MODELLING, it would seem, is to be at the forefront of fashion – to be the face that carries new styles and fashions onto the catwalk, into magazines pages and out to the fashion-conscious public.
But what does being behind the pretty clothes really entail, and is there really that much pizzazz to it?
Yvonne Yoon, a model who does commercials and advertisements on top of catwalk and fashion assignments, has been modelling part time for four years.
She has graced the pages of magazines like FHM, Citta Bella and Malaysian Women's Weekly and posed for giant billboards around Malaysia.
Yet, when she speaks about modelling, she is unaffected by the glitter and glamour of it all, pointing out instead the more realistic side of the job.
“The glamour is only 15 minutes on stage! The rest of the time you’re sitting around backstage, waiting for your hair and your make-up to be done. We do so much waiting around – you should see us all backstage, sprawled about the floor waiting for our turn,” she says with a laugh.
And while models are the ones conveying fashion to the world, they are hardly involved in the actual fashion processes itself. “You have people all around you doing your hair and your make-up. You’re not required to talk or have any opinion. You’re just supposed to be there on time, get your face and hair done and listen to the photographers or agents,” explains Yvonne.
Much of the time, models have little control over what stylists do to them. Yvonne herself has had her hair teased and styled in the most outrageous styles for fashion shows.
“Once, at a charity show for Dior, the stylists backcombed my hair for three hours. It took me another three hours to untangle it and make it normal again! You have crazy things like people painting your face, and if you forget to bring your make-up remover, then you’ll just have to go home looking like that.”
Stunning as she is, Yvonne remains down-to-earth about being in the fashion industry and agrees that it is a very fickle, unpredictable place to be in, where getting jobs is entirely dependent on how you look ? or luck.
“You have to realise that there are a lot of talented people styling you and taking your pictures. We can look totally different in a matter of seconds. I’ve done shows where people don’t even recognise me. It’s amazing what make-up can do,” she says.
How did you go into modelling?
I was approached by an agency, but didn’t really do anything about it for two years. Then I took some photos of myself and sent them in. I’m not attached to any agency so I can work for anybody and companies can approach me directly for jobs.
Why did you choose to freelance?
There is a lot more flexibility. However, being attached to an agency can also be a good thing because you get pushed for a lot of jobs.
What kinds of crazy things have you had to do on the job?
We did a show once in which the designer’s inspiration was from nature and trees. We had to wear head-gears that were four feet high – they used an entire can of hairspray just for my hair! Some shows want you to be versatile and do more than just model, like dance or act. We did a show once where the models were dressed up as characters – like Indiana Jones, Cindy Lauper, Lara Croft.
Is it difficult to get into modelling?
One of my agents told me that girls ring her up and say, “I’m really pretty, I think I’ve got what it takes to do it.”
They are told to come in for casting and yes, some of them do get in that way.
But it’s also about your kind of look; it’s about who likes you, whether the designer or the clients like your look. It is very competitive and there are a lot of new pretty girls out there all the time.
You have to remember that modelling in Malaysia is not like it is overseas in the West. Westerners have a lot more variety to the way they look – blond hair, red hair, freckles, deep-set eyes. It doesn’t matter there if you’re not that pretty as long as you have something very distinct – look at Alek Wek, for example.
But in Asia, we look almost alike; we all have straight black hair and there isn’t very much you can do. You more or less have to have that look to get into it.
What are the fun parts of the job?
There’s the social element – you get invited to parties, opening nights, and have the chance to meet a lot of crazy, fun, wacky people.
And the challenges?
People always stereotype you. I’ve met people who know I’m in the industry and assume that I’m a bitch, or they think I'm a bimbo. I’ve had people say to me, “Oh, you’re not as dumb as you look.” It’s very insulting!
What kind of a person do you have to be to model?
You must be a tough individual and have to be ready for rejection. And you have to be able to handle stress from all sides – the designers, agents, even the models themselves, especially in shows where everything is so hectic.
There are certain requirements such as height (you have to be at least 170cm to model) but even if you are short, you can still be a talent and do jobs with magazines or television.
To really make it big, I think you have to be “seen” a lot, be out at parties, be sociable,