Sebastian Lee, a rising senior at St. John’s School, is not your typical teenager. While for most of his friends, summer vacation may mean family vacations or other social activities, for Lee it means flying to South Korea to model.
The 17-year-old is the second-youngest model signed with Morph Management, a Seoul-based modeling agency, and has been modeling for two years. He does commercials and projects that include makeup, fashion and clothing brands like Montbell.
Lee recalls his mother Stephanie Heo encouraging him to walk like a model in case he was spotted in South Korea. He also thought modeling would be a great addition to his resume.
“Looking back, it was something very superficial, but I realized after doing my first job that it was a lot harder than I expected,” Lee said.
Lee ended up in Morph after meeting a walking instructor who worked as the head of the agency. He signed with them soon after at the agency’s headquarters in Seoul.
behind the glamor
Lee often wakes up at 5 or 6 a.m. on the day of a shoot to clear puffiness from his face, and he plays R&B music on the way to calm his nerves. The shoots that last two or three hours in a row are very exhausting for him.
“Being a model really isn’t glamorous, and I’m very good at having been given a lot of my jobs, which I’m incredibly grateful for,” Lee said. “I’ve seen a lot of incredibly hard working people – people who work so many jobs a week while attending multiple shoots a day.”
“I’m really impressed with their ability to do that because after every shoot I’m completely drained,” he added. “I just turned off immediately in the car and just started sleeping.”
And even though he never thought of himself as a “stylish” person, he is slowly gaining confidence.
“I had no fashion sense when I started, but I still tried to improve on that and eventually started to feel more comfortable with my skin,” he said. declared. “I try new things and new poses, and even if it doesn’t work, I can always try again.”
“They can always take more photos and choose different photos. I feel accomplished to be able to get three or four photos that they want because sometimes I get really nervous,” Lee added.
But the biggest challenge for him is to capture the image of the brand he works with. Each brand has a specific image, like Formal Bee, for example, a Korean cosmetic product.
“Their target market was late teens and early 20s, and it’s a bit difficult for me to imagine what they want because I’m not in that target market that they’re approaching” , said Lee. “I really have to imagine myself to match what they want.”
When he begins to doubt himself, Lee looks up at model and executive director of Morph, Noh Sunmi.
“She’s able to give a lot of help and she’s very judgmental,” Lee said. “At this point it’s good because I can really see where I can improve.”
“Sometimes she comes to my shoots and tells me how I should improve and also puts me forward,” he added. “To be a model in Korea, you have to be comfortable with your own skin and really shine with fashion.”
As the K-pop industry continues to thrive globally, Korean representation in the media has improved. However, finding the “perfect” model for a photoshoot is still considered a controversial topic in the Asian entertainment industry.
“In Korea, if you’re fair-skinned, you get so many more jobs,” Lee said. “As you can see, I’m not the lightest of skin, and I’m much darker.”
“It’s kind of unfair to be judged because of the color of your skin and not having as many jobs as if you had pale skin,” Lee said.
Summer is coming to an end and Lee will soon return to Guam and begin his senior year of high school. His goal is to apply to college, but he also hopes to expand his role in the Korean entertainment industry.
He dreams of being a television or film actor. He once had to turn down a South Korean reality show because it didn’t fit his school schedule.