out of doing the unexpected. The seventh out of 10 children, he originally went to school to become an accountant. "But I always went back to the department stores looking in windows at things I could not afford," he remembers. 

He always had a creative mind when it came to clothes. "I was always wearing my older brothers' clothes," he says. "I would take them and make them look different so when I went to school, people wouldn't say, 'Oh, you're wearing your brother's old clothes'."

Altering and creating new looks let him express his character and build confidence - useful skills when he entered the fashion world.

"It's about taking risks and putting yourself out there. Everyone isn't going to like what you do. Everyone isn't going to have the same tastes that you have."

He says confidence is key to getting ahead, especially in an industry where criticism is common. For many models, who are often teenagers, the pressure can be daunting. But as long as you're focused on your own health, you can avoid many of the pitfalls of modelling and fashion.

"Let's talk about the eating disorders and the anorexia. That does exist for some girls, but for the most part, a lot of girls are just naturally thin. You're 16, you're 17, you're 18 years old and you're travelling constantly ... and as you're constantly moving you're constantly burning. And the downside is that you get exhausted."

And with the exhaustion and the constant pressure, some young models turn to unhealthy habits, like drugs and alcohol. "But you have the power to say no," he says. "You don't need to get yourself involved in all of that if you don't want to. Because a good model ... keeps it healthy."

As well as good health, you need a source of inspiration to succeed. For J. Alexander, this comes from the people around him. "People on the street are very important, because that's where the fashion is," he says. 

And Hong Kong, he adds, is a great place to look at street fashion. He says that the diversity the city offers can inspire anyone. But to be creative, you need to be open. "There's all types of beauty," he says. "There's so much beauty all around."


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