Rejected at home, S'pore rookie models for Armani in Milan
S'pore model, who can't get gigs here for being 'too skinny' and 'too tanned', gets cast for Milan Fashion Week
He struggled to secure modelling jobs in Singapore and was rejected by clients up to 20 times.
But local model Andee Chua, 25, who joined the industry last year, hit the jackpot last week when he was cast by Italian fashion house Armani to walk for the Emporio Armani Menswear Spring Summer 2016 show at Milan Fashion Week in Italy.
Chua, who started modelling last April, told The New Paper in an e-mail interview: "I was over the moon when I found out that I was booked for the Armani show. I was screaming and jumping around."
He described how during the open casting, as the only Singaporean there, he had to compete with thousands of male models from all over the world, including Russia, Slovakia, France, Korea and Japan.
In the first round, Chua was asked to walk wearing a blazer for the show directors.
The 1.88m-tall Singaporean was then shortlisted alongside about 400 guys for the second round, where he had to walk down a runway in front of fashion designer Giorgio Armani.
Chua recalled: "It was very nerve-racking to be watched by Mr Armani, the man himself. I still remember that there were about 400 guys in the queue during the callback.
"When the gate was opened, everyone pushed forward and started running. I could tell that everyone wanted the job so badly. It was a chaotic sight, something I have never seen in Singapore."
From there, he made the final cut, modelled one outfit and was paid 800 euros (S$1,200).
Chua is currently in Paris attending castings, hoping to secure a gig for Paris Fashion Week. He will return to Singapore next Tuesday.
Chua, who graduated with an Arts Management degree from Lasalle College of the Arts two months ago, is signed with UK-based modelling agency JEM-International Scouts.
He was scouted on Instagram and Facebook by the agency earlier this year and has been based with it since February.
Before the Armani gig, he had done only local runway shows like Audi Fashion Week 2014, Digital Fashion Week 2014 and Singapore Fashion Week 2015. He also works as a freelance street dance instructor.
After his graduation, Chua decided to visit Milan and Paris to "try his luck". He forked out more than $1,000 for the Europe trip, money he feels was well-spent.
He said: "I didn't expect to get the job. I just went with the mindset that I had nothing to lose anyway. When I knew I was picked for the show, I was really happy and excited.
"As a new face, you won't get much advances from the agencies, but still, my heart told me to do it. Life is short and I don't want to live a life full of 'what ifs'.
"I want to live my life to the fullest. Even if I failed on this trip, I still know that at least I tried. Never try, never know, right?"
Of the failures he faced while he was modelling in Singapore, Chua lamented that the market here "wasn't very local-friendly".
"In this industry, rejections are very common. You can go for 10 castings and get 10 rejections," he said.
"But the Singapore market doesn't use many locals in the fashion shows. Sometimes, they don't cast us the moment they know we are local. It's a sad thing to know."
He had also received feedback that he was "too skinny" and "too tanned for an Asian", which made him insecure and stressed - to the point where he considered bleaching.
Chua, who used to be a dragonboat rower, previously weighed 90kg, but lost 20kg in a month so that he could model.
Despite the negative comments, he did not give up.
The determined newcomer, who has embraced his "natural skin colour", said: "When I was in Milan, I thought I looked different, even when compared to other Asian male models. But I thought that could be a good thing rather than bad."
Chua hopes to continue travelling in future to pursue his modelling career.
He said: "I will be heading to Hong Kong from August to October, and back to Europe in January for Fall/Winter shows. Hopefully I'll be able to do London then too. Of course, my ultimate goal is to make it to New York."
To other rookies like himself, Chua has this to say: "Believe in yourself. Never let others bring you down.
"If you have in mind something you want to accomplish, go all out for it.
"If I want something, I give my 100 per cent. If not, I don't do it."
Andee an inspiration to S'pore models
ROLE MODEL: Chuando walked for Italian label Verri Uomo in the 90s. TNP PHOTO: CHUANDO
EARLIER HIT: Colin Wee modelled for big names like Gucci and D&G. TNP PHOTO: GEOFF ANG
Local fashion industry insiders say Andee Chua's recent international runway appearance should be an inspiration to other local male models.
Especially since he is the first to do so in recent years.
More than a decade ago, former top model Colin Wee made catwalk appearances in Milan for Gucci, DSquared2, Roberto Cavalli and Dolce & Gabbana.
In the early 90s, model-turned-photographer Chuando walked in Milan for Italian label Verri Uomo.
Fashion consultant and show producer Daniel Boey told The New Paper: "It is a big deal to be selected for the Emporio Armani show as it is quite competitive.
"I was surprised he got picked for Armani. I see him as edgy, so I thought he'd be picked by something quirkier and edgier. Armani is a more commercial brand.
"This is a great achievement for Andee. This will give other Singapore male models courage to venture out."
Fashion stylist Kovit Ang said: "Andee is my personal friend. He is very hardworking and wants to show that he can do something in the industry.
"In Singapore, he went through a hard time as he has the edgy look rather than the typical handsome look that clients here go for."
Both fashion experts, who usually push for local models in their fashion shows, observed that locals are not given fair opportunities in their own backyard as clients here tend to choose overseas models.
Ang said: "In Singapore, it's harder to make a career out of modelling. Many local models just do it on a freelance basis. They don't believe in the industry."
Boey agreed: "In our industry, it's very hard for clients to accept that there are Singaporean models.
"You should book a model because he looks good, not book him based on what country he's from.
"Local models lack that hunger and drive to succeed because they feel that they cannot make a living out of modelling.
"Andee's advantage is that he is dark, so he can pass off as native American, or South Asian, which is good.
"I would tell Andee: 'Don't come back to Singapore. Stay overseas and milk it as much as you can'."