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Behind the Scenes with the Model & Director of Our Lunar New Year Editorial

Luckily, she has “a lot of friends in the reptile community.”

Artist Spotlight
Behind the Scenes with the Model & Director of Our Lunar New Year Editorial
Lydia Ren

For the celebration of the Lunar New Year and the onset of the Year of the Dragon, writer Viv Chen explored how the emblems of these celebrations have made their way into fashion (and not for the first time). In tandem with her reporting, creative director Lydia Ren conceived of an editorial spread, in which she also modeled, channeling her own, albeit admittedly generous, take on the holiday. As she couldn’t get a real live dragon, she opted for the next best thing: a monitor lizard. Ahead, discover how the shoot came together and what Ren is looking forward to in the Year of the Dragon.

What did the process of conceptualization look like?

“They told me ‘the year of the dragon,’ and the closest thing I could think of to a dragon in our current day that's real and not abstract was a lizard. I've always been really obsessed with these big lizards. I'm actually trying to build a terrarium in my warehouse space to breed lizards. They're really, really smart. The lizards I'm talking about are monitor lizards. They pretty much behave like dogs. For reptiles, they're very genius. They're like little raptors. Apparently, they can respond to their names. And they know when you're going to feed them, which is very appealing because most reptiles kind of just sit there. And then I got the opportunity to shoot, so I thought, ‘Oh, I would love to shoot with some of these lizards.’ I have a lot of friends in the reptile community, so someone connected me with this guy who had two of them.”

That's amazing. I love that you, quote, unquote, 'have a lot of friends in the reptile community.'

“I'm a big animal person. I always include them in my photo shoots if I can.”

So you get the lizard. Then, what?

“We talked about including diamonds and jewelry. I thought it would be so beautiful to have the lizards be able to wear the pieces and kind of twin with me because it gives a human aspect to these reptiles. Reptiles aren't usually seen as regal or beautiful, so I think the contrast of them in a diamond necklace is very nice.”

Cuff: Suzanne Kalan

Cuff: Suzanne Kalan; Necklace: Rahaminov

How did you kind of conceptualize the set and your own outfit?

“I wanted to be in a more intimate setting because, once again, reptiles are cold-blooded animals, and people don't take them in bed. It's almost like a Beauty and the Beast type of vibe with these things that are usually considered ugly and grotesque to most people. Also, the satin sheets and the soft bed versus this black, scaly lizard is kind of nice.”

How did things go day-of? Was the lizard well-behaved?

“No, one of them was pretty pissed. She was a biter.”

Oh no.

“Yeah. My back after the shoot had a horrendous amount of scratch marks. If they're in a position they're not comfortable in, they'll claw you. There was a male one and a female one. The male one was pretty calm. The female one you can't try to grab because she'll bite.”

Does the Lunar New Year mean anything to you personally? Did either partaking in the shoot or thinking through the concepts make you think about anything deeper in the Lunar New Year landscape, and Year of the Dragon in particular?

“I was born in LA, but I moved to China when I was one. Chinese is my first language. Most of my childhood I spent in a Chinese cultural setting. To be honest, a lizard shoot is a pretty far stretch from what most people, especially Chinese people, would consider Chinese New Year or the Year of the Dragon. But I think this is kind of my own interpretation of it. It was something that I wanted to do and something fun.

“Unfortunately, I don't get to spend Lunar New Year with my family this year. Usually, I would try to go back to China and spend time with my grandparents. But it's definitely a really exciting part of the Chinese culture. And also, it gets pretty gnarly. I think a lot of people in America don't know; people go really hard on Chinese New Year, and I guess shooting with a lizard kind of does coincide with that. Like my grandma on my dad's side was a gambling addict, so for Chinese New Year, she would literally stay up for three days in a row just playing Mahjong. And then, on my mom's side, one of my grandpas was sending out too many fireworks, and he actually blew his hand off, and they were able to reattach it. I don't know if this is interesting for the magazine, or even appropriate.”

Are you excited about anything for the Year of the Dragon, or is it just another year?

“Year of the Dragon ... hard to say. I'm a tiger. I was born in '99, which is supposed to be the rabbit year, but because my birthday is January, technically, that's before the Lunar New Year–we call it tiger tail. So I'm always really excited about the tiger years. I also get really excited about the pig years. The dragon, for me, is pretty mediocre. I think my cousin is the Year of the Dragon. But, if you look into it, it's similar to horoscopes. If I pull it up on Safari right now, I can probably look up what this year means for me as someone from the Year of the Tiger. So us tigers ‘may encounter some hurdles in 2024.’ Oh no. ‘As the energy of the Wood Dragon can produce more competitive and unanticipated circumstances,’ but it says the Year of the Dragon will bring out positive results in terms of a career or profession for the tigers. There you go. That's something to look forward to.”

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