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Hannah Locsin Talks About Being a Proudly Filipina Model and How She Landed Her Biggest Break Yet

by Nicole R. Cruz | Apr 18, 2022
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Hannah Locsin has received much recognition for establishing herself internationally, but few people know of the challenges faced–and feats she achieved–to make it this far.

It’s 8:00 p.m. in New York. Hannah Locsin is wearing a ‘90s-style button-down, sitting cross-legged across her laptop, still jet-lagged. I catch scenes of her picture-perfect apartment, brick walls and all, as she waltzes across the room to get a good internet connection. It’s a snippet of her extraordinary fashion life in the Big Apple—presumably one of magazine covers, photoshoots for bigwig brands, and rubbing elbows with high-profile personalities.

Hannah Locsin for Preview April 2022

Even on screen, her signature bowl cut hairstyle is striking, and I couldn’t help but remember, as any Filipino fashion fan would, her monumental Gucci debut at the Spring/Summer 2020 Milan Fashion Week. “Oh, the Gucci girl!” is perhaps a typical reaction when her name is recalled, and rightly so. But such imprinted images can lead one to forget the work that goes on behind them. After all, a model is as much a profession as any other. As Hannah began to speak (her demeanor cheerful despite the jet lag), it became clear that behind the bug-eyed sunglasses we remember her by, is no less than a young woman striving to carve a career from something she’s passionate about.


Setting Out on Her Own

Modeling was always something high school Hannah had been interested in, but it wasn’t until her college days at De La Salle University that opportunities cropped up on the sidelines. With a statuesque 5-foot-10 frame and a baby face to boot, her classmates and close friends would often enlist her help to model for projects. These little gigs led her to meet pros in the industry like Lou Muñoz, who eventually introduced her to the Professional Models Association of the Philippines (PMAP) where she got signed. Her bookings as a professional model were consistent, and it wasn’t long before Preview Magazine’s former fashion editor Daryl Chang found potential in the gangly, elfin-faced model during a SoFA Graduation Show. “Preview was my first publication actually! That’s why I never deleted it from my Instagram feed,” Hannah laughs as she recalls her first editorial for the title, which she feels was her breakthrough moment in the local fashion industry.

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It was through her gradual progress as a model, and the examples set by other Filipinas who came before her, that convinced Hannah to pursue it as a profession. The dream had always been New York, but she tried her hand at solo-living in Malaysia first with her friend, Jach Manere, where they got a taste of the international model life, from walking multiple runway shows to being housed in a models’ apartment.

Hungry for bigger things after the two-month Malaysia stint, Hannah took the initiative and dove headfirst into the New York modeling scene. Unfazed by the touristy temptations surrounding her, she focused on hunting for an agency with the guidance of close friend and creative director Audie Umali. Now, such are the makings of this ambitious side of Hannah: that even in unknown territory, she isn’t afraid to give things a try, no matter how overwhelming they might be. “For me, the experience was mostly a lot of fear. You never know walking in there, if they’re gonna like you or not.”


All in Good Time

Courage, fear, and luck played their cards in her pursuit, but fate also stepped into the picture. Despite the success of getting signed with an agency, travel visa issues kept her from pushing through with it, leaving her grounded in Manila after she had returned. “In the beginning, I was just like, ‘My gosh, this is so stressful, why can’t I get this now?’ But you know, I always believed—and my mom always taught me—that everything happens for a reason,” she says with a wide smile rarely seen in her nonchalant poses that often characterize her high fashion photos.

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Perhaps it’s this optimism and openness in her (she accepted that NY wasn’t happening) that attracts good fortune when she least expects it, and in this case, it was Europe. Her New York agency had apparently sent her profile to Women Management, a Parisian modeling agency that was more than happy to have her on board. “Nagulat na lang ako nung nag-email sila and said, ‘We sent your portfolio to our sister company in Paris and they want to sign you.’ So biglang from New York it was ‘Get your ass to Europe right now!’” she says of the windfall.


Prior to her big break, Hannah dabbled in a slew of commercial gigs, including Bershka, Charlotte Tilbury, and Galleries Lafayette, among others, but it was only in the latter half of 2019 that the previously pitched idea of a hair transformation finally came to light. This led her to nab what would become her breakthrough in the international modeling scene. Her agency had initially delayed Hannah’s Milan Fashion Week debut to the following season, until she sent photos of her new ‘do–which immediately got the Italian fashion house calling.

The One to Watch

As we all know, the rest is history: Hannah flew to Milan and walked Gucci in the now-iconic ensemble featuring a chartreuse Swarovski-embellished maxi dress, black fishnet tights, horse-bit flats, patent leather gloves, and oversized hexagonal sunglasses—part of Alessandro Michele’s definition of sexy for the season (orgasmique!). But apart from the terror of tripping on the conveyor belt runway, Hannah had gone through a hodgepodge of emotions prior to her debut. “I was excited, but also cautiously excited because sometimes it happens that you get confirmed but then something goes wrong [or] they don’t like your look. If they don’t like it altogether with the whole collection, then they’ll cut the look, which has happened to me once or twice already.”

Such a self-defense mechanism, which is a way to protect herself from disappointment, she confesses, also manifests in her manner of sharing the news. Hannah says she told her family and friends only after she was 100% confirmed after her fittings; and when it comes to work-related projects in general, she really only tells a handful of people. It’s understandable for her to be quite incredulous about it all, as there are very few Filipina models in history who have managed to make it that far. However, Hannah embraced the surrealness by acknowledging the fact that she is representing her country and possibly paving the way for more Filipino models.


“Being the only Filipino really did uplift my spirit. I was like, ‘Not only am I carrying myself, but I’m carrying my country as well.' And to highlight the Philippines in that way was so indescribable. It felt like after years of trying to break out, it finally happened, and it might even set the path for future Filipino models and future Filipino brands. At the time, even until now naman, Filipinos aren’t that present in the international fashion scene. So whenever I see other Filipino models do a big show and they’re proud that they're from the Philippines, I can see that iba yung feeling na ‘yon because it’s not just about you, it's about all of us.”

Facing Reality

Hannah’s patriotism comforted her throughout this novel experience of being an international model. And people back at home were equally proud to see a fellow Filipino as the face of Gucci, especially after Hannah followed up her career-making stint by posing for the brand’s Pre-Fall 2020 lookbook, the S/S 2020 campaign, walking the A/W 2020 runway, and even filming a video for Gucci’s L’Obscur Mascara. It’s the stuff of dreams, really, but in reality, Hannah admittedly felt pressure to keep the momentum going. “Naging 2020 na, and it was time for a new season. And that’s when the pressure came in because I was telling myself, ‘Okay I need to book Gucci again and then try to book more shows other than that so that people won’t just brand me as that Gucci girl.” Fortunately, Hannah scored shows with the likes of Anteprima, Ralph & Russo, Rokh, and Paul & Joe. She even managed to squeeze in a cover for Harper’s Bazaar Kazakhstan.

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The pressure that comes with the uncertainty of booking shows is characteristic of the profession, and Hannah confesses to feeling anxious about it all. “It really does give me a lot of anxiety. Whenever people ask me about fashion week, I always say that I have a love-hate relationship with it because I really hate the fact that we’re running around and trying to go through all these castings, and you don’t know if they’ll like you or not. You’re giving it your best but then sometimes it’s just really not gonna happen,” she shares.

“And it happens to everyone. Like, there will be people who get accepted, and then there are people who won’t be. That’s just how it is. But on the other hand, I also love it because just the thrill of being there and actually booking a show is something that will always outweigh the anxiety in the end.” Various castings and runway shows tend to happen consecutively during fashion week, and yes, castings can take place just days before (or a day before) the actual show, Hannah confesses.

Such was her nerve-wracking experience at the Miu Miu casting, a story she'd never revealed before. The audition was on the same day as another runway show—perhaps Ralph & Russo, she recalls—plus another casting. After waiting for hours, she knew she couldn’t make it to her second schedule, and it was also about time to head to the runway show. “Just run and get there as fast as you can,” her agency advised. Thankfully, the wait was worth it, as she got an email from Miu Miu inviting her for a fitting. However, in true Hannah fashion, she stayed “cautiously excited” and kept her cool during the fitting, which was led by none other than Miuccia Prada herself. “I was just like, does she like this on me? Is she gonna choose someone else? So parang nakatayo lang ako and they were like, ‘You can get changed now.’ And I’m like, ‘Okay great, thanks.’ I said to myself, ‘That still doesn’t mean anything…’” But we all know the positive result, and it was only then that Hannah allowed herself to breathe and rejoice. “At the end of the day, they confirmed everything and I was like, ‘Okay great no taking back anything anymore!’” she laughs.


Getting Into the Grind

After her jam-packed Milan experience, things were put on hold, like the rest of the world, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, prompting her to pack up and head home in mid-March of 2020. She spent the lockdown bonding with family and living a slow life until she saw that things were starting to open up in New York. It’s evident from the beginning that Hannah has an insatiable thirst to keep moving forward, which is why it’s no wonder that she took her chances and flew to the Big Apple to finally make her dreams come true. And it seems that her time in Europe served as good preparation for NY, where she has now been based since July 2020, for she clearly takes a proactive approach to her career. For starters, she gives her agencies goals to guide them on the kind of projects she wants to try, whether they're related to beauty or fashion. She is also hyper-aware of the fact that she, as a model, is her own brand. And like any other brand, it needs care, consistency, and flexibility.

“I do consider myself as a brand. Even my agencies, especially my Paris agency, are very particular. Let’s say during fashion week, they would make me come in the morning even though I have a full schedule ahead, so they could check my attire. They usually present me as a ‘chic tough girl.’ That’s why I wear a lot of band shirts which I do love because they’re also comfortable. But it can also change depending on the brand I’m meeting with.” It’s safe to say that it’s this kind of input that has resulted in her impressive New York portfolio, which ranges from Maybelline, Phillip Lim, Macy’s, to Aritzia—names that prove just how versatile and dynamic her ‘brand’ can be.


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But that isn’t to say she doesn’t set aside time for fun. A scroll through her feed will show snippets of her off-duty model life spent hanging out with fellow Filipina models and friends who have served as her support group, especially during tough times. This period spent in New York during the pandemic was the longest she had been away from the Philippines before she came home in January of 2022.

The Best is Yet to Come

It’s strange to think that it’s only been three years since Hannah set her foot in the realm of international modeling. She continues to break boundaries with every step she takes, no matter how unpredictable that next path is, especially in a profession whose future relies on the next booking. When asked about what keeps her going, she answers, “What motivates me is my ‘why.’ Like why am I even doing this? For me, I’m doing this because this is what I want to do. I want to continue pursuing this. I want to continue carrying the Philippines here [in New York]. I want to open doors for other models. I always get those comments or like DMs na parang ‘Oh I want to model also but I don’t think I can do this and that.' Hello, like me, 5 or 10 years ago, I didn’t see myself doing this either! But here I am now. So yes, you always have to keep asking why.”


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Aside from purpose, another prevailing factor in her auspicious journey thus far is her cheerful disposition, an asset that can often be overlooked in any kind of profession. On Zoom call, Hannah is bubbly and animated, the total opposite of her shy, timid self back in high school, when she thought that her passion for modeling could only be a side job. “I kind of pushed myself in college to be open to new things because I might be losing out on an experience. That’s what I carry with me whenever I encounter something that will make me hesitate.”

If there’s anything that this doe-eyed, 26-year-old has proven these past few years, it’s that no amount of uncertainty will keep her from taking that next step forward. This is the slice of truth that her iconic image bears: It may be her unique look that has caught the world’s attention, but it’s her inner strength, determination, and unyielding optimism that will enable her to stay for more. And we all cannot wait to get a glimpse of that.

Produced by Steph Sison and Em Enriquez

Photographed by Aya Cabauatan

Art Direction by Bacs Arcebal

Fashion Direction and Styling by Steph Sison

Beauty Direction by Nicole Arcano

Hair by Mycke Arcano

Makeup by Slo Lopez

Video by Yeyen Espineda

Words by Nicole Cruz

Special thanks to Chere Gioskos and Lorenz Namalata of Alt Management

Nails by Nailandia

Art Interns: Kahlil Alcala, Hyrum Lorico, Yasha Rosales, Alyssa Uy

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