Photo: Unsplash, Instagram/ Skinnykatwomen , The Singapore Women's Weekly , The New Paper
The ’80s and ’90s was the Golden Age for the local modelling scene. Singaporean models were superstars in the international circuit, fronting major global advertising campaigns and walking the runways at fashion capitals Paris and Milan. Back home, they were household names, gracing the covers of many a magazine here.
While the sheen dulled for the next two decades, some local models are slowly finding the spotlight overseas again. Layla Ong, for example, walked the runway at Milan Fashion Week for Gucci’s Fall/Winter 2018 show, while Jean Yong walked for Antonio Marras. Still, no model is as famous as the likes of Hanis Hussey, Ethel Fong and Junita Simon, to name a few. We look back with nostalgia at the top models of that bygone era and celebrate those that made it in recent years.
1. Ethel Fong
The first ever Singaporean to sign a contract with Ford Models in New York (known for representing elite supermodels such as Naomi Campbell and Christy Turlington), Ethel Fong modelled for Chanel and Christian Dior and appeared on the covers of many international titles, including Italian Vogue and W Magazine. Charmed by her exotic beauty during a casting in 1986, Giorgio Armani himself had selected her as his muse, and Fong became one of the few Asians to star in an Armani campaign during the ’80s, which ran in major fashion magazines globally.
As of 2016, both Fong and her husband, Jean Chalopin, were active in charity work. They started StoryPlus, an online platform where parents were able to purchase stories submitted by different writers. This money was used to educate children from Third World countries with literacy skills.
2. Nora Ariffin
Nora Ariffin’s career took flight when she garnered fame and recognition after being named as Glamour Awards’ Model of the Year, as well as Studio M Awards’ Best Model of the Year and Best Photogenic Model in 1985. She left Singapore to take her modelling career to new heights, where she landed in the pages of Vogue Paris circa 1986 in a campaign shot by renowned fashion photographer, the late Guy Bourdin.
Her journey did not end there — she appeared in the Italian counterparts of Harper’s Bazaar and Cosmopolitan and starred in the advertisement campaigns of CoverGirl cosmetics in 1995 alongside big names such as Tyra Banks and Niki Taylor. Now, she runs a fashion line called NoraRTW, where they offer elegant and fashionable garments for Muslim girls.
3. Hanis Hussey
Known as the first ever Singaporean model who appeared on the catwalk of Paris Fashion Week, she closed the Fall/Winter show of Yves Saint Laurent in 1983. Handpicked to be the muse of Yves Saint Laurent, she became the in-house model for his eponymous label.
She went on to enjoy a glittering career, walking in the shows of coveted labels such as Balmain, Christian Dior, Givenchy and Lanvin. As recent as 2016, she served as the catwalk coach for the contestants of Miss Universe Singapore.
1990s – 2000s
4. Junita Simon
Catapulting to fame after she was crowned the winner of the Singapore leg of the Ford Supermodel of the World contest in 1995, Junita Simon’s career skyrocketed — gracing the covers of both local and international publications as well as walking in shows for famous fashion houses such as Chanel and Louis Vuitton. Represented by renowned agencies like Ford Models Paris and British’s IMG Models, she was the face of many fashion brands, including Gucci and Givenchy.
Simon has since switched to hosting, and was the emcee for major events such as Icons of Ferrari, Samsung Galaxy S6 World Tour in Singapore and the Grand Opening of the first Singapore Zenith flagship store.
5. Huda Ali
Coming in as second runner up in the ASEAN Model Search in 1993, Huda Ali kickstarted her modelling career when she was just 15, frequently appearing on the covers of the now-defunct magazine, Go.
Although she retired from modelling in 2002 to take on a press relations position at a fashion designer’s company, she recently made a resurgence, appearing in the Elle Singapore x ION Orchard calendar in 2015.
6. Sheila Sim
Modelling runs in the family for Sheila Sim. Sim was discovered at age 16 by a talent scout while she was at her aunt Ivy Chng’s wedding. Chng was a runway model during the 1980s.
At the peak of her career, Sim walked the catwalk for Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Valentino, fronted campaigns for Poh Heng Jewellery and Ashley Isham and was named Singapore’s first brand ambassador for Japanese beauty brand, SK-II in 2012. These days, Sim is involved in acting, appearing in several local television dramas such as 118 Reunion and Reach for the Skies.
7. Nadia Rahmat
Rahmat’s modelling career took to the skies in 2015. She was selected out of 50,000 people in an Instagram #CastMeMarc contest to be the face of the now-defunct Marc by Marc Jacobs Spring 2015 campaign.
She then went on to walk for Gin Lee in 2017’s Singapore Fashion Week. She still models, but is also working as an events manager for Kilo Lounge, Camp Kilo and Kilo Kitchen.
8. Diya Prabhakar
This New Paper New Face 2014 winner was discovered by Prasad Bidapa, an Indian fashion choreographer, while the then-15-year-old was on a family holiday in India. Since then, she modelled for Ashley Isham, Oscar De La Renta and Desigual at the Audi Fashion Festival 2014, and for Thomas Wee, Al & Alicia and Topshop during the Digital Fashion Week 2013. She has also appeared in several magazines, such as for local title Her World and international ones like Vogue Arabia.
Recently, she grazed the runways of New York Fashion Week. Brands like Prabal Gurung and Christian Siriano have cast her for their Spring/Summer 2019 show.