Japanese author Ai Yazawa’s most popular Japanese manga Nana depicts two women with the same first name—Nana Osaki, the hard-boiled frontwoman of a punk rock band, and Nana Komatsu, a hopeless romantic—whose worlds converge after their respective life aspirations present them with a fateful encounter on the same train in Tokyo. The story explores the ebbs and flows of adulthood as much as it swells with sartorial tributes, especially to the late Vivienne Westwood and her trademark subversive aesthetic. It was through Yazawa’s anime that South Korean model Sora Choi was first introduced to the world of fashion.
“When I was in elementary school, all I read was Nana,” she tells ELLE. “The characters were always dressed in punk looks.” The similarities between the series and her upbringing go beyond a shared love of style, though. Choi’s life also appears to be ripe with chance meetings.
In fact, modeling wasn’t always in the cards for Choi. She calls her story “typical” with more than a tinge of modesty, but her lengthy résumé proves she is anything but. A quick perusal of her Instagram feed presents a visual diary of her proudest moments: waltzing down the runways of luxury houses and posing for editorial campaigns, nestled in between big-name magazine shoots with close-ups of her delicate, piercing eyes and statuesque chiseled jawline. To think none of this would’ve come to fruition had Choi chosen to spend an otherwise boring day differently.
“I followed a friend who wanted me to tag along with her to a casting call,” she recalls. The nervous wannabe model asked Choi to accompany her for support, but upon arrival, the director couldn’t stop looking at Choi instead. She immediately accepted the offer. Modeling revealed a side of her she hadn’t yet uncovered or begun to explore privately or publicly: confidence. Without question, Choi embraced her newfound career and gained exposure after winning the third cycle of the reality television show Korea’s Next Top Model in 2012. However, it wasn’t until she made her international debut at the Louis Vuitton Cruise show in 2014 that Choi realized modeling was her destiny. “It was taking my first step onto the runway after getting [my] hair and makeup done backstage,” she says. “The moment I took that step, I knew that I never wanted to quit.”
For Choi, conquering the modeling world meant she had to master the art of metamorphosis. “I have multiple personas, and depending on who I’m with, I choose which one to put on,” she explains. A typically timid, reserved young girl, she soon discovered the runways were not for the faint of heart. “Everyone in the fashion industry seemed confident, full of life, and energetic. I wanted to be like that. Perhaps the image I portray may be a persona I created back then,” she adds. Having a slew of alter egos to choose from taught Choi how to insulate herself from the negativity and outside noise, and “how little to care about how other people perceive me,” she says. It’s this assertive sense of self that put her in the good graces of fashion houses like Valentino, Fendi, Chanel, Givenchy, and more.
Life moves fast for an international model that jets to major cities to pose for campaigns, walk runways, eat, sleep, rinse, and repeat. But her favorite place to be is right by her husband photographer Kove Lee’s side. Of all the personas she’s adopted, though, she seems the most eager to become a mother. Choi doesn’t know exactly when that’ll come into play, but in the meantime, she has ambitious plans for her future outside of modeling. “I’m thinking of starting to archive my work and my thoughts, probably via YouTube,” she says. I ask her to choose a buzzword that best characterizes her plans for the upcoming year, and she responds without missing a beat: “Sora Choi, that’s the theme.”
Hair by Junya Nakashima for British M; makeup by Fulvia Farolfi for Chanel; manicure by Aja Walton for Essie; model: Sora Choi at The Lions Management; set design by Jacob Burstein for MHS Artists; produced by Veronica Sharon at Maanifest Agency.
Beauty Commerce Editor
Nerisha is the beauty commerce editor at ELLE.com, covering all things beauty (and fashion and music). She has a penchant for sneakers and nude lip glosses, and spends way too much time re-watching 90s sitcoms.