A life of a model is challenging, however it could also be fun, exciting and glamorous. And, as one of Chicago’s own had discovered, the life of a model could also be unpredictable.

“Will be there in 5,” shows up the text on my cell’s screen. I get a table for two and look over the menu. “I’m here,” my cell had announced and I look up. With the hair tied loosely in a high bun, oversized sunglasses, wearing a dark tank top and a short jean skirt, she looked stylishly comfortable and radiant.

She gracefully walked across the restaurant and sat down at my table.

Aya Jackson is a freelance model in Chicago who’s resume includes a long list of appearances in fashion show and showcases. Aya worked with many fashion designers and her portfolio includes shoots with renown photographers.


Born in Kazakhstan, Aya has a very exotic look, making her stand out in the crowd. And having many photographers wanting to work with her. However, modelling was not her goal at first. “I haven’t even thought about it, really,” says Aya.

One night, while out at a club, she was approached by a photographer asking if she would be interested in doing a test shoot. Fast forward two and a half years, Aya is a regular in the fashion scene. That first test shoot happened to be the first of many that followed.

After having build her portfolio and contact list, Aya decided to step on the runway. Modelling clothes by emerging and established designers, she’s walked the walk in countless fashion shows. From swimsuits and casual to bridal gowns and avant garde, Aya seems to be able to pull off any style.


Earlier this year Aya had put her skills to a new test, this time in front of a video camera. She starred in CFC’s fashion editorial video depicting a futuristic Chicago and featuring avant garde designs.

In light of trying new things, Aya applied to participate in Miss National Asia Pageant and was accepted. “This might be my big year,” she says smiling hopefully, “But I need Chicago’s support.” The contestants are required to bring a national costume, floor length evening gown and a swimsuit. Designers she had worked with in the past, Laurel Bridal and Rosina Mae, had agreed to help her out.

The pageant is taking place in San Francisco at the end of July, leaving little time for final preparations. “With each day it’s becoming more and more real”.

Few years ago she wasn’t even thinking about modelling and this year she’s taking on new challenges and not letting anything stop her. Yes, as Aya Jackson discovered, life of a model could be quite unpredictable.



Chicago Fashion Connect attended Kayoua Xiong first gallery opening held at the Fashion Market, where she exhibited her Fine-Art Fashion Photography. We’ve caught up with Kayoua for an interview about her exhibition, inspiration and photography.

Kayoua, last week you had your first gallery opening. How did it feel to have your work displayed in a gallery for the first time?

Kayoua: I was very excited to have my work be displayed for the first time.

What inspired you to do this project? And how long did it take you to get from the idea to the final work?

Kayoua: In the past I did a lot of nude paintings and drawings and thought maybe I should start photographing them also. I have always been inspired by Purple Magazine and wanted to do something similar, which this gallery allowed me to express. I also really wanted to not just “show some photos”, but also make a statement that I believed in, and make “art that matters”. The gallery planning and photo shoots began all the way back in January, actually.

“I created this collection to encourage women to embrace sexuality and not fear it and stand strong together.”


Your work is very daring and some pictures are very revealing. Have you ever worried about how people would react?

Kayoua: I see myself more as an artist than a photographer. Photography is another medium that I have come to learn and use but in the end I still express the same emotions as in my paintings, sculpting, etc…To me to be an artist is to dare, to push for the boundaries. I used to paint long ago and my paintings mean so much to me. As time passed I began to find that photography was not enough for me, I wanted to express emotions in my photos. I wanted to move people, to make them feel the emotions that I felt through my art work.

I am not worried about how people would react because this is art. I created this collection to encourage women to embrace sexuality and not fear it and stand strong together. It is not playboy or about promiscuity, but simply accepting, and celebrating, ourselves for who we are sexually. Every model I photographed was a volunteer who was genuinely excited to be part of the gallery.

If I’m too afraid to show and reveal and my artwork, then I wouldn’t bother to be an artist. I am very happy for this collection, although there is so much more I wish I could have added. It’s a start though, and I am excited to see what more I can put together in the future.

Style: "Neutral", Head Studio

What was your approach to these photoshoots? Did you have everything planned out in advance? Or did you work with it as it was happening with the location and the models?

Kayoua: I thought about this since January, but couldn’t quite get a clear vision until closer to summer. Like I said every model I photographed was excited and very interested in the project, so that helped. I did plan everything specifically for the gallery, although I didn’t always know what angle of photography I wanted to take- fine art, fashion, commercial, or journalistic nudes, or average everyday women vs models? In the end I turned to my fashion models, because fashion in art is where my vision has always been.



How did you discover your passion for photography?

Kayoua: By pure luck actually, I’m so glad I eventually found what I wanted to do, coming from a family who doesn’t support art makes it very difficult for me. But eventually I got the guts to fight for my own dream with help from someone who’s very close to me. Otherwise, I probably would have never stepped foot into the artist’s world.

Early on, I did not get a chance to do much photography, just a little black and white film photography in highschool. A teacher actually entered me in a few city contests and I won, and they displayed my art work at the University of Minnesota, and in one of the smaller museums, I forget which ones. Back then I didn’t think much of it and did not even consider photography as a career, although the experience was fun.

I moved to Chicago a few years ago, to finish college, and started to do wedding photography, which I had no experience in. Soon after, I came upon ModelMayhem and started shooting friends and aspiring models and that’s how it all got started. At first it was a hobby, then I got more serious, and switched my major from advertising to photography in my senior year.

With one gallery opening under your belt, what are plans to do now? Are you planning new projects?

Kayoua: Yes I am definitely planning for new projects and hope I will only continue to advance from here on. I can’t say yet what the next project is because I haven’t finalized it yet, but I am planning on doing another gallery in a year.

Photographs in this article courtesy of and taken by Kayoua Xiong. Please visit her site KX Photography to see the entire portfolio.



On the near north side of Chicago sits the well-established art community of River North. In the area between Michigan Avenue, Chicago Avenue, and the Chicago River, shoppers can find everything from galleries to boutiques to furniture shops to national retail stores.


During the late 1800s River North was the highly industrialized home to many Irish and Sicilian immigrants. At the time the neighborhood was filled with so much industrial pollution that it was commonly referred to as the “Smokey Hallow”. In the wake of WWII manufacturing took a dive and River North lost its industrial purpose. In the aftermath of this downfall many of the factories were briefly transformed into warehouses and showrooms before being completely abandoned only a few years later. Around the 1970s artists and other creative minds began to move to River North in search of cheap studio and loft space. Today River Park is one of the city’s most vibrant places to live and work. Although the neighborhood is still inhabited primarily by artists, other trendy young professionals have begun to move to River North in recent years.

During the first weekend in August, the neighborhood of River North hosts one of Chicago’s largest art fairs, the Gold Coast River North Art Fair. During this three-day long juried event artists come from all over the world to be judged on their wares.


On weekends tourists and Chicagoans alike flock to the River North district in search of trendy shops and galleries. Nearly every street in the neighborhood has something unique to offer. On the edge of the neighborhood is part of the Magnificent Mile, where shoppers can find any and every national brand.

Multi-story malls, high-end boutiques, and chain stores line this famous Chicago shopping destination. The rest of the neighborhood is made up primarily of galleries, antique shops, and furniture stores. And although they do not dominate the area there are several chic boutiques scattered throughout the neighborhood. While many of these boutiques only carry national designers there are a few neighborhood gems that stock the house brand or one or two Chicago designers.

There is a trendy, artistic vibe that runs throughout the neighborhood of River North that affects both the clothes that are sold and the people who wear them.