Here at Think, we are not ashamed to admit that we are rather enamored with good looks, so this fashion-related article gave us the perfect excuse to interview several models. We got in touch with five – a Pan-Asian hunk, a Slovak babe, an American sweetie pie and two local lovelies, and asked them about the Singaporean modeling scene.
We began with A.J.*(not his real name), 20, who has been away from his home in North America for a long time – having spent the better part of the year in Taiwan and Hong Kong. A.J. is Pan-Asian, or “halfer” in industry jargon.
In the West, they say blonds have more fun. If that maxim holds true in this side of the modeling world, it might be because Pan-Asians have more work. Just like in Hong Kong and Taiwan, the Pan-Asian look is very desirable here. “In Singapore, they prefer halfers with darker features, which I guess is really good for me,” he says. A.J. has dark hair, long almond eyes, and a perfect smile.
Model success: From Bratislava girl to international cover model, Jana Szabova, as seen here on the cover of Female Magazine.
Like A.J, the other two foreign models I spoke to also fit the Pan-Asian category. But, strangely, neither is actually Pan-Asian. Jana Szabova, 20, is from Slovakia, which can’t be mistaken for an Asian country even for those who flunked high school geography.
But Jana has one of those versatile faces that are so highly priced in the industry – a different coif, a new brush of color from the make-up artist’s magic palette, a change of lighting and she will be transformed into a face you cannot place – Caucasian with a touch of Arabian mystery? Or an Oriental lass of European ancestry? Mediterranean, perhaps?
Linda, a native Texan, has been categorized by her modeling agency in Singapore as “Asian/Eurasian”, which greatly amuses her parents. Her father is German-English and her mother is a Native Indian from Peru. The exotic combination worked wonders – Linda is gorgeous, with beautiful chocolate doe eyes. When she was growing up in Texas, she was one of two girls in her high school who did not fit perfectly well into any ethnic group. And that was generally not a good thing.
“You’re either one or the other. It was not cool to be mixed.” But it turned out to be a very cool thing the summer she was 16 because she was picked by YM Magazine as one of the finalists for their cover girl search. She did not win but was approached by many talent scouts at the end of the competition.
Sarah*, 24, a local Singaporean model, agrees that models who look Pan-Asian are favored in Singapore. “They are usually taller, which is good for runway, and these ‘mixed’ models have more prominent, sharper features. We tend to lean more towards Western ideal of beauty. The Eurasian girls also often have bigger tits.” I guess a big bosom would count as a positive ‘prominent feature’.
Ok, so we know about the Pan-Asian look being hot but what about its individual components? What if you are a flaxen-haired Barbie or a China doll? Blonde, blue-eyed models are seldom seen in local beauty magazines and the models agree that it is harder to get editorial jobs here if one looks too Caucasian.
However, Caucasian models are in demand for runway and trunk shows. So, what about models who look completely Asian? For a country with a Eurasian population of less than 2%, local magazines feature a disproportionately high number of Eurasians compared to Chinese and Malay models. Joanna Koh is a local model who classifies her looks as “edgy Asian”.
“Clients are usually looking for Pan-Asians but when they are looking for say, a completely Chinese face, the agency might recommend me,” she says. Because Joanna stands at 1.8 meters, she does many runway shows. But the money for runway is bigger in Hong Kong, “up to five times more” and there are more jobs, so in the near future, she says she might spread her wings and go to Taiwan and Hong Kong.
A.J., Jana and Linda all cited Singapore as a great place to “build up your book”. They say that models like coming to Singapore because it has a reputation for producing editorial work that is of very high standards thus they get impressive ‘tears’ to add into their portfolios.
“Tears” is the abbreviation for tear sheets, a page from a print publication containing the model’s image. According to A.J, while Hong Kong and Taiwan have a good reputation for polished tears, Singapore has the added benefit of having English editorials. “It’s better to have English tears than a bunch of tears in Chinese, Thai or a language which the people in Milan and London can’t understand,” he says.
Compared to the other places in Asia where they have worked, Singapore has been very kind to them. Linda came here expecting it to be like Tokyo, “because being stupid, I kinda lumped all of Asia together.” So she expected a 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily grind, an assembly line system where work just kept going and going non-stop. She was pleasantly surprised to find that call times here were not at ungodly hours and “people you work with actually get to know one another and people try to help you out and take care of you. It’s like a sorority.”
Her most interesting work in Singapore has been for a television commercial. The shoot involved a scene of her falling into a pool which took almost 10 soaking wet takes. But Linda is the antithesis of the difficult diva model one often reads about. She takes everything in her stride and recalls the shoot with humour. Her joie de vivre is infectious. She makes falling into the pool fully-dressed and getting bruises while doing repeated takes of a choreographed fall onto a mattress pad sound like adventures not to be missed.
Singapore was a breeze for Jana after having worked in Taiwan. “After Taiwan, I can work for 20 hours straight without complaining,” she shrugs. During her first visit here, she did not always see the warm side of Singaporeans. “Some local girls were very bad to me but I don’t really care. I just try to be nice to everyone.”
She admires the work ethic here. “The stylist, the make-up artist, the photographer, they all do everything expecting perfection – it’s the Asian way. So, you just have to be patient and try to understand.” A.J. likes that the Singapore working pace is more relaxed than in Hong Kong. “Everyone is doing their own thing in Hong Kong. Here, people are really helpful.”
None of the foreign models are planning to stay in Singapore for over three months. Singapore is Linda’s first overseas working trip in five years. She came here mainly for the traveling opportunity because the exchange rate does not make Singapore a more lucrative place to work compared to the U.S. She will stay on for about another month before either going to Hong Kong or flying back home. This is Jana’s third stint in Singapore since she started modeling over four years ago.
Two years ago, Jana was on the cover of both Female and Her World in the span of a few months. Her face was also all over the island for a local jewelry line. She has not stayed for more than three months per visit because she says, “you’ve to keep moving to keep your face fresh in each market. If you stay too long, people might get tired of continuously seeing your face.” A.J. is in Singapore to build up his book for a couple of months before he moves onto Athens, also another hotspot for models to get good tears.
They love Singapore, this bunch of beautiful jet-setting professionals. It is a clean tropical paradise where the food is always good and the streets always safe. The girls never worry about safety unlike in some countries they have worked in, where the men are leery and the streets are dodgy. But they move on – the next fashion capital is always waiting.