Fashion’s newest darling is Filipina model Hannah Locsin. In her first MEGA cover, she shares about her life in New York City, surviving a pandemic, and walking the Gucci runway
Hannah Locsin has the whiff of a dreamer. Hitting the three-month milestone of being a New York transplant, Hannah, in her Bushwick apartment, exudes off-duty model effortlessness. In a denim jacket, a white tank, and a bandana wrapped around her head, she is barefaced and all smiles.
Since graduating from De La Salle University with a degree in Communication Arts in 2018, the model has already walked Paris,
London, and Milan Fashion Weeks, and, more recently, snagged global campaigns with Levi’s, Uniqlo, Moncler x JW Anderson, Maybelline, Balenciaga, and, her favorite, Gucci.
Did I mention she’s only 25? And that she’s only been a full-time model for two years?
WHATEVER IT TAKES
Hannah’s parents let her model on the side in college, on the condition that she’d keep her grades up. She did. “I was a low-key overachiever back then. I was trying to aim for the highest grades,” she says. She attended go-sees she’d hear about as a freelancer, and, through the PMAP models she met at the shows she booked, she was eventually invited to join the group.
A quick study and an easy favorite, she routinely booked projects in Manila. But her sights were set on a more competitive playground: New York. Determined to fast-track her growth as a model, she knew she had to make drastic life changes—including uprooting her life to move elsewhere. While US visa issues delayed her move, she wasted no time. She spent a month in Malaysia as a “trial run” (“My
time in Malaysia was training for me. Can I hack being away from family?”) and then eventually moved to Paris for about a year.
She’s been in and out of the Philippines, trotting around Europe’s fashion capitals for the different Fashion Week shows. “Honestly, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” she says,
looking back on the change of pace she experienced when she moved to Paris. “In the Philippines, once they get to know you, they book you already. When I came to Europe, I was completely shocked,” she says, admitting she didn’t even know what a call sheet was when she moved. Now she’s represented by multiple agencies, including Supreme NY, Why Not Milan, Established London, Women Paris.
Though she had to fly to Manila from Paris in March and stay put at home for a few months because of the pandemic, she finally realized her dream of moving to New York in July. “I booked a one- way ticket. I signed a lease!” she shares excitedly. Though it was difficult for her to leave on a more “permanent” trip (she obtained a three-year visa), she knows her story is just about to unfold.
A TWIGGY MOMENT
After Gucci Global Makeup Artist Thomas de Kluyver applies three coats of mascara on Hannah in an ‘80s-inspired humorous instruction video on achieving the “classic beauty” and, well, building furniture, Hannah proceeds to hammer nails, assemble wood panels, and pose beside the finished product, a cabinet. She seems to be having fun, but more importantly, she’s modeling the hell out of the product, the Gucci Mascara L’Obscur, her bowl cut framing her newly-coated, ultra- long lashes perfectly. A major project, Hannah is the (lone) star of the campaign. But, no big deal, that’s just one of the many Gucci projects she’s had since she started modeling for the luxury label late last year.
And it all began with a little hair snip.
Hannah booked a few shows when she moved to Europe last year, but it wasn’t until a drastic hair transformation that she landed Gucci, her biggest, most prestigious brand partnership to date.
The haircut started out as a discussion between her and her friend Audie Umali. She sought her agency’s approval in time for September Fashion Week. “We were brainstorming on what haircut to go with. They went with the bowl,” she says. “I might look like a little mushroom,” she offered then, uncertain, but she did it anyway. Like her own Twiggy moment, she says, “It turned my career around. From there it was one after the other with the Gucci jobs.”
She was flown in to Milan from Manila to do her first casting for the brand. “My mom didn’t even know what it was for,” she says. She only told a few friends and it wasn’t until a few days later, right before the show (“before she changed” actually), that she told them. “I said, ‘Guys, tune in to the Gucci show. I’m walking for Gucci.’”
Since then, she’s done consistent projects with the label—including the psychedelics capsule collection campaign, the Gucci Beauty Mascara L’Obscur campaign, a lookbook, even e-commerce. And she’s beyond grateful. “Out of 150 models [from the show], maybe 10 of us were chosen for the campaign,” she shares. “For Alessandro and the team to know I exist and know my name, until now it’s all so surreal. It only takes one person to believe in you to start your career. Alessandro, Gucci, was that for me. I really can’t be any more grateful.”
When away from home, cultural identity becomes a lot more defined. It connects a person to one’s roots and it’s a way of making an indelible mark in spaces. It’s a badge one wears (or at least learns to) with pride, and Hannah lays claim to her identity big time.
“It’s always so exciting to tell them I’m from the Philippines,” says Hannah. She makes it a point to show fashion folks she works with photos of her local travels and boast about the country’s beaches and mountains. “They always find it so interesting whenever I throw in the 7,107 islands. Hashtag more fun in the Philippines!” she says. Aware that few in her industry have come across models from home, especially in Europe, she fully embraces being the conduit for people to learn more about the country.
In New York, the landscape is slightly different. There’s a robust community of Filipino models in the city— Nikita McElroy, Monika Sta. Maria, Manuela Basilio, and Charlene Almarvez, among others. Despite having just moved, Hannah fits surprisingly well with them. When asked if she’s intimidated at all by these veteran names, she is quick to say no. “In my head we’re all experiencing the same things. We’re far from home. We all have our other friends, but it’s different talking to co-Filipina models. It’s heartwarming that I have them to lean on if I have issues.” They meet up, keep in touch, and help each other out.
Hannah comes across as self-assured, in a way so atypical for someone in their mid-20s, but also extremely down-to-earth. Her outlook is rosy. Optimistic. She takes things one day at a time, aware that the nature of the work is fickle—hectic one day and free the next. “Don’t get too carried away,” she reminds herself. “Yeah, I might not be working today but maybe tomorrow or the next week. I credit all my friends here for helping me adjust.”
She’s spirited, carefree, and just an all-around smiley, bubbly person. On set, she consistently requests 80s, 90s, and early aughts jams because she says more people can relate to the music. She also makes sure to get to know people on set. At castings, because booking jobs relies heavily on first impressions, she makes it a point to ask the person how their day is going or say good morning. Small act. High impact.
“Obviously, [brands] know that I’m not Caucasian. So, if I’m in a casting, I know I’m purposely there,” she says when asked about diversity on set. “Sometimes you can’t say that it’s not [tokenism]. I did notice that there really are not that many Asians.” Since there are fewer modeling spots given to Asians and BIPOC in general, Hannah sometimes feels like it makes it harder for her to stand out. “I think every brand should be more inclusive,” she asserts.
Though Hannah promises she was the “quiet type” through high school, afraid to even recite, it’s hard to believe she was ever shy growing up. She looks very much like a people person, the type that strikes me as someone who’d captivate at a networking event. Despite living through a pandemic, her social calendar is fully booked. She runs with friends several times a week, works out with a trainer, and weekly Zoom trivia nights with college friends.
Her openness extends to social media—especially about things that matter. Her Instagram bio still links to the petition against the passing of the controversial Anti-Terror Bill. She was willing to protest in person too, she says, but her parents wouldn’t let her because, well, COVID-19. “With the platform I’m given, I noticed that it does help,” she says. Her friends warned her about possible backlash, but for her, some issues (like the bill) are too important to stay silent on.
During quarantine in Manila, Hannah even collaborated with her psychologist sister to create a video on mental health to lessen the stigma surrounding it. “In our culture, when something’s wrong, it’s ‘kaya mo ‘yan’ or ‘tiis lang’ but sometimes you need to talk to someone about it. Given that I do have a platform, I can open up the conversation to people who aren’t used to talking about mental health.” The response was great, with people thanking her for posting.
She opens up about her own mental health struggles during the pandemic, especially since she had no plans of going home. “I was frustrated. If I didn’t go home, I’d be working. It was a lot of accepting the situation,” she says. She did find a silver lining. She’s close to her family, so she planned routine activities to spend quality time with them. “I had this idea to do a boodle fight. We all made it a project. We spent three hours preparing that. From our backyard, I cut the banana leaves,” she says beaming.
Moving to New York propelled her civic engagement further. She’s already attended gatherings in Brooklyn’s McCarren Park, where groups hold nightly talks on how to address issues surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, like what to do as bystanders witnessing harassment and how to uplift the Black community. “The first time I went there, there was such a great sense of community.”
Hannah finds time to foster her own community, even while she’s away. For her dad’s birthday recently, she had the idea of attending mass together via Zoom. Her dad loved it and now wants to do it on the regular. She also maintains friendships better. “I’m notorious for sucking at keeping in touch with my friends, but now I keep them updated,” she says.
As to how Hannah’s faring in New York, pretty well, it seems. Her roommate is a chef, so that’s a good start. “If you see my stories and it’s plated, I did not make that,” she says laughing. She mostly prepares her own food though as she’s trying to eat healthy. She takes some pride in being “matakaw” (possibly to debunk myths that models don’t eat). In Paris, she loved going to her chef friend, Erica Paredes’s house. “If you ask her, she will tell you how takaw I can get. The first time I did a boodle fight at her house, kinabag ako! As in nanahimik nalang ako at the end of the dinner,” she shares. In NYC, she’s been such a regular at her sisig go-to, Mama Fina’s, that the staff started calling her Kendall Jenner.
It’s Fashion Week in Paris when we talk. “I’m feeling intense FOMO,” she admits, but she’s grateful to finally be in New York. “I’d love to do Vogue. In terms of runway, I want to experience all four cities. The most I’ve done is three,” she says of her new NYC goals. “A dream would be to have a billboard in Times Square. That would be epic.” They sound huge, but definitely not impossible. And she *knows* they’re within reach.
Towards the end of the call, the screen goes dark. We realize it’s her room. She giggles. “I just realized wala nang ilaw. Pundido na ‘yong ilaw ko, hindi ko pa napapalitan! I’m using the light on my phone,” she admits. And on that New York note, we say goodbye.