A model ci­ti­zen

We catch up with Ling Tan – Malaysia’s first New York- based su­per­model – dur­ing her re­cent visit to Kuala Lumpur.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - PEOPLE - By FIQRIE DA­HARI star2@ thes­tar. com. my

IF looks could kill, Ling Tan – who has been modelling since 1994 – would prob­a­bly qual­ify as a pro­fes­sional as­sas­sin.

Af­ter all, she is ac­knowl­edged as the first in­ter­na­tional su­per­model from Malaysia; she has done hun­dreds of run­way shows in New York, Lon­don, Mi­lan, Rome, and Paris. She has even ap­peared in Ge­orge Michael’s mu­sic video Fast Love, as well as an episode of HBO’s Sex And The City.

Ac­cord­ing to web­site fash­ion model direc­tory. com, Tan clocked in over 30 shows in 1997 and 1998. Louis Vuit­ton, Alexan­der McQueen, Chanel, Gucci, Her­mes, Os­car de la Renta, Tom Ford, Stella McCart­ney, Valentino and Vera Wang are just some of the de­sign­ers she has worked with. She even walked for the very last Yves Saint Lau­rent show in Paris’ Ge­orges Pom­pi­dou Cen­tre in 2002.

For our in­ter­view at a cafe in Suria KLCC, Tan shows up look­ing ex­tremely poised. Her mod­ern batik out­fit is sim­ple but colour­ful. Her silky long jet- black hair is worn loose, while a tinge of lip­stick with rouge cheeks and foun­da­tion is all the make- up she wore.

Tan, 41, was in Kuala Lumpur last month for Chi­nese New Year; she has not been back in Malaysia for over two years. She has no airs when she speaks – no boast­ing, no name- drop­ping. It felt like a chat with a friend who is shar­ing her sto­ries. And what a great story in­deed.

Born Tan Mang Ling and raised in KL, this 178cm- tall model was no stranger to fash­ion grow­ing up.

“My mother was a seam­stress, and I’ve been ex­posed to fash­ion ever since I was young. I helped her with the sewing and mea­sur­ing.” Tan later en­rolled her­self in a vo­ca­tional school to study fash­ion.

Her big break came when she was spot­ted by an ad­ver­tis­ing ex­ec­u­tive while wait­ing for a friend at a ho­tel’s high tea fash­ion show. Tan then ap­peared in a beer com­mer­cial shown in cin­e­mas all over South- East Asia ( though she con­fesses she doesn’t drink al­co­hol un­til to­day).

Soon she be­came the hottest modelling sen­sa­tion in Malaysia. And it wasn’t long be­fore Euro­pean and Amer­i­can de­sign­ers show­ing their col­lec­tions in Malaysia were so im­pressed with Tan that they en­cour­aged her to move to New York City.

“I used my friends’ miles points for the flight ticket,” she re­calls with a laugh. It was in 1994 and New York’s fash­ion week was held dur­ing Hal­loween. “I was re­ally shocked see­ing New York­ers in cos­tumes as I thought this was how they dressed ev­ery­day!”

One of her first run­way shows was for Malaysian cou­turier Datuk Zang Toi. The ini­tial plan to stay two weeks in NYC turned into two decades.

Since then, Tan has ap­peared on cov­ers and edi­to­rial pages of top fash­ion mag­a­zines in­clud­ing Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, Elle and New York Times Mag­a­zine.

Her small screen ex­po­sure in­clude tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials for Emporio Armani fra­grances, Ford car and Pan­tene Hair Colour. Her ap­pear­ance on the HBO hit se­ries Sex And The City was truly an un­for­get­table ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Sarah Jes­sica Parker ( who played lead char­ac­ter Car­rie Brad­shaw) had to fall 60 times for the cat­walk scene I was in­volved in. Af­ter that, I had the high­est re­spect for ac­tors.” The scene had Tan walk­ing the run­way, fol­lowed by Car­rie who fell due to her heels.

“Mod­els are al­ways given shoes that are too big or too small; that’s one of the con­stant chal­lenges of be­ing a model,” says Tan, who wears size 39.5. She al­ways en­sures that she gets enough prac­tice in her shoes be­fore each show.

“My show at the Span­ish Steps in Rome was re­ally ter­ri­fy­ing. It is a huge live event held ev­ery year. And imag­ine, mod­els had to walk down 135 steps in su­per high heels and long flow­ing dresses.”

Her most chal­leng­ing photo shoot was for La Perla, held on an is­land near South Africa. The beach was known for its warm volcanic sands and pos­ing sexy took much more ef­fort.

So how does a per­son with all this suc­cess re­main hum­ble and “nor­mal”?

“I have nor­mal friends. I hang out with nor­mal peo­ple.”

As a mat­ter of fact, Tan came to the in­ter­view from a dog lovers’ gath­er­ing; it was or­gan­ised by peo­ple she met for the first time through In­sta­gram.

Tan is a true an­i­mal lover. She doesn’t own any pets in her New York apart­ment, as she trav­els con­stantly and thinks it’s un­fair to leave them for long pe­ri­ods of time.

Her fam­ily home in KL has been known as “the an­i­mal or­phan­age.” Boxes of kit­tens or pup­pies are nor­mally left at their front gate, so Tan’s par­ents have no choice but to feed them and send them off to SPCA.

“Malaysians must be ed­u­cated on the im­por­tance of neu­ter­ing,” muses Tan. “Imag­ine the tourists who come here to find all th­ese stray cats and dogs roam­ing around. It’s not a good sight and not a good im­age of the coun­try.”

She is an avid sup­porter of pro­mot­ing Malaysia’s tourism to the world, and thinks more must be done – es­pe­cially on so­cial me­dia. Next on her agenda, Tan is keen to visit Sabah for a close en­counter with the Sepi­lok Orangutan.

If you fol­low Tan on In­sta­gram (@ ling­tan_), you’d no­tice that she is a huge fan of pho­tog­ra­phy. Her pic­tures com­prise her trav­els, cute an­i­mals and friends at gath­er­ings and events – all taken and edited by her.

“I’d love to do this pro­fes­sion­ally like Tyra Banks, but I’m re­ally bad at dead­lines and I doubt I would shoot some­thing I have no in­ter­est in.”

As for the lo­cal modelling scene, Tan hopes that Malaysian faces will be given more op­por­tu­ni­ties com­pared to for­eign mod­els.

“The young girls I met in New York keep telling me their agen­cies ask them to ven­ture into the in­dus­try by start­ing in KL or Hong Kong.”

What is Tan’s ad­vice for wannabe mod­els? “Be alert. Just like other pro­fes­sions, modelling has its good and bad sides. Don’t let any­one take ad­van­tage of you.

“The mo­ment you smell some­thing sus­pi­cious, run for your life!” she con­cludes with a laugh.

Tan was in Kuala Lumpur last month for her Chi­nese New Year break. — AZLINA AB­DUL­LAH/ The Star

Blast from the

past: Tan ( ex­treme left) in a shoot for Harper’s

Bazaar in 1997.

Tan was re­cently fea­tured in the De­cem­ber is­sue of

Vogue China.

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