“How I got into modelling was an accident really. It has never been ‘Oh, I want to be a model’ for me! Friends were photographing my personal fashion experiments for street-style images, and eventually I began collaborating with portrait photographers on photo shoots. Of course, I had doubts initially – I didn’t think I was tall enough and all that to be a model. But increasingly, the industry is heading towards a more individualistic direction and you don’t need that cookie-cutter look to be a model.
When I was growing up, I didn’t really have a clear idea of what I should be doing. But I was certain that I love fashion and I also enjoyed interacting with people – I’m a very sociable person! So, I’ve been really blessed to be able to combine those two things into the roles that I’m juggling at the moment.
When I’m not modelling, I manage events and VIP clients for Kilo. And the energy you get interacting with different people is just infectious. What motivates me is always seeing people enjoy themselves at the different events we put on, and when they come up to me after, going, ‘Hey Nadia, thanks so much for doing this!’ It makes me really happy that I had a part to play in creating that positive experience.
The same applies with modelling – the idea of meeting and learning something new from all the different people that I work with on every shoot – that gets me up every morning!
Something I did recently that I was proud of was the Gin Lee show at last year’s Singapore Fashion Week. The designers booked me specifically for my look and mentioned that they wanted me to dance down the runway! It was also really random as they saw an Instagram post where I was being silly and vogueing, and wanted me to just be myself and have fun.
So I was like, oh my god how do I do this haha? It was stressful, but thankfully my dance training in high school came in useful, and I was able to choreograph something that worked for the showcase.
But yeah, I guess I’m really thankful for these moments where individualism and diversity is celebrated. Singapore is a melting pot and you get to mix around with so many different cultures. And that’s what diversity means to me – it’s not just different skin colour and how you look on the outside. It’s about how you think, the different types of cultures you adopt and being open-minded.
It used to be like ‘we look so different so therefore we are different’. But I think now we are no longer so different. The world is merging so much and we borrow and learn from other cultures. So I think it’s quite a nice thing to stay true to your roots but also adopt and understand other cultures.
Cultural appropriation however is a very grey area. The most important thing about it is dependent on the context of what you’re portraying of that culture. For example, if you were to slap a print of an Indian goddess on a swimsuit thinking this deity looks cool, in that context it’s wrong. You need to understand the meaning behind the symbols and what they represent.
Dita von Teese was recently heavily criticized by largely non-Indians for wearing a gorgeous all-Indian get up. And everyone is basically just blowing it out of proportion! I mean if she was wearing the outfit to a strip club then of course it wouldn’t be appropriate, but in my opinion this is more a case of appreciation or cultural exchange, as opposed to appropriation.
I think the embracing of diversity and inclusivity in the fashion and beauty industry is going in the right direction. Before it would be passed off as a joke or swept under the carpet, but now more people are speaking up about it. Bringing awareness to it is good, so more people would understand and be more considerate and understanding of certain issues. People usually skirt around the matter and are scared to offend others – but if you are curious, ask questions so you understand a bit more about it.
For example, I was wearing an India Tikka headpiece the other day and we were hosting a DJ for dinner. And his girlfriend was like ‘ooh what’s this?’ So I explained to her that it’s an accessory typically worn for weddings but now people can wear it as an accessory. She was genuinely curious about it and that’s good cause then I was able to share a part of my heritage with her.
Sometimes I’m a morning person. But when my boyfriend gets up, I’m like urgh, okay I’ll have to get up now too! The night before I would apply the CNP Peeling Cream Sleeping Mask, so the first thing I would do is rinse that off with water and then I would cleanse my face with Kiehl’s Calendula Deep Cleansing Foaming Face Wash. On alternate days, I would exfoliate with good old St. Ives Fresh Skin Apricot Scrub.
In term of moisturizer, I use a water-based one like Shiseido Waso Fresh Jelly Lotion – I feel that’s what works best for my normal skin texture, which is neither too oily or too dry.
My skincare routine is very straightforward and simple! Every now and then I would use a charcoal mask like Peter Thomas Roth Irish Moor Mud Mask or The Body Shop Amazonian Acai Energising Radiance Mask. In the evening, I remove my makeup with a DIY concoction of purified water and Extra Virgin Olive Oil – it’s a tip I picked up from a Michelle Phan YouTube video ages ago. This is then followed by the same cleanser and the sleeping mask, which hydrates my skin as I snooze.
When I go on photoshoots, sometimes I have a lot of makeup on my face – so on other days I like to keep it bare and clean. It’s good to let your skin breathe so I don’t put on too much makeup. I don’t use foundation, and usually I’m just an eyeliner and lipstick kind of girl. Those are my two key makeup essentials. My go-to eyeliner is the Urban Decay Perversion Waterproof Fine-Point Eye Pen, and for lipstick it’s Inga by 27A in the shades Ora or Tora.
I don’t leave the house without lipbalm! My lips get dry super easily even in humid Singapore. There isn’t really one particular brand that I stick to all the time – I tend to alternate between a couple of different ones. At the moment, I’m using Fresh Sugar Passion Tinted Lip Treatment with SPF15, which gives me a pop of colour, so I don’t look too dead! I love Burt’s Bees Beeswax Lip Balm – the peppermint is shiok and tingly!
On a night out, a red lipstick is a must. It instantly lifts my face. My other favourite is NARS Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Endangered Red. Sometimes I put on Urban Decay Perversion Mascara and I would apply Makeup Forever Artist Plexi-Gloss Lip Lacquer in Transparent on my cheeks and brows. Other times, I would highlight my cheeks with Urban Decay Afterglow Highlighter in SIN. But yeah in general I keep it super subtle, cause a lot of makeup doesn’t really suit my face, and I feel I don’t really need it – it’s not really me as well.
REGRETTABLE HAIR FAUX PAS
My hair is dry so my routine includes Kiehl’s Smoothing Oil-Infused Shampoo and Conditioner. I like LUSH Big Sea Salt Shampoo and The Body Shop Banana Truly Nourishing Conditioner too. Then I would apply an oil-based moisturizer like Inecto Naturals Divine Shine Coconut Hair Oil Spray whilst my hair is still wet.
I also have very thin hair and in high school, there was a period of time when I kept rebonding my hair! Cause I have more of an oval shaped face so by rebonding the hair to be super straight it made my face looked really flat and like there was no dimension to it! It was so flat and squished against my head and the fringe just wasn’t working out too haha, it was like very sparse and weird!
POWER OF POSITIVITY
When you have negative thoughts like, ‘oh my face is too this and that, etc’ – it’s gonna show through on the outside. Everyone edits themselves – it’s almost like second nature to put a filter over images of yourself on social media. But if you think, “wow thank you face for looking this way today” – that positivity will be reflected externally. I think it’s important to embrace what you have cause you can’t change yourself. I used to waste so much time thinking about why I’m not able to be more like this and that, but it’s very tiring. I’ve learnt to be confident in my own skin and just be chilled really.”
— as told to Aida Dolrahim at Nadia’s home in Singapore on 8 Jan 2018