Photo: Instagram / sheila_sim

Ten years ago, Singapore fashion models were not in high demand. Most labels and show producers were booking foreign models, and the only name laypeople could come up with when asked about local models was "Sheila Sim". Many reasons were cited for the scarcity of local faces - unstable wages, impractical career option, disruption of studies, National Service taking away the boys, and so on.


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The tide now seems to be turning. At the recent Milan Fashion Week, no less than three Singapore models appeared in various shows. NOW Model Management star Jean Yong strutted in the much-adored Antonio Marras show. Basic Models Management's Layla Ong was in Gucci's "is this a fashion show or a mental hospital" spectacle. And Basic's Ashley Soo walked in Sartorial Monk.

Meanwhile, The New Paper New Face 2014 winner Diya Prabhakar turned heads at New York Fashion Week wearing Christian Siriano and other labels. The New Paper New Face 2010 winner Vivien Ong has a career in New York, having walked for brands such as Sophie Theallet, Moncler and Vivienne Westwood. Other girls drawing buzz include Fiona Fussi, Aimee Cheng-Bradshaw, Jasmine Sim and Iman Fandi. The wave of new girls working globally come on the back of concerted efforts to recognise local beauty.

NOW Model Management owner Addie Low says: "When I started the agency six years ago to champion local models, about 98 percent of the models I'd see in magazines and fashion shows were foreign models. Now, I see about 10 to 15 percent local presence in those magazines and catwalks." Basic Models Management owner Bonita Ma agrees: "There's a stronger presence of local models nowadays, and the hype for local talent is definitely building up." Nuyou editor-in-chief Terence Lee echoes the opinions of several fashion editors when he declares: "There's been a re-emergence of local models since its last boom in the 1990s… And I think this is going to be a sustained wave."


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The renewed currency of local faces evolves from several factors - one of them being the strong push by fashion leaders to champion local talents. Creative director Daniel Boey, who frequently insists on using local models for his shows, says: "I've stopped counting the number of time naysayers tell me the girls or boys I picked weren't good enough to be models, and these include the likes of Layla (Ong), Jean (Yong) and Ashley (Soo). Once, a fashion student cried because I used Vivien (Ong) for her graduation show. But when Vivien did Vivienne Westwood in Paris, she boasted that Vivien walked in her show.

Many people b*tched about local models and said they'd never touch them. But now they're coming out of the woodwork to celebrate their success." In 2005, fashion writer Dhylan Boey - no relation to Daniel Boey - bemoaned the lack of local modelling talent in a piece titled Desperately Seeking Supermodels published in The Straits Times. Like other fashion writers before and after him, he harks back to the era in the 1980s and 1990s when local girls ruled covers and catwalks.


This article first appeared in The Business Times.


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