Are Malaysian models on par with international ones? Most definitely, in our books. For our August 2023 issue, we explore the theme of “Better Together”. Eight rising Malaysian models, each charting their own paths in their modelling careers, yet are better together—what could be better?
Below, we speak to each of the eight: Suganya, May Siu, Athina Kamarudin, twins Renee and Riona Lau, Roanne Woo, Alyssa Safura, and Hikma Al-Hassan, and discover what brought them here today.
If you flip through the dictionary for “beauty with brains”, chances are you will find Suganya’s name at the top of the list. She is, after all, a Biomedical Science degree holder. But despite her academic achievement, the Penangite has her heart set on pursuing a modelling career. It is like fate, as she puts it, that the agency that she’s signed to now posted a casting call the same day she decided to give it a go. “I truly felt like it was a calling for me. I could have thought about it any day, any time, but it had to be that day,” she recalls. When asked about her ultimate dream, Suganya offers a simple yet refreshing answer: “To be a star.”
May Siu, 26
When it comes to her penchant for fashion, May Siew indeed got it from her mama. The Klang-born shares that her mother had served the Italian fashion house Ferragamo for over 20 years. “I was exposed to it early on. I have always loved the creativity of the industry and I always knew I wanted to be part of it,” she says. The Central Saint Martins alum started her journey in fashion journalism, contributing to reputable titles from Women’s Wear Daily to i-D, before she was scouted by a Singapore-based agency last year. “Writing helps me to better understand how the fashion world works. Through the process of research and talking to people of different perspectives I have learned to form my opinions.”
Athina Kamarudin, 25
Famed content creator Athina Kamarudin made her foray into professional modelling only this year. Setting herself apart from her contemporaries, the 25-year-old capitalises on her dance background with a range of impossibly ambitious poses, which she is now known to execute with ease. “There is no part of me that wants to limit myself. I always want to try something new just because it’s a bit more fun that way,” she says. Athina, who has had to deal with lazy criticisms over her body type, is as inspiring as she is stunning. “I’m not living up to someone else’s opinions. I’m not a character in someone else’s story; I am my own narrative and I create my little journey for myself.”
Hikma Al-Hassan, 23
It all began in 2018 when Hikma Al-Hassan booked a job with a boutique beauty brand. From there, she went on to work with a number of fashion and makeup brands including walking in a runway show by leading online fashion portal Zalora. The Ghanaian-Malay model has hopes to represent the dark-skinned, plus-sized, and hijabi communities on the international scene. “Growing up dark-skinned and plus-sized in Malaysia, I’m used to being criticised. Some have been telling me that I’m too big to be modelling or not beautiful enough, but the amount of support I’ve been receiving throughout my journey definitely keeps me going,” she says, brimming with optimism.
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Renee and Riona Lau, 20
Youth encompasses Renee and Riona Lau, twin sisters who have only just dipped their toes in the waters of the modelling world. Their big break came this year when they walked the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week KL 2023 show, but they’re already raring to go for more. They say twins are polar opposites of each other, and it’s no different with this pair: Riona cites Liu Wen as a top model she looks up to for her classically oriental looks that made it big internationally, while Renee adores the likes of Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner. The former is currently a Computer Science student, and the latter is studying Interior Architecture. While both intend to pursue their tertiary education as their eventual careers, they’re not planning on leaving the modelling industry either. We can’t wait to see what this pair will go on to achieve.
Roanne Woo, 24
Despite only being 24, Roanne Woo has already been modelling for seven years. Her introduction to modelling came by accident—she joined an Instagram photography meet only to be tasked as the model for the rest of the session. As a participant of the industry for nearly a decade, Woo feels strongly on brands being inclusive organically, and also paying models their worth. She also happens to be a film major, and is extremely passionate about being on both sides of the camera. “While I appreciate being recognised for my appearance, I genuinely wish to be known as a model who brings meaning to the fashion and creative industry,” shares Woo. “My passion also extends to the world of cinema—the synergy between my modeling and filmmaking pursuits is a constant source of inspiration.”
Alyssa Safura, 25
In her teens, Alyssa Safura had been casually dabbling in modelling but only decided to take it seriously after returning from her studies in Europe and joined Wu Models. “I felt like I got more attention as a model when I shaved my head, but when I bleached my shaved head and my eyebrows, my presence was elevated further!” the bubbly personality laughs, belying her edgy appearance. Despite wanting to make it big internationally, she still loves living in Malaysia and wants to continue being based here. At the moment, she intends to build on her success in the local modelling scene. “I want people to know my name. I want it so when people say ‘Alyssa’, they’d immediately know it’s me and know the works I’ve been in. That equals success to me,” she says.
Photography: Chee Wei
Creative Direction & Styling: Ian Loh
Words: PohNee Chin, Nikita Nawawi
Makeup: KF Bong, Chu Fan
Hair: Ckay Liow, Keith Ong
Art Direction: Shane Rohaizad
Styling Assistant: Sarah Chong