Synesthesia is a phenomenon in which one sensation–let’s say sound, for example–triggers another, such as vision. Synesthetes might see particular colors or shapes when hearing certain musical notes; for others, numbers or days of the week correlate with different hues, or even summon tactile sensations across their skin. Billie Eilish, Duke Ellington, Olivia Rodrigo, and even Vincent van Gogh have described their multi-sensory capabilities. Increasingly, the world we inhabit seems to be a breeding ground for synesthesia, the conversation between music and fashion growing louder and more palpable than ever. It’s hard to see Marine Serre’s moon logo without hearing Beyoncé’s “Black Is King”, for which the music video heavily featured the French brand. Within K-pop bands like BTS or Blackpink, each member is tied to a different fashion house, giving them a ubiquitous presence within the fashion world, which fans love as much as (if not even more) than their music.
For the first issue of V China, we wanted to continue our legacy of fostering this conversation between fashion and music by featuring two of the industry’s most influential figures: Australian actor and singer Troye Sivan, as well as supermodel and Chinese native He Cong. Importantly, these two also showcase the meeting ground between Eastern and Western cultures, an intersection that V wants to celebrate, now more than ever.
Ahead of Sivan’s forthcoming album and role in HBO’s The Idol, as well as what will undoubtedly be yet another massive year in fashion and beauty for He Cong, the cover stars spoke candidly about reaching their current positions as industry leaders, as well as what’s yet to come.
Mathias Rosenzweig: Hey Troye, are you in L.A. right now?
Troye Sivan: Yup, in L.A.
MR: Good on you—it’s early there. I’m eight hours ahead of you in Portugal.
TS: I’m normally awake this time anyway, but you’ll just have to excuse my morning voice.
MR: Okay, we won’t make your morning voice the focal point of the interview. Are you in L.A most of the time?
TS: Yeah, I spend a lot of time here, and then the rest of the time I’m in Melbourne. My work is really here and I’ve got good friends here and stuff like that.
MR: You’ll never remember this, but you were on the V Magazine podcast that we did right when the pandemic hit, back in 2020. And I remember you telling me that you were in Melbourne, and that you were almost enjoying the lockdown because you were just hanging out in your room making music like you did when you were a teenager.
TS: I remember feeling that way. I was just sitting in my bedroom for like, ten hours a day. Most of that time was just spent making music.
MR: Do you ever miss that time when your life was, shall we say, a bit “smaller”?
TS: I mean, I definitely feel like I have a lot of normalcy in my life…unless I’ve just lost the meaning of normalcy. It feels like normalcy to me, you know? Especially when I’m in Australia. I live with my siblings and I don’t really work that much when I’m there. So I feel like I really do get a sense of the mundane that, for me, is actually so thrilling. There’s a sense of novelty in my own head where I’m like, Oh…I’m gonna, I don’t know, cook dinner for my friends tonight and clean the house and that sounds so exciting to me. I wish I was a little more casual about it, almost.
MR: I’ve found that a lot of people in the entertainment industry, or even outside of it, are so focused on their career that once they become really successful, it’s the “mundane” things in life that they feel they’ve really been missing. That’s what gets them excited these days. Do you know what I mean?
TS: Definitely. It feels like, over time, I don’t want to say my ambition has mellowed because I’m definitely still super ambitious. But it’s kind of an ambition for different things. You’re so right though, that when I was a kid, I had complete tunnel vision for wanting to be a singer. Like that was just it. And I think if I wasn’t doing this as a job, I would probably still feel that exact same way. And I still do in a lot of ways. It’s the absolute love of my life. It’s the thing that I love the most in the world. But at the same time, I think now I also really am conscious about trying to step out of the rat race in my own head a bit. I feel so lucky to say that this is my job. I feel so lucky to feel like I have everything that I could ever need. It’s because I’m loving it and not trying to get “more” all the time. And if interior design sounds interesting to me, then that’s a pivot that maybe I’ll make one day. Even small things. Part of the luxury of having done this for a while is you get a little bit more free time because you’re not spending all day every day doing promo and trying to get your name out there. So one of my goals for this year is to party more [laughs]. Stuff like that to make sure that I do have a more well-rounded life.
MR: Speaking of partying more, what is a Taylor Swift Grammy afterparty like?
TS: It was good fun. It was just in a hotel room, a big hotel room. I feel like those parties are just so exciting to me still because it’s like, these are people that I still am like, internally freaking out about, you know what I mean? It never ever becomes normal, I don’t think. It’s also people that over the years I’ve met some of them a few times. Some of them it’s the first time, but it never gets old seeing someone like Jack, for example, who I worked with on my first album, and then someone like Taylor who has been such a huge supporter of me for so long. When I put out the Wild EP before my first album, she was onto my music and tweeting about it and pushing it publicly. So you know, these are people that have really shaped my life in a lot of ways and I owe a lot to them. Even someone like Lana Del Rey for example, I’ve only met her a handful of times and have never had the opportunity to say it to her, but you know, on a personal level, her music completely changed the way that I write. She was super influential on my lyrics and stuff like that. And she’s been that for so many other people.
MR: What was it like seeing Kim Petras win the first Grammy ever given to a trans person?
TS: I got really emotional watching her speak. I love Kim and I’m so, so happy for her.
MR: This is my last question that involves other artists—what do you think of the backlash that Sam Smith has received for their music video, “I’m Not Here to Make Friends.” Does that type of stuff ever make you fear being sexual in your artistry?
TS: I mean, I’ve definitely been sexual in videos and stuff like that. So it makes me wonder…it makes me question society, honestly, and why the backlash is so loud with Sam, who’s just doing their thing and being hot and feeling hot, making the music they want to make. I love Sam, and it always just makes me happy when I see someone who is doing exactly what they want. I just hope it doesn’t affect anyone who is actually involved in making music or videos. Like you’re watching these people freak out and look into the symbolism of satanism in the video and I’m like, okay, this is kind of hilarious. But I hope everyone who’s involved in it can understand that they’re not doing anything wrong. If anything, they’re doing so much right. I feel like for every person who has an issue with it, there are 10 who are absolutely obsessed.
MR: Completely. So as you know, this is our first cover for V China. Your fans there are ravenous for you—can you speak to that a bit?
TS: I mean, it sounds like something that a lot of people would say, but my supporters and followers and listeners in China are the best in the world. I had absolutely no idea that there was that much love for me there until I went and I remember I went to a shopping center to get food, and I honestly felt like the Beatles or something. It was so crazy and I didn’t know it was like that. And so now I’ve been back a bunch of times. I’ve toured there, and I can’t wait to go back again. It’s truly sort of a dream universe to me. There are just a lot of people coming to the shows and listening to the music and it’s so gratifying and fun. I love it.
MR: What was it like shooting with He Cong?
TS: I genuinely think that He Cong is the most incredible model I’ve ever met in my entire life. I could not take my eyes off her. I ended up getting embarrassed because I would catch myself staring as if I was watching a really good movie. Just watching her pose and move and her understanding of her body and face, it was just lyrical to watch. And shooting with Mario Sorrenti too, it was so unbelievable for me. It was just a really lovely day. An amazing team, super chill on set. Bob Recine did hair and that’s a dream collaboration for me. Nicola Formichetti styles it, and I don’t think we’ve ever worked together, but we’ve known each other a really long time. It was just all the girls. It was fun!
MR: I know you can’t say much about the new music you’re working on right now. But what can you say?
TS: I mean, the new music is almost done. I feel comfortable saying that. And I wholeheartedly mean that it’s like, the most proud I’ve ever been of anything that I’ve ever made—I think it’s like, my house and my album are the two things I’m most proud of. I really, really, really am so excited for people to hear it.
Mathias Rosenzweig: Hi, He Cong. How are you doing?
He Cong: I am all good. I just flew from South America and landed in Paris yesterday.
MR: That’s a long trip, hope you had a good rest. Let me know when you are ready to talk.
MR: According to “Business of Fashion,” your first job ever was to open and close the Valentino show. Can you tell us about that experience?
HC: I am very grateful and lucky to be able to walk that show. It was my first experience in fashion, and it was also after this show that I wanted to get to know more about this industry, which also inspired me to try to be a model.
MR: You originally moved to Shanghai from Changsha to study fashion and design. Do you feel like you are continuing to get that education through your modeling career by being surrounded by fashion?
HC: After starting my modeling career, I have always tried to learn from every single moment. I feel that I can see everyone’s creativity and imagination by observing and learning the process of each project from my own perspective. For example, how each show is organized from the beginning until the end, and how each photo shoot is produced. Everyone is a part of the work and very much involved in the creation process, so I really admire them. There are too many things worth learning throughout the whole process.
MR: You’ve been an advocate of more diversity in fashion. Do you feel that you are continuing to see this improve?
HC: I hope to see the continuous improvement of diversity in fashion. I am very glad when this increase in diversity happened because beauty is not only about a single idea–everyone has their own beauty, and it’s more about a reflection of values that should be cherished. There should be no limitations, and it also requires more people to work together to make diversity the norm in the fashion industry.
MR: We are really excited and glad that we’ve done the cover shooting with you for V China, so what does it mean for you to be on the first-ever cover of V China?
HC: I have had many amazing collaborations with V Magazine before, and this time I am really honored to be able to participate in the shooting of the first issue of V China!
MR: What is the experience like representing Chinese models when you are in Europe or the U.S.A. for work?
HC: I think this is a process of continuous learning and enrichment. Because of my work, I have traveled to many different places in the world and have experienced different local cultures. Each work experience has brought me inner transformation and changes.
MR: What was it like working with Troye Sivan for this cover?
HC: Because I already knew Troye before–as we all know, he is a very talented singer and actor–I was very happy to shoot with him, and he is also a very nice person. We did the shooting in New York with the photographer Mario Sorrenti and the vibes on set were very, very good. I’m really looking forward to seeing the results!
MR: Are there other parts of the fashion industry that you want to explore beyond modeling?
HC: Actually, I think every job is really attractive because they all have their own unique and valuable aspects to learn. So if there is a chance, I would be very willing to try.
MR: What are some of your non-career goals for the rest of 2023?
HC: I really want to obtain my driver’s license this year! Because I dream about driving by myself for a road trip. My previous license test was delayed due to the pandemic and also my busy work schedule; I only completed subject one, which is the theory exam. So this year, if I get the chance, I would like to pass the other three subjects!
MR: Go for it and wish you good luck! What does the average person not understand about being a model?
HC: Actually, there are many things to talk about. Because in the public eye, models are always wearing the most glamorous dresses, showcasing their beauty on the runway. But in fact, before every show we need to go through several rounds of castings and fittings before we can walk in a show. And of course, our working environment is constantly changing because we also need to go to different places for shootings, runway shows, and other events. We also have to deal with jet lag because of time differences, and so on. At the same time, we need to interact with different local cultures. It is actually a process that requires continuous effort to accept and learn.
MR: Can you say anything about the intersection between the Western world and the Eastern world when it comes to fashion?
HC: I think there is a universal language in fashion. For example, when we talk about a Chinese woman and a French woman, they are from different countries but can have the same brand of bags or clothes. Actually, in the fashion industry, both the Eastern world and the Western world are constantly embracing each other, so it co-created an East-West perspective. In this era where different cultures meet, fashion is actually very universal. That’s why there will be more beauty to appreciate, and we can learn to accept each other from different perspectives.