As a young Asian trying to make a name for herself in London, Indonesian singer Anggun had door after door slammed in her face.

It was only when she moved to Paris that her career took off. Today, she has five albums – each in English and French – to her name and has won multiple awards.

Image: ST photos, Yeo Kai Wen 

Anggun, 41, was in town last Friday for the first SK-II #changedestiny forum in the region at the St. Regis hotel and shared her struggles in pursuing an international career.

She says: “Because I was a child star, I thought success was easy. I was arrogant enough to think that I was invincible.”
She is one of three spokesmen – the other two are actresses Cate Blanchett and Tang Wei – for the Japanese beauty brand’s #changedestiny campaign.

The global campaign, which aims to inspire women to push through their limitations, kicked off in June last year.

A series of videos starring the three women can be viewed on the brand’s official YouTube page (

Born and raised in Jakarta, Anggun left for London when she was 21, but faced a lot of rejection during her first year there. She also suffered from culture shock and homesickness.

Determined not to give up, she moved to Paris. It was there that things became better and she went on to release five albums.

On her bag:

My bag is a grey Hermes Birkin. It’s almost winter in France and everything is gloomy, so I needed a bag in a lighter colour. I like bright colours sometimes, but it depends. You need to have a bit of everything. My daughter already has her eye on a few of my bags and shoes.

Things in her bag


This is by Wiracana, a Balinese fan maker. I always use its fans.

I brought this one because it matches the SK-II brand colour. I think it’s elegant and it’s my signature – people associate me with the fan.


I had another cover that my daughter chose when we were in Hong Kong – it was a big teddy bear, but then, people don’t take me seriously. Actually, with this, people still don’t take me seriously (laughs).


I use it every day. This was launched in Jakarta last year.

I went to Grasse, a city in the south of France known for perfumes. The climate there is perfect and you can find all kinds of flowers.


I’m so glad the company came up with the spray bottle because the original bottle was huge. I spray this on when my skin needs nourishment.


It’s one of the items I fear losing the most because that means losing my keys.


I bought this at Asiatique Collections in Dempsey Road. A friend of mine owns the shop. I like that it’s grey on the outside and pink inside.


I’m a big tea drinker. This is the tea of my childhood. I always go for jasmine tea, but a lot of restaurants in Europe don’t carry it.

Whenever I go to Indonesia or if I know a friend is visiting Paris from there, I always harass him to bring me six packs.


Her upcoming French album, Toujours Un Ailleurs, which means “always elsewhere”, will be out next month.

The petite singer has a special attachment to France. She has been living in Paris for 19 years and is married to writer Cyril Montana, 46. They have an eight-year-old daughter.

“I left Indonesia for a better life,” she says. “Now, I’ve planted my roots in Paris. It’s my new identity.”

For her success, the singer received the International Breakthrough Award at last week’s Anugerah Planet Muzik 2015 awards, the region’s top Malay music awards show.

While she was honoured, Anggun says “it’s not the quantity, but the quality of the awards that can qualify the kind of artist you are”.

The most meaningful award for her is the Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, bestowed on her by the French Ministry of Culture in 2005, to thank her for promoting French culture in Asia through her albums.

Since 2005, Anggun has been involved with the United Nations in various roles. The first was as a spokesman for a microcredit programme, which aims to give financial access to the poor to break the poverty cycle.

In 2009, she was a Goodwill Ambassador for the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

At a UN event in New York in 2010 where she was surrounded by famous people such as United States President Barack Obama, Anggun says she was starstruck when she met Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi entreprenuer and pioneer of the microcredit concept.

“He’s one of those inspiring people who, instead of complaining about the world he lives in, does something about it,” she explains.

“That’s why I support the #changedestiny campaign as well. It’s important to empower one another.”

— A version of this article first appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2015. For more lifestyle news visit: