Zhao Lei's Love Letter To New York


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Ever since he landed in New York City, top model Zhao Lei has been a man on the move. In this exclusive interview with DFS, the runway regular shares his favorite stops away from home and the #MustPack essentials for travelers heading to the Big Apple.

New York is my second home. It’s the city that changed my modeling career when I landed on Models.com’s list of top new faces in the fashion industry. That was the point when I became more recognized within the industry.

When I first moved to New York in 2010, I lived in TriBeCa, then later moved to Times Square and finally ended up in SoHo. I enjoyed every neighborhood I stayed in but my favorite is the view of sunset across the Hudson when I lived in TriBeCa. The exercise facilities by the river are quite comprehensive. You can jog, cycle, play basketball, beach volleyball, mini golf, skateboard, and watch other exercise enthusiasts in action. The positive energy there is contagious. It makes me aware of how beautiful life is, especially when there is a sunset in the background.

New York is a place that is very accepting of all kinds of people. Here, you can quite freely be yourself. Living here I feel a certain degree of freedom and that’s very attractive to me. It is a big metropolitan city with a perse mix of people. It’s a city with layers of history and culture embedded in the streets. You can see this even in the architecture of the buildings. The views seen from the top of skyscrapers are amazing; the top of the Empire State building is unbelievable.

Visiting the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) to check out the latest exhibits, watching a Broadway show and enjoying the incredible artists are my favorite things to do in New York. I also like to shop in SoHo to see all the new stores. 

When it comes to dining, I believe that in New York you can find the entire world’s cuisines. The variety is beyond one’s imagination. I personally prefer Asian cuisine, for example Vietnamese food, Korean food and Japanese izakayas. Besides Asian food, I also am a huge fan of Chelsea Market and the burger from The Plaza Hotel, a dish I hope they will never change.

I think the best way to really get to know the city is by walking everywhere – in comfortable shoes, of course. This is the best way to discover for yourself more interesting facets about the city! I like to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge to see the view from both sides of the East River or ride my bike through Central Park. Sometimes, I also enjoy taking the double-decker sightseeing bus. The view from the top is great for taking Instagram photos, and these photos complete my journey.