Yes, Ramadan has arrived. Guess who else has arrived? The new coterie of Asia’s top models. (What, we can’t talk about models while observing Ramadan? C’mon now.)
Asia’s Next Top Model, one of the franchises spurned from America’s Next Top Model, a highly successful reality show created and produced by former supermodel Tyra Banks over a decade ago. The Asian franchise has only run for four seasons, but it has considerably taken Asia by a storm and, judged from my comfy sofa, turned the Australian franchise pale in comparison.
Perhaps it’s the advantage of sourcing show’s main cast and supporting elements from various countries in Asia. Hosts, juries, mentors, contestants, photographers and sponsors hail from different parts in Asia, most notably Southeast Asia. There’s a healthy rivalry among contestants, and likewise audience, based on nationality, making it an emotionally-investing show. In terms of production, it takes measures as detailed as, for example, themed wardrobe and make-up for contestants and jurors, or chic catwalk for elimination scenes.
How has Indonesia fared? I’m pleased to report that we haven’t done too shabbily ourselves. The host/main juror for the first two seasons was Indonesia’s renowned top model and for MTV Asia VJ Nadya Hutagalung, model Kelly Tandiono is this season’s resident mentor and Ayu Gani (accessible through Instagram ID @ganegani) won last year. A select of Indonesian photographers, fashion designers and models have also participated.
Indonesia sent two models this year, Aldilla Hopkin-Hamid and Patricia Gunawan (Instagram ID @aldillazahraa and @patriciagouw, respectively), with Patricia finishing as the 1st runner-up in addition to become the face of Close-Up, the second brand ambassador for Subaru and the covergirl for Harper’s Bazaar Singapore’s beauty edition.
Not shabbily at all, ladies and gentlemen. Go Indonesia!
In fact, go Asia! This year’s winner, the statuesque Tawan from Thailand, just as Ayu Gani from Indonesia last year, would work in London for a year under a leading European modelling agency. It may not seem too robust, but in the bigger scheme of things, it marks a new constant: every year, an Asian model is guaranteed a chance to be exposed to major European media and walk its runways.
Europe, where most of established fashion houses and half of global cosmetics giants reside; two industries that haven’t really given much emphasis on catering to Asian women, despite the bulk of business growing steadily here in the last decade. Asian features and postures haven’t been considered classic beauty deserving their own flattering silhouettes, while Asian tones haven’t been served well in the color palettes.
But that should change now that Asia no longer remains some exotic holiday destinations, bloody democracies, kooky traditions or immigrants living in the pockets of European society, but a fresh face entrusted to represent desired lifestyle labels. Before we dream of Asian fashion and cosmetics to go global, we first must make Asian faces an equal player on global stages. Europe is the perfect gateway for such.
To be fair the world has started to “warm up” to Asian features in the past decade. India and Japan have won international beauty pageants in recent years, while this year Miss Universe titleholder hails from the Philippines and Indonesia finished third for Miss World. Maybelline, the New York based beauty brand, recently appointed its first ever Asian model for worldwide campaigns, the exquisite Taiwanese model I-Hua.
Hollywood, however, remains perhaps the toughest to crack into—Asian actors, including a few of Indonesia’s own, have been mostly assigned to stereotypical roles, mostly as feeble little men or martial art mobsters. So few Asians on its A-list roster that for the three leading roles in The Memoirs of Geisha, for example, Hollywood resorted to stars of Chinese descent from three different Asian countries, failing to cast an actual Japanese actress. For six seasons straight one of its most successful TV shows, The Walking Dead, has only featured one (!) Asian-American character– who may not survive next season.
You may assume at this point that I’m consumed by looks. I’m not. I’m just being very realistic that in the world increasingly run by and lived on media, visuals hold certain power. Unless you’re Batman, you can’t hope to be accounted for by largely being unseen. And I want Asia including Indonesia to wield bigger power through not only recognizable, but also desirable looks so that we can also dominate the supply side of global markets—markets like cosmetics and luxury products that, proven in the past decade, withstand recessions better than most other industries. That means well-footed branding that translates to physical productions and real job openings in the long run—two things that will serve well multiple emerging markets in the continent.
Now while you’re peeking at the aforementioned social media accounts of Asia’s newest top models, I’m starting to closely monitor the next franchise aired on my cable; Britain and Ireland’s Next Top Models. Because whoever wins that title will most likely be the closest rival as Asia’s winner treading her way into the fiercely competitive European modelling industry. As one of the greatest minds from Asia has taught us, one must know one’s opponents just as knowing oneself to win the war.
No longer crouching and hidden, Asian tigresses are coming. Hear us roar.