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Borneo Leisure

Supermodel material

After a long, exhaustive search, 17 girls have made it to the final round of the Search for a Supermodel contest which draws to its highly anticipated conclusion this Saturday (3 November 2001). But what maketh a supermodel anyway? WILLIAM K.C. KEE of the Star finds out.


Shelley Bosuin, 22, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah


Raudhah Mohd Azami, 19, Kuching, Sarawak

Photo gallery : Supermodel

THE “X-factor’’ may be an elusive quality but it sure doesn’t stop people from trying to find it, especially among supermodel wannabes.

In fact, it was the most bandied-about word in the Search for a Supermodel contest.

At the national finals on Saturday the clotheshorse with the most X-factor oozing from the pores of her (hopefully) flawless skin will be deemed Ma-laysia’s new-est “supermodel’’. She will represent the country at the 21st Ford Supermodel of the World finals in Miami, Florida, on Nov 17 and if she wins, stands to receive a modelling contract worth US$250,000 (RM950,000).

No wonder then the enormous amount of interest it has generated among young, leggy Malaysian wo-men and the frantic hunt by the organisers for that X-factor. Said organisers have also turned up the hype by filming the whole process and turning it into a nine-part TV reality show, a la “Popstars’’. The series – which made its debut on ntv7 on Sept 22 – documents the behind-the-scenes of the event.

Apart from that, there is an on-going contest for the public to correctly place the top three girls and win RM10,000.

To cast as wide a net as possible, an exhaustive casting call was held in six major cities, including Kuching and Kota Kinabalu, which drew over 600 girls. The effort was commendable as it yielded a bountiful of fresh-faced ingenues of different races. (Only those with less than two years’ contracts with modelling agencies are eligible.)

A handful of girls from Sabah and Sarawak make up the final 17, whose ages range from 17 to 25. They were selected based on age, height, a clear complexion and apparently “that certain X-factor that will set a professional model apart from a pretty face’’, according to the publicity brief.

Initially, it was hard to distinguish one model from another in the TV series as most of what they had to say was limited to “Soooo happy!’’ (after being shortlisted) or “So nervous!’’ (before stepping onto the catwalk in front of an audience).

As the show progressed, the finalists started warming up and began displaying some personality. Some adored the attention the camera lavish-ed upon them; others shied away and ke-pt to themselves.

Like any good TV show, the event has not been spared its drama. One of the finalists, former beauty queen Andrea Franklin, made headlines when she urged the organisers to refrain from releasing visuals of her after she backed out from participating. Although Frank-lin had signed a talent-release form which allows the organiser to “use the photographs and footage of her to promote and publicise the event in any media’’, her picture was removed from subsequent print advertising.

Naturally, among the 17 finalists, there are a few who are more outstanding than the rest. “We all have our favourites,’’ says event director Daphne Lim. “For me, the winner should be someone who’s confident and exotic. Some finalists have the X-factor more than others, and they fit different mediums, whether it’s catwalk or print.’’

Of the lot, Merlissa Zainal has the most experience as a model, having graced numerous catwalk shows. The 23-year-old is also the covergirl of Her World’s November issue. Fashion stylist Peter Lum who has worked with Merlissa describes her as “fun, bubbly and tries very hard.’’ He adds: “The only quality she lacks is her height; she’s shorter than the average show girls.’’

In fact, height, or rather the lack of it, seems to be a perennial problem when it comes to Ma-laysian models. “It is so hard in Ma-laysia to find a girl who’s tall,’’ sighs Andrew Tan, the director of leading local agency Andrews Mo-dels.

“Most of the Caucasian mo-dels are nearly 1.8m, so when our girls go for international competitions such as this, they are lost in the crowd,’’ adds Tan who prefers to use the term “top girls’’ rather than supermodels which he feels is clichéd.

The average height of the contestants in the Malaysia’s Search for a Supermodel is 1.69m. The shortest contestant is 1.64m, while the tallest is 18-year-old Jacqueline Ong at 1.78m. “Some of them are as tall as my seven-year-old nephew!’’ snipes an observer.

Says experienced model and emcee Bernie Chan: “If a model, especially an Asian one, wants to even remotely make it internationally, she will have to be tall. And I’m not even talking about being 1.72m.

“Trunk clothes from the fashion capitals require girls who are no shorter than 1.74m and if you’re anything less than that, the clothes will be too long. Kate Moss is the only (short model who is successful) but she keeps reinventing herself.’’

Besides height, there are other requirements that make a top model.

“Presence is part of the X-factor,’’ adds Chan who is currently based in Singapore where she has branched out into acting. “Everyone can be groomed but presence is born. A girl may look ordinary but put make-up on her and throw her on stage or in front of a camera and if she shines, potential is born!”

Another top model, Soraya Dean, describes individuality as an important factor. “Being who you are and having your own style is important,’’ says the beauty of Malay-Australian parentage who has eight years of modelling experience in Malaysia.

She adds: “It is difficult to determine the lifespan of a Malaysian model: she can last from one year to 20, depending on how good she is, or whether she constantly improves herself.’’

According to fashion stylist David Cheang, a good model has strong features rather than just a pretty face.

“She doesn’t have to be drop-dead beautiful. Nowadays, it’s more about a model’s personality. For me, her face must be able to speak volumes.’’

Says Marie Claire magazine editor Jacqueline Pereira: “In Europe and the United States, the strength of a model lies in her being able to convey different images. She can be involved in so many advertising campaigns and shoots and yet look different in each of them. It has more to do with her attitude than beauty. The perception of beauty today has no longer to do with being blonde and blue-eyed.’’

Come this Saturday, we will know which black-haired, brown-eyed girl will be the chosen one. And of course, X will mark her spot.



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