The Model Mayhem interview: Masuimi Max
We recently had the pleasure of spending an afternoon in West Hollywood with international model, performer and actress, Masuimi Max. Her success in the industry paved the way for so many models that followed, but the story of her success is a classic tale of how hard work, talent and determination can overcome all challenges.
Masuimi’s list of credits is so vast, with over 100 magazine covers and many more features, music videos, TV shows and movies, that it’s almost impossible to select a few highlights. She just launched her own makeup line, I Am Sin, and her website, I Am Trouble, has over 50,000 images!
— MM EDU
MM Edu: Tell us about your background and how you got into modeling.
Masuimi Max: I’m a half blonde half brunette hybrid. I’m half Korean half German.
I always wanted to be a model and I noticed there are three types of models; the type that get discovered and never thought about modeling before – you hear stories of how they were discovered while walking through the airport and went on to become super models – then there’s the ones who decided to be a model later because it’s cool – they go on Facebook or Model Mayhem and they try it – and then there’s the third type, the ones that always wanted to be a model. I’m third type.
My mom died when I was six years old, and I have this memory from when she was alive, so I must have been five at the time. We were in church and I had to go to the front where the preacher was and I strutted as if I was on a catwalk and flicked my hair. I still remember my dad telling my mom, “Oh my God, we need to have a talk with her!”
As I grew up I was insistent on being a model, but my parents were Pentecostal and that went completely against their religious values. I was approached by Pantene when I was sixteen because I had long, beautiful, natural hair, but my dad said, “No, that is the way of the devil!”
I was also a tomboy. Half of me wanted to be a model, the other half wanted to drive a tank and kick ass! I wanted to take martial arts but that was also forbidden. So, the day after I turned sixteen I got a job and went to the karate studio. Of course, this didn’t go over too well with my parents and they disowned me when I was seventeen.
I had to work two jobs to have my own place and support myself. I lived in a roach motel in Vegas but I did everything I had to so that I would never go back to my parents. My dad said, “You’ll be back. You’ll be crying back!” But I was determined to succeed and thought, “No I won’t. I don’t care if I sleep on the streets. Anything is better than living there.”
I worked two jobs but I couldn’t finish high school. When I turned eighteen, literally on my birthday, I started working at Club Paradise in Vegas. That same week I became a featured performer because I was the only one who volunteered to learn how to eat fire!
MM Edu: You volunteered to eat fire your first week on the job?
Masuimi: Well, let me back track. My first night was celebrity night, and I had to wear a wig because I had a Mohawk. Tattoos weren’t allowed either, so I had to cover my tattoos with makeup. But my wig fell off when I went on stage for the first time. So, there I am in front of all these people, including Drew Barrymore, and I didn’t know what to do on stage. I was just shaking everything around, and I didn’t stop even though my wig was on the floor. The manager walked up and picked it up off the floor and I put it back on and just keep shaking. Apparently that left a really good impression on Drew Barrymore and she requested I dance for her all night while she wore my wig! The Mohawk and tattoos didn’t matter to her and I got to be myself.
The club had featured performers that did traditional showgirl stuff. They would go on at midnight and do the full Viva Las Vegas. Their choreographer liked my style and personality, and he was impressed that I didn’t run off stage in tears during my disastrous first appearance. He asked if I would like to be a featured performer. I could come and go as I pleased, and my tattoos wouldn’t have to be covered, but there was a catch… I had to learn to eat fire! As a kid I was really afraid of fire and couldn’t even light matches but I said, “OK, I’ll do it!”
Model: Masuimi Max
During my first fire eating lesson, I’m holding a torch when the instructor accidentally sets his beard on fire. But he calmly grabbed a towel and put it out. His reaction was really what put me at ease and made me more comfortable with handling fire. I learned early on, it’s how you react to a situation that matters most.
It’s now my first show as a fire eater, and I’m wearing an oriental dress for the theme One Night in Bangkok. I get on stage and the fuel drips onto my face and catches on fire, but I guess with all the adrenaline I didn’t realize I was on fire. So, I’m on stage doing my thing but the torch won’t go out. I didn’t realize that it’s my face that keeps relighting it. I then notice in the mirrors that I’m on fire, so I just casually turn my back to the crowd and look at my stage hand. He throws me a towel and I put it out and then throw it back. I then bump into the sign “One Night in Bangkok” and it reveals “Big Cock” (hey, burlesque is a mixture of strip tease and COMEDY. A lot of girls forget the comedy part!) and the whole act looks more like a comedy scene.
I had third degree burns and needed to take a couple of months off, but I treated it with aloe vera and vitamin E. I also used Crème de la Mer, which was invented by a NASA scientist to treat his own severe burns, and that stuff really works!
MM Edu: Despite that you continued performing with fire?
Masuimi: Yeah, I was known for my fire eating performances and was never booked for any other types of shows. I continued performing with fire until the disaster at The Station nightclub in New York, where 100 people were killed in a fire after the band’s tour manager set off pyrotechnics on stage.
MM Edu: How did all of that lead to modeling?
Masuimi: My modeling career got started when I was 18. I was a feature performer for Torture Garden, and often traveling to fetish events in places like London, Germany, Ireland, and Japan. As I became a regular the designers got to know me and I was approached to model their latex outfits. Inner Sanctum was the first company to approach me. Thanks to my early start and the internet, that lead to many other jobs.
The fire eating performances were a big part of what got me started. I’ve been on the cover of Bizarre magazine seven times and the first cover said, “The world’s hottest fire eating fetish model!”
MM Edu: Who influences your modeling style?
Masuimi: My biggest influence is Marilyn Monroe. People often assume it was Betty Page, but I didn’t know who she was until I started doing pinup. I think it’s because of the hair style, but many don’t realize that Asian women, especially Japanese and Korean, have been doing their hair like this for a long time. I struggle with my love for blond hair from time to time. I say struggle because I really shouldn’t bleach my hair, it can’t handle it very well. I’m happy to say I am back to my real hair color, and it’s healthier than ever.
I’m also inspired by art in many forms. Sometimes a song will inspire a shoot or a show. It can even be a song that’s in a commercial for a few seconds that gives me an idea. My ideas come from anywhere and everywhere. I worked at Little Caesar’s once and I used to stick pepperonis on my butt cheeks and I always joked that my butt is so big it looks like boobs. One day I had my pasties on and I’m dancing around in my living room (naked, of course) and I decided to put my bra on my butt.
I got some double sided tape and stuck my tassels on my butt and wiggled. They just twirled perfectly and I thought, “I won’t do that with my boobs because everyone expects that, but it looks great with my butt.” And that’s how I came up with my booty twirl act in my living room.
MM Edu: The alt modeling scene is huge now, but what was it like when you got started?
Masuimi: If there were alt magazines back then I didn’t know what they were. I started modeling in 1996 and there were probably three tattoo magazines in those days. It really wasn’t acceptable to look like me if you were a model. It was if you were modeling for a small alternative company or something like that, but you weren’t really in the public eye because there wasn’t really a scene back then.
Fortunately, a lot of people that I connected with believed in me and they helped. There was a girl named Bridget that worked at Trashy Lingerie. She loved the photos she had seen of me and tried to convince Trashy to hire me. At first they were like, “no way,” as they went for the wholesome girl next door look, but she convinced them to try one shoot. So I went in and did one shoot that turned into a hugely successful campaign. They used to do deals with their models back then where you get 10% of sales from every piece of lingerie you model. To this day I still get commission checks, even though I haven’t modeled with them recently. It’s a lifetime deal and I have 60 pages with them covering everything from black hair to blond, and even bald from when I shaved my head.
It’s kind of cool because if you go through them you can see all the weird poses I did and they really weren’t sure about it. They felt I didn’t pose like the other models and because they wanted the traditional models they nearly didn’t use my shots. But Bridget convinced them to post the pictures and see what happened. They even posted an interview where they were saying they didn’t really want to hire me because they weren’t sure, but it turned out to be huge and really helped their site. It was like that for a lot of things in my career. I had to do that first free shoot to really show what I could do. I have all those people that believed in me to thank, because if it wasn’t for them I don’t know how I would have done it. Thanks, Bridget! <3
One of the first conventions I did was the National Lingerie Show in Las Vegas. I showed up and models would either scrunch their noses and glare at me, or ask, “are you the stylist?”
There’s so much more variety and acceptance now. People don’t glare at you the way they used to. That acceptance is why so many people can be alternative and make a living.
MM Edu: You go way beyond alt modeling. Which genre do you enjoy most?
Masuimi: Right now it’s the femme fatale stuff, but I’m going through a change. I go through phases where my hair is white-blond one day and something else the next. But I’m back to my real hair color, which is a medium brown. When my hair is darker I tend to do more of the femme fatale and action figure type shoots, but when I’m blond I’m more pinup and glamour. So if you’d asked me that another time you’ll get a different answer.
I’m like a mood ring and you can tell what’s going on by my hair color.
MM Edu: What about the corsets and fetish outfits?
Masuimi: Before I knew there were designers and a scene for that, Batman the movie came out, with Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. I have to tell you, my parents were very religious. When I saw that movie, it was around Halloween and my Dad’s like, “okay you can dress up as anything you want this year.” So I went into my room, got some black outfits and started cutting them all up, making them skin tight, and I got make up and smeared it on my eyes. And when I came out my Dad was like, “get back into your room and change. You look like a harlot!” I think kids turn out the complete opposite of how their parents raise them, and so that image just killed it for me. Those boots… that whip. In fact I’m working on an act right now where I’m training to do flips. I’m doing a cat woman act that will blow your mind. I usually don’t say what I am working on because some asshole will do it first, but in this case I really don’t care if someone does a similar act. That’s how good it is. 😀
MM Edu: And how on earth do you do anything in those fetish ballet heels?
Masuimi: My very first encounter with them was with Julie Strain, the B horror movie queen. I was at one of my first catalogue shoots for bikinis and swim wear, and this 6’6” woman wearing platforms which made her like 7 feet tall comes in, giant boobs, and says “You, need to model for me.” I’m like “okay, what does that mean?” I didn’t have a website yet, she’s like “you need a website!” I’m like what, “what is that?”
But the boots. I’d come over to her house and she’d be like, “put these on.” I’ve been obsessed with them ever since. I do a stage show where I have a prop with 6 legs that match my legs. They all have fetish ballet boots on, including the ones I’m wearing. I dance and strip out of my outfit while wearing them!
MM Edu: Can you explain the significance of your tattoos?
Masuimi: These say my name. There’s a lot of controversy over this because Japanese lettering represents sound, like you know how we have a, b, c, d, e, f, g? They don’t have that. In Japanese it’s “ma su mi,” so I got it exactly the way it’s pronounced. And people are like, but it’s missing the i, but if I put an i in there people will say “ma swee mi.” It’s not a literal translation. This figure represents ma, the sound. It’s not alphabetical. If they’re going to translate it literally it says masuimi in heragona and tatagana. Masuimi Max is my real legal birth name.
The funny thing about my name, ok I was born in Arkansas, but they messed up on my birth certificate and they can’t amend it because it’s already set. My name was supposed to be Masumi they added an extra i. It’s a misspelling. I didn’t find out until I was 12 because my Dad was like, “why are you spelling your name wrong!” I showed him my birth certificate and he was like, “oh… yeah.” And they messed up on my mother’s maiden name.
Anyway, a few people have ripped off my red dragons. Well let’s rephrase that. Lots of people have done my red dragons, and only a few have done me the dishonor of saying that theirs are original. Getting ripped off happens all the time, to everyone. It doesn’t hurt to give credit where credit is due. No one will think less of you if you tell the truth!
MM Edu: What career achievement are you most proud of?
Masuimi: Oh…There’s a few different things because I’ve been modeling for about 16 years now. But when the Olivia book came out and I was on the cover that was a holy shit, fuck, wow for me. Those paintings were 50 grand a piece, and Christina Aguilera bought them all. That was a big fucking wow and it was kind of a mind fuck because when I was in High School I remember looking through my friend’s Olivia book, tearing out pages without her knowing, and then there I am on the cover. That was just a wow. And that was just one thing. Now there are a bunch of things. I know a lot of people have been inspired by me and what I’ve done. I have helped to make it OK to look this way. You can still be productive; you can still be pretty; you can still model clothes and sell them. People won’t be like, “oh my God, she’s tattooed!” I’m almost at my 100th cover mark. I didn’t know until I was updating my site. I was like Jesus Christ!
The thing that I’m most happy about is being able to be in the different scenes that I love. Because I know a lot of my friends want to model pinup but it’s just not their look. I get to do everything I want to do.
Right now, I am proud of my new makeup company. It took a lot of work, a few years, dealing with con artists that wasted my time and money, and now it’s here! I already have lovely models, video demos and some really exciting projects involving the makeup line.
Oh, before I forget, I did my first speaking role in a movie! I’m one of the main characters in Unlucky Charms, the newest film by Full Moon Horror and Charles Band (Puppet Master). I think the release date is July, 2013 . We’re filming another movie, Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong, where I have a smaller part, next week. Garey Busey and Tommy Chong will be in it. I’m so excited!
Model: Masuimi Max; Photographer: Shannon Brooke for Lucy B Lingerie
MM Edu: You’ve done lots of TV shows, music videos and now even movies. What got you into acting? Is it something you’d like to do more of?
Masuimi: Well with modeling, since I’ve got my shit down, the shoot can be 20 minutes. With filming it’s like, “okay, let’s do this scene again.” I just did this TV show; it was Glow Girls, relaunching Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. My character was Flying Tiger, and all my moves are flying through the air. I’m doing my own stunts, and so I’m on this 12 foot platform, it’s really narrow, it’s got wheels and I’m afraid of heights. I’m standing up there and it’s moving. The director is yelling “can someone hold the thing so it stops moving? Now go run!” I’m like, “no, I’m not ready yet. Wait. We need 4 people to hold this.” So I go, I run, into a sidekick, I land on my ass. That’s how they want it, so they can film you coming at the camera. “Let’s shoot that again.” Okay so we do it, and the camera guy says, “oh she arced too high so we missed it.” I’m like, “you mother fucker.” So we do it again and this time I squinched my face. Everything was perfect except that so they said, “can you relax your face and do it again.” “Can I do the other side?” And they were like, “no it has to be the same.” So I do it again, and again, and again. Finally my boob and butt cheek are bruised, BRUISED. It still kind of hurts.
MM Edu: Tell me more about the recently launched I Am Sin, your cosmetics line. What was behind that?
Masuimi: I love to paint and draw, so now I can paint and draw on models, which is going to be awesome… they are like my little dolls! 😉 I created the website, http://iamsin.com, where you can buy the makeup wholesale or retail. The site features GET THE LOOK video demos and photos of models, makeup artists from around the world. The makeup line was recently approved by PETA, for being cruelty-free!
MM Edu: And you travel all over the world for work and recently returned from a week Australia. Do you enjoy that aspect of modeling?
Masuimi: It’s amazing! In Australia I felt like David Hasselhoff in Germany. I was huge. Seriously! I had to do six phone interviews then we left on the 12th and we arrived on the 14th. It was 23 hours of traveling and it was just amazing. I performed three shows and I shot for TikiBeat, which is a really cool bar inside the Newport Hotel.
This bar was huge. We shot maybe eight different looks. The show went down really well, to where we are already planning a whole Australia tour. Sydney, Brisbane, etc.
I’m going to go to Australia in the summer. It’s going to be going on when all the musical festivals are happening, because we missed them. I keep my calendar on my website current; I have a few events booked throughout the year.
Model: Masuimi Max; Photographer: Marcela Patino for Bibian Blue Corsets
MM Edu: Where else have you been that stands out?
Masuimi: Tokyo, I love Tokyo, and Jamaica. Well actually I’ve been traveling the world since I was a baby because my Dad was Air Force. I lived in Korea, Philippines, Hawaii, well, all over the place!
MM Edu: Is there anywhere you’d like to go that you haven’t been yet?
Masuimi: I would like to go to New Zealand. I love traveling because you meet so many interesting people. It’s also a different way of thinking. Some people, ugh, I’m trying to figure out how to say this. I think some people need to travel more because you might learn empathy from having a different perspective.
MM Edu: Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring models?
Masuimi: I’m actually writing a book about that because a lot of the members of my site are girls and some of them ask, “how do I start getting paid as a model?” Really, I can’t just answer that in a short sentence. I’m going to write it in steps. You have to start out slow and give yourself a raise as you’re going on. You can’t just come out in the scene and go, “I charge $1500!” Like I charge a lot more but I’m more established. When I get hired by a company that no one has heard of, I’m giving them exposure, you know what I mean? And then there are companies that I model for that obviously have a lot of fans, and can give you exposure, like Pinup Girl Clothing. It’s cool, going back and forth. I work with small companies and big companies.
One of the interviews I did for Australia, I don’t know how it came up, but I was talking about when I got kidnapped in the Philippines. They’re like, “when are you going to write your book!?” And I’m like, “I’m working on it, haha.” It’s stranger than fiction.