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Monday, 27 July 2009

Jenny Shimizu: A Model Mechanic

Date: 24 February 1994
Publication: USA Today pp02
Author: Elizabeth Snead

NEW YORK - The model of the moment is a garage mechanic with a pierced navel and tattoos, who wouldn't be caught dead in a dress off the runway. Her name is Jenny Shimizu. Her tattoos include a naked woman astride a wrench on one arm, a spark plug on the other, a burning cross on the back of her neck and Japanese characters on her shoulder that translate: And she goes. An unlikely fashion model? Not in today's cross-cultural climate where the androgynous punky "bad girl" is a logical step up the fad chain from those wan and winsome waifs.

The 5-foot, 6-inch Shimizu was discovered eight months ago hopping off her '71 Triumph motorcycle outside a trendy L.A. club. In weeks she was in a Banana Republic ad. Now her 26-year-old Asian face has been featured in Vogue, Elle, Allure and Harper's Bazaar, plus a spread in the March Mademoiselle.

Shimizu's parents are Japanese immigrants. Instead of college, she attended trade school and apprenticed at a Harley shop before working full time at an L.A. garage. For all her in-your-face appearance, in person Shimizu seems shy and down-to-earth. Yet she is "good friends" (she says with a knowing smile) with Madonna and sees her once a month despite their busy schedules. She's openly gay: "I've always been a tomboy," she says with a shrug. And she can be outspoken. Interviewed for a '92 Los Angeles Times story on "Lipstick Lesbians," she was dubbed a "lezbopunk bike-dyke" and said: "I'm all for sexual freedom: S&M, bondage, dancing half-naked. I just think it's great."

You think fashion models are ethereal goddesses who drink eight glasses of water a day, get eight hours of sleep a night and eat healthy food? Uh uh, says Shimizu: "It's really amazing. I'll be out in clubs with these people smoking and drinking till 3 in the morning and they look great in the studio at 7 a.m." Her beauty secret? "Excedrin PM before I go to bed."

She lives for McDonalds, loves Beavis and Butt-head and listens to Bjork (formerly of the Sugarcubes). Now a fave of fashion designers Calvin Klein, Anna Sui, Jean- Paul Gaultier and Gianni Versace, she did her first runway show last fall in Milan: "I was terrified. Everyone was staring at me, and it felt like I had no skin. I wanted to just run out of there."

She stayed. Now she's comfortable on the catwalk. Unlike the old stylised runway sashay, Shimizu saunters with a sly glance and sheepish grin. Designer Gaultier says Shimizu represents the new femininity. "An angel face with a man's look - very tough." How does it feel to be fashionable and famous overnight? "Kate Moss (her pal) gave me the best advice," Shimizu says. "She told me, 'It's not about you.' " That helps her keep all the fuss in focus. In her spare time, she still works on her '54 Ford pickup. Fixing an engine isn't hard: "Guys like to pretend it's really complicated but it's not. There are only three things that can go wrong with an engine: fuel, fire or power." And what will she do with all the modeling money she's making? Open her own garage.

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