Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story did not mention Naomi Osaka’s Jan. 2021 Vogue cover. She was one of four women featured on different versions of the cover for the same month’s issue. This story has been updated to include Naomi Osaka’s feature.
For the first time in its 130-year history, revered fashion magazine American Vogue will solo feature an East Asian woman on its cover.
Appearing on the February issue is fashion model-turned-actress Jung Ho-yeon, who graced countless screens as Kang Sae-byeok, or Player 067, in last year’s global sensation “Squid Game.”
The magazine tweeted a picture of the cover on Wednesday, along with an accompanying profile on the 27-year-old actress, detailing her journey from catwalks to the international stage. “The feeling, there’s a limit to what words can express,” she said of her sudden rise to fame. On Instagram alone, the actress gained over 9 million followers within two weeks since the Korean thriller series “Squid Game” premiered on Netflix. “I don’t know why, but I couldn’t eat. I was so confused, and it was so chaotic. I didn’t believe it. I didn’t trust it,” she told Vogue. Now, Jung has over 23.7 million followers on the social media platform.
Reflecting on her career goals, Jung also revealed that she doesn’t feel as though finding a spot in Hollywood is as important to her as it once was. “I have always wanted to go to Hollywood and to act in America, and I still do,” she said. “But ‘Squid Game’ changed my mindset. It doesn’t have to be an American movie or a European movie, it’s the story and the message that are more important.”
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In Vogue’s newly released two-minute video of Jung, shot in the style of an old spy movie, she’s seen wearing a sleek black leather outfit while the narrator begins to unravel more about her — the “International Woman of Mystery,” as the title suggests.
Jung, who had already made herself known in the fashion world for years, appeared in another Vogue video over five years ago as part of their “Beauty Secrets” series on YouTube. The title of it, many viewers noticed, was altered to include “Squid Game” during the height of all the positive response to the show.
Jung’s earlier success as a model began after she came in second place in the competitive reality show “Korea’s Next Top Model.” “I searched my name every day, and I read all the comments, one by one,” she admitted . “Even if eight people loved me and only two people hated me, I always cried, at home alone.” The criticism felt personal; it still does. “Even now, I struggle with low self-esteem.”
Soon after, companies overseas began to recognize her talent, and Jung moved to New York City’s small Koreatown that spans from 32nd to 34th street. She went on to walk for some of the world’s most well known luxury fashion houses around the world, until her last show for Moschino in December of 2019.
It was during the many days spent alone or traveling that she’d discover her love for television and film, until the call came for her to audition for “Squid Game.”
“I immediately felt the shape of the Sae-byeok I had imagined,” creator and director Hwang Dong-hyuk said of her video audition. He wanted someone “fresh” and with a “different aura,” and it seemed Jung fit the bill.
Before Jung, Priyanka Chopra, who is of Indian descent, was the first Asian woman to land her own American Vogue cover in 2019.
In 2013 Fei Fei Sun became the first Asian model to appear on Italian Vogue, before appearing in the U.S. edition the following year alongside several other models on the foldout of the cover.
In the March 2017 issue, Chinese model Liu Wen became the first Asian model to officially grace the front cover of Vogue USA. Wen was posed alongside a group of women from various ethnic backgrounds along with supermodel and body activist Ashley Graham in a photo that was meant to depict the “Modern American Woman.” The magazine ended up drawing backlash, however, for what many believed to be an ill-conceived attempt at showcasing diversity.
In 2021, global tennis star Naomi Osaka was also photographed on her own in January, however she was one of four women featured in different versions of the cover for the same month’s issue.