Valentino’s ladyboys campaign started three years ago.

I was completely fascinated when I first saw Kati on stage, in a cabaret on a side alley off Phuket’s famous Bangla Street.

Although I knew that I was watching a ladyboy show, I couldn’t believe that this gorgeously beautiful dancer had once been a man. "Impossible!" I said to myself.

She moved like a dancer from a cross between the Lido in Paris and the Moscow State Ballet. Her body was perfect, with glorious, barely covered breasts, long legs, fabulous hair and eyes sparkling in the beam of the bright spotlight. "What’s happening to me?" I thought. "I can hardly believe my eyes, or that this ladyboy has enthralled me like this. I’m 100% straight and a real macho, but I’m losing control."

With shining eyes I enjoyed the show – and many more men, women or whatever came gracefully onto the stage and carried me away to another world.

The dream was not the kind you want to end, and so I decided to see if I could find out more about this indescribable encounter. I had a couple more drinks to strengthen my resolve, and then spoke to Kati at the exit from the cabaret. I gave her my business card and said that I would be happy to do a photoshoot with her if she would like to get in touch.

She never did.

After a few days of disappointment I gave up hope of hearing from her, and immersed myself in all the other beautiful things that Thailand and Phuket have to offer.

In the following two years I travelled repeatedly to Asia, meeting wonderful people with great hospitality, exotic cuisine and everything one could hope for in life. Thailand really is the land of smiles!

In December 2013 I set off again for Phuket with my family, wanting to escape from the rigours of the cold European winter.

Fabulous 2014 New Year’s party, wonderful beaches, everything was simply beautiful!

Then one evening in Patong it happened.

My hope of doing a photo production one day with this exotic ladyboy world flared up in me again.

She was standing there in front of me. Not Kati this time, but another of these gracious ladies. Who was she, this blonde, in a long, elegant black dress slit down the back almost to her bottom? One look at her, and any man’s fantasies would go into overdrive.

Wow, what was I going to do – and how could I seize this opportunity? I didn’t want to lose another two years without anything to show for it. I approached her confidently and very politely (no alcohol this time) with Italian charm, and introduced myself. She responded with "Cherry Ohlala!" and so I explained what I had in mind and gave her my business card.

She said goodbye, and walked off into the darkness as if she were on a Prêt à Porter catwalk. I was left standing and slightly dazed, savouring the sweet scent of her perfume that still lingered in the air.

Two days went by, and suddenly there she was on the phone. "Hello, it’s me, Cherry Ohlala. Remember me?"

As always when a man gets a phone call from a beautiful woman, I answered, "Ah yes, I remember, …" and so on.

OK, so it all came together, we arranged a meeting and I said to her, "If you have other ladyboy girlfriends, bring them to the casting with you."

On 26 January I arrived on the dot at the casting venue in a well-known hotel, and waited in the open-air bar on the seventh floor.

I was excited, actually a bit nervous. I really had a date, a casting, with ladyboys!

The transparent glass lift arrived with the surgical wonders. They look like three top models from Victoria’s Secret, I thought as they walked towards me, perfectly choreographed.

Or perhaps they were three angels and I was Charlie?

We started to talk and I tried to convince them of my idea for a photoshoot. They listened, but they were very reserved, sceptical, almost impenetrable.

Then I realised what was wrong. They didn’t trust me! They thought my idea looked like a plan to seduce them, with something erotic or even pornographic in mind. They didn’t know me, after all, and like 90% of all women of the world who get pestered for a photoshoot, they thought it was just a trick with dubious ends in mind.

OK, I told myself, you’ll have to try a different approach – tell them who you are, what you do – and make it clear to them that you can give them a unique opportunity of featuring as beauty campaign models in a photo production. I put my laptop on the table and showed them my world. I showed them the worldwide productions we had already done with well-known models like Karolina Kurkova, Irina Shayk, Linda Evangelista and Chanel Iman of Victoria’s Secret, and that we had worked for labels like Cartier, Mercedes and Rolex as well as magazines like Vogue, Elle, Interview and many others. I showed them the world of the top models. And then you could see that the ice melted and they let their guard down. They finally realised that I saw them 100% as women and as models. They saw that I was impressed by their appearance and their incredible perfection, and that I genuinely respected them.

We came to an agreement and fixed the first date for the photoshoot.

February 3rd, my birthday, was the day on which I wanted to make a start with this idea, which had been on my mind for three years. It was a personal birthday present to myself to carry out an unusual production like this. But now I started to feel the stress. In just a few days I had to organise clothes, make-up artists, photographers, a video crew, transportation, permission to photograph at the various locations and a whole lot more – and all this in a foreign country. In a euphoric mood I overcame numerous hurdles in these few days so that I could start on February 3rd without a hitch. A big thank you to Roger Egli, the Thai-Swiss all-rounder!

At five a.m. on February 3rd, production started in the improvised backstage area of an apartment. The models were styled and made up as if they were getting ready for a Pitti fashion parade in Milan. We touched and dressed the ladyboys and did their hair, just as if they were regular women models. Not for a moment did we get the feeling that we weren’t dealing with women who were completely female.

The first day was over – everything went really well, completely professional.

The kathoeys were excited to be in the midst of a production of a kind that they only knew from the pages of beauty and fashion magazines – like the ones in Paris, London or Miami. They had never thought that they would meet up with such a vast production crew of more than 13 professionals.

I thanked them and said that if they had any more ladyboy girlfriends, they should just contact me. With a friendly "sawadii kah", they left the set.

And WOW, WOW, the very next day it all happened and I was simply flooded with emails from kathoeys who wanted to take part in the campaign. The word had spread like wildfire that someone was doing a top photo production featuring kathoeys. My diary was booked out for weeks with castings, location searches and a whole lot more to make this special production a success.

Now I can look back and say that it was totally worthwhile to have realised this unique dream production. Fourteen different ladyboys are now part of an international advertising campaign for Goldwell, the hair care and cosmetics company. What gives me the greatest pleasure is that my dream of doing something rather different came true.

© Copyright 2015 Mondo Valentino