Walking into the studio unassumingly in a relaxed black jumpsuit and a cardigan casually thrown over her shoulders, it was clear early on that Vanessa Matsunaga is not one to demand attention. People just naturally take notice. Before anyone even has time to feel intimidated by the presence of such a stunning, natural beauty or think, “Will she isolate herself from the folks who only work behind the scenes?” she walks over not just to greet everyone, but to get to know them. Vanessa flashing her megawatt smile puts everyone else in a cheerful mood, too.
There is no doubt that this woman could take a fantastic photo. She could strike two poses and have the team say, “We got the shot!” Her off-camera likability and impeccable work ethic on top of how well she projects on camera show us that all the praises this Brazilian-Japanese beauty has been getting are well-deserved.
But Vanessa admits that modeling was not part of her plan. In fact, she wanted to become a doctor. “Modeling was something I always just enjoyed,” she says. “Being in a position where you get to inspire others is important and hey, fashion is always fun!” Her teenage years were spent traveling around the world with her younger brother, Daniel. “He [Daniel] was only 16 and I was 18 when we started traveling together. It was tough adapting to different cultures and places and we had to watch out for one another. That made us mature a lot and quite quickly and so, we didn’t have a lot of fights. We didn’t have time for them.” she says. “In terms of work, Daniel is very mature. ‘I’m here to work. I want to work really hard for my future, for the future of my family. No matter what happens, I’m not going to tremble’… That’s Daniel,” Vanessa muses. “In that way, he complements my soft side. However, whenever Daniel would feel vulnerable, I would tell him: ‘Remember your dreams. We fought really hard already to be where we are. And God knows the trials we went through.’”
“As models, we would travel every two to three months. We would look for new locations and basically that would mean we had to start all over again”, she explains. “An agency here in the Philippines contacted us and told us to come to the country because there was a market here for us. I really believed that when that call came in, God had a big plan for us in the Philippines. And God has shown us in so many ways that he did.” In 2010, Vanessa wed Jun Sunga, a photographer she was teamed up with for a photo shoot. They are happily married and will be celebrating their 5th anniversary in November.
“I love it here and I just love the food”, Vanessa quickly responds when asked about adjusting to life in the Philippines. “It’s been really fun getting used to life here. Everybody is so welcoming, happy and everybody has a good way of saying things even if, for example, they’re going through a tough time in their lives. The Filipino has such a big heart and sincerely wants to help others all the time. That’s what made me want to stay here even more.”
Life in the Philippines is taking Vanessa to new and exciting places. Aside from modeling and dipping her toes into show business, she talks about a dream of hers she’s been meaning to pursue: Fashion Design. She is currently working on a collaborative project with several of her friends and their merchandise will be sold online. “It’s something you all should definitely watch out for! It’s in the works, so stay tuned.” Vanessa grins, not giving away too many details, but letting us know enough to keep us hooked and excited.
Through all her endeavors and adventures, she never fails to mention the importance of listening to your heart and the importance of family. These are her true anchors. “A lot of people may get into the industry, may it be fashion or modeling, for the wrong reasons. Take your time, look into your heart and place your reasons first. It’s not an easy industry and you’re not going to survive if you don’t like what you’re doing or if you’re here to do this job, but you’re after something else. And I can’t stress enough how important it is to stay connected with your parents. Stay connected as much as you can and ask for advice when you’re in doubt,” says Vanessa. “This is the challenge especially when you’re young. You have all these expectations. You look at models on Instagram, for example, and you think to yourself, ‘that’s what I want to be!’ But we’re all destined for different things. God may have a different plan for you.”
With a trove of experiences tucked in her very chic belt, Vanessa has sage advice for those aspiring to get into the industry she has flourished in. “The industry could change your perception about yourself. Girls get into this industry young, which is an asset, but vulnerable. They don’t have their personalities formed yet. What all young girls should know is that you must develop inner strength before anything else because you will always be tested. No one is perfect and beauty is about perception— And you shouldn’t let that affect your life,” she says with that almost signature glint in her eye. Truth be told, we couldn’t have said better ourselves.
Vanessa’s Ultimate Spring Style:
‘‘Since we live in a tropical country, it’s nice that we get to keep most of our wardrobe pieces all year round. You could just throw on a blazer or a cardigan, which could really punch up a simple outfit. These are some things you could wear indoors where there is air-conditioning and then take off when you’re outside.
At the same time though, even if we don’t have four seasons in the Philippines as other countries do, there’s still a noticeable transition since it gets really, really hot in the summer. I think it’s interesting how colors play a big role in styling. I love wearing darker and dimmer shades in the cooler months of the year and then brighter and bolder colors in the summer. I love dressing up for spring. It’s actually my favorite season.”
Art direction by: Alexandra Lara
Photography by: Jerick Sanchez
Styling by: Francesca Atendido and Nicole Blanco Ramos
Makeup by: Hanna Pechon
Hair by: Aries Manal
Nails by: Triple Luck Brow & Nail Salon
Cover story by: Nicole Blanco Ramos
Special thanks to Skull & Bones, Big Guys Pizza, and Jo Cabuay Catering.