Tao Okamoto was born on May 22, 1987 in Tokyo, Japan. Okamoto, plucked off the street like countless other beauties before her, sought the approval of her parents before she took the plunge. They advised her to get herself a good agent, and so she sent some pictures of herself to a local model agency. After being taken on, Tao worked in Japan for five years before defecting to France in 2006, where she made her debut on the Paris runways for Ungaro and Martin Grant.
When the model moved to New York in 2007 she rapidly became a designer’s favourite, initially doing runway for Marc Jacobs, plus a Moschino ad campaign shot by Peter Lindbergh. The distinctive feature that catalysed her success was her Vidal Sassoon-style black bowl-cut bob, last seen on Sixties supermodel Peggy Moffitt. It led to her being cast in dozens of shows, most notably that of designer Phillip Lim, who liked her cut so much that he decided that every model in his fall 2009 show should sport the same hairdo. “It was amazing,” remembers Okamoto. “I thought he was joking when he first told me.”
From there Tao has gone from strength to strength, working for designers such as Alexander McQueen, Givenchy, Armani, D&G, Tommy Hilfiger, Kenzo, Kenneth Cole, Gap and Benetton. In 2009 she became the face of Ralph Lauren, and in November of that year Vogue Japan dedicated a whole issue to her.
Currently ranked at number 47 in Models.com’s hot 50 girls, Okamoto is now branching out into film. She plays the character of Mariko Yashida, Hugh Jackman’s love interest, in the upcoming movie, The Wolverine, in which our hero travels to Japan to train with a samurai warrior.
But like many other stars of modelling and movies, Okamoto’s success is not simply down to talent, but also timing. As the East Asian nations grow in economic power, producing a constant stream of wealthy new customers in its wake, the entertainment industry has responded in reflecting the aesthetic of these new entrants. It is the beginning of a trend that looks set to continue.