Lace bra top; lace bottom; lace socks; leather sandals, Gucci. Silk fishnet stockings, stylist’s own
(On Mei Yue) Tweed jacket; silk top; tweed skirt; gold Camélia ear clip; yellow gold Coco Crush earring; yellow gold Coco Crush ring; gold Camélia ring
(On Kaci) tweed jacket; silk blouse; tweed skirt; white gold and diamond Comète necklace; white gold and diamond Coco Crush ring; beige Coco Crush ring, Chanel. Spectacles, Kaci’s own
Fashion mythology is filled with tales of young models thrust into superstardom by chance— Kate Moss was discovered while transiting through JFK; Naomi Campbell and Gisele Bündchen scouted while going about their teenage lives. But as fashion itself has transformed from a secretive, insider-y world into a powerful driver of the global economy and a giant pillar of popular culture, so have the jobs populating that world been demystified; people no longer stumble into styling, creative-directing or modeling. They grow up with clear goals of catapulting into the industry, setting themselves on specific paths to get there. It is this kind of ambition that has led the four girls we’re celebrating in our first issue of this new decade—Kaci Beh, Kaigin Yong, Layla Ong and Mei Yue—to the big, bright lights of the world’s fashion capitals.
Mei Yue has been in love with fashion ever since she was a child, though initially she had another route in mind. “I actually thought of being a designer. I love beautiful things, dressing up; I love how fashion can change the way you feel. When you wear something amazing, you feel it and you become it,” she said. Kaci too, thought about it for years, before taking the plunge and “gathered my courage, worked hard to lose more than 10 kilograms, then went to an open casting call” which have then led to an increasing number of opportunities.
Kaigin and Layla only heeded the call of fashion after trying their hand at several other endeavours that proved unfulfilling. “I graduated from university in biology and business, and then I did sales in a few different industries, but nothing made me really happy,” said Kaigin. “I wanted a different life experience, and that led me to The New Paper New Face 2017 modelling competition,” which she won, cracking open doors to bigger platforms, such as opening Singapore Fashion Week 2017. Layla did short-lived stints in various office jobs, the food and beverage industry, the beauty and cosmetics sector, and events planning, before a casting call on Instagram in 2016 sparked her to take decisive action. Though she had been told of her potential due to her height, she never really saw herself as a model. “In my mind, the models that I know are not the kind of model that I am. I thought you had to look like a bombshell, with small lips, big eyes and big hair,” she said.
It was opportune then that Layla and this cohort of stunning but unconventionally pretty girls entered the industry just as it was being driven by intense discussions around diversity. Everyone was hungry for new faces to expand the beauty ideal beyond skinny, white and blonde. While the girls are often presented as a beacon for an ultra modern kind of cool, for this special shoot—BAZAAR’s first local cover production in two years— BAZAAR decided to pay homage to another time when fashion was undergoing seismic shifts: the Sixties, which was then Swinging and pulsating with the energy of Youthquake.
Ready-to-wear was just birthed at Yves Saint Laurent. The grandeur and glamour of master couturiers like Cristobal Balenciaga, Christian Dior and Charles James gave way to the liberated modernity of Mary Quant and the optimistic futurism of Paco Rabanne, Pierre Cardin and André Courrèges. Alongside these designers rose a new class of models—think Twiggy, Jean Shrimpton, Penelope Tree and Veruschka, who changed the face of fashion from haughty and glacial into something infused with individuality, youthfulness, nonchalance, sex and quirk.
Kaci was transformed with full luscious big hair, short shorts, and fishnet stockings barely covering legs that go on for miles. Kaigin went all Mary Quant, with a cropped beehive reminiscent of a cool Twiggy.
From top: Kaci at Dolce&Gabbana spring/summer 2020; Layla at Gucci spring/summer 2020; Kaigin at Dries Van Noten spring/ summer 2020
Ironically, the girl who didn't see herself as model material found herself scoring the most coveted show at Milan fashion week in 2018: an exclusive contract, and with one of the hottest brands in fashion, no less. “I got a call from my agency in Korea, and they said that Gucci wanted to see me. They ew me to Rome to meet the design team, and then to Milan to see the casting team,” recalls Layla about that fateful season in fall/winter 2018 when the Italian house signed her as a runway exclusive. She has since walked six Gucci shows, in locales as farung as Paris, Arles and Rome; popped up in a Gucci Beauty campaign; and since, made catwalk turns at Dolce&Gabbana, Rodarte and MSGM.
An exclusive isn’t the only pathway to major fashion credibility—landing a spot in a buzzed-about show instantly earns eyeballs worldwide and Kaigin scored at what was arguably the buzziest show of spring/summer 2020: the Dries Van Noten spectacular designed in collaboration with Christian Lacroix. Getting there was no walk in the park though. As she recalls, “It was my last casting of the day, the 10th in fact. It was a rainy day so Paris was colder than usual; there were so many girls lined up that I didn’t have any expectations whatsoever.” It all paid off though when she got to “walk in front of Dries himself, and Christian; and then they started discussing amongst themselves, put this blazer on me, took some photos, and at the callback, both designers fitted the clothes on my body and I got to talk to them. They were so sweet and it was such an amazing experience.”
Faux fur coat, Balenciaga. Gold Camélia ear clip; yellow gold and beige gold Coco Crush earrings; yellow gold and diamond Camélia ear clip, Chanel Beauty BAZAAR: Get graphic with bold colour on eyes and sharply defined lips, while keeping the rest of the makeup minimal. Get the look with Ombre Première in 16 Blue Jean; Les 4 Ombres in 344 Lueur Ardente; Stylo Yeux Waterproof in Noir Intense; Le Volume de Chanel Waterproof in Noir; and Rouge Allure Ink in 222 Signature. All makeup by Chanel.
Leather top, Bottega Veneta. Yellow gold Coco Crush necklace, Chanel Beauty BAZAAR: Style hair into a modern mini bouffant with Bedroom.Hair hairspray and Powder.Puff Volumising Powder by Kevin Murphy
It certainly makes a model’s fashion journey easier to have boldfaced designers in their corner. For Kaci, it was Dolce&Gabbana that was her springboard onto the international stage. “When I did my first Dolce show in February, people were like, ‘oh my God’, and that was when I started getting more attention from producers and casting directors,” she said. She followed up on that promising Milan debut with an even more impressive showing during the spring/summer 2020 season, proving her versatility by going from sensuous Dolce&Gabanna siren to Emporio Armani’s cool minimalism and then closing the Stella Jean show looking like an ethereal pagan priestess. She also jetted to Sicily last summer with Dolce&Gabbana to play an Ancient Roman warrior in the brand’s Alta Moda outing.
With less competition for attention, the rarified world of haute couture can be a great platform for nascent models to prove their mettle. Case in point: when Riccardo Tisci handpicked a then-unknown Joan Smalls to walk his Givenchy haute couture show, a star was famously born. Mei Yue got a taste of this when she became the only Singaporean model chosen by Dior to walk in a special showing of its spring/summer 2018 haute couture collection in Shanghai. “That was definitely one of the biggest highs of my career so far,” she exclaims. At that show, she caught the eye of agents and casting directors, getting herself signed to Women in New York soon after, and parlayed that into a runway appearance at Casey Cadwallader’s much-praised debut at Mugler in September 2018. “Violet Chachki was there; Cardi B wore ‘my’ outfit soon after—it was surreal.”
NO BED OF ROSES
But as Mei Yue would soon find out, the flip side of fashion’s rush of highs is its gut punch of lows. In an industry so driven by subjective notions of appearances, the rejection can take its toll. “I started comparing myself to other girls thinking that I needed to be skinnier even though I was already thin. I started obsessively monitoring everything I ate—I wouldn’t eat more than 1,200 calories a day and I went to the gym religiously; each time I’d be there for more than two hours. If I failed, I would feel so much guilt—it got so bad that I had an eating disorder and had to go to therapy,” she said of this dark point of her life. Realising that she needed to focus on her mental health before all else, she “decided to take a break and come home. Before this, I was living in Tokyo, Korea, New York, Paris and London all within the span of a year; and a lot of that time, you’re alone so things get overwhelming.”
While most of Mei Yue’s struggles with the job were internalised, that doesn’t mean that the mean-girl mentality in fashion is not well and alive. Kaci faced this firsthand at castings and backstage sets. “There were girls who would try to intimidate you; they’d stare at you, judge you, talk about you behind your back. That’s tough because then it can make you feel insecure. Am I not skinny enough? Is my walk not good enough?” Her solution for this? “I’ve learned not to care. I still struggle with insecurities, of course, but I don’t let them rule what I do or what I eat—I just do things in moderation and focus on getting ahead in my career.” Layla echoes the sentiment. “You learn and you adapt as you grow older and more mature.”
For Kaigin, entering the game at the relatively late age of 22 has been a boon. “A lot of people think that it’s a disadvantage because modelling is supposedly all about youth, but it also requires a lot of discipline, as well as mental and emotional resilience. If I had started younger, I might not have been able to handle a lot of the setbacks I’ve faced. Being older helps with sifting through all that noise,” she reflects.
THE LONG RUN
Kaigin’s maturity also shows in the way she thinks about her career in the long-term. “I think a lot of us start out with ambitions of wanting to be in a big campaign or something. But my dream is to have longevity and consistency, rather than just a face-of-the-moment kind of fleetingness,” she elaborates. With her background in biology, she occasionally entertains the idea of branching into beauty and product development while at the same time, working in close proximity with the media has “sparked an interest in writing and publishing; exploring the different sides of fashion, telling stories and engaging audiences.” Her inspirations are “models who have been able to take their careers to a different level; those who use their platforms in a tangible way to empower people.”
In ways big and small, they’ve all got their sights set on going the distance. For Mei Yue, that means getting back into fighting shape—physically and mentally—and back into the grind. “I’m trying to overcome the issues I need to overcome, because I want to be doing this for a long time. Living the way I did would have only led to a breakdown; and I haven’t walked like, 30 shows a season, book a big campaign and see myself all over Orchard Road,” she says with a glint in her eyes. For Layla, it’s fulfilment that is her guiding light. “I want to be happy in everything I do and to always be true to my heart. If there’s a way to describe my journey so far, it’s that my heart feels like it’s in full bloom,” she says. Layla probably best articulated what's in all four girls hearts and minds. Well, the new decade has barely began and if Lion City girls are anything to go by, they have the power, fierceness and tenacity to go the distance. Watch this space: Singapore girls have a great way to fly.
From top: Mei Yue at Mugler spring/ summer 2019; Kaci at Emporio Armani spring/ summer 2020; Layla at Dolce&Gabbana fall/winter 2019; Kaigin at Balmain fall/winter 2019
(On Kaigin) Tweed jacket; tweed skirt; gold and diamond Coco Crush ring; (On Layla) tweed jacket; silk shirt; tweed skirt; gold and diamond Coco Crush ring, Chanel
Knit turtleneck top, Givenchy. White gold Premier watch; yellow gold Coco Crush ring; gold Coco Crush in-between-finger ring, Chanel. Beauty BAZAAR: Create dramatic eyes and cheeks with Ombre Première in 54 Nuage Bleu; Stylo Ombre et Contour in 02 Bleu Nuit; Le Crayon Yeux in 69 Gris Scintillant and Stylo Yeux Waterproof in 949 Blanc Graphique; Les 4 Ombres in 344 Lueur Ardente; Le Volume de Chanel Waterproof in Noir; Rouge Allure in 99 Pirate. All makeup by Chanel.
Photographed by Gan. Styled by Windy Aulia
Models: Layla Ong/Basic Models; Kaci Beh/Basic Models; Kaigin Yong/Now Models; Mei Yue/Mannequin Hair and makeup: Marc Teng Hair and makeup assistant: Hwee Hwee Manicure: Audrey Wee Assistant stylist: Gracia Phang Stylist’s assistant: Chandreeyee Ray