FASH­ION IS MAK­ING IT BIG

Asia's Next Top Model win­ner Mau­reen Wrob­le­witz is the first Filip­ina to win the com­pe­ti­tion. This is how she did it.

Preview (Philippines) - - Chapter Twelve - PHO­TOGRAPHED BY BJ PAS­CUAL STYLED BY DARYL CHANG WORDS BY CHICA VIL­LARTA

Mau­reen Wrob­le­witz may be Asia’s new­est Next Top Model, but the 19-year-old win­ner barely even clocks in at 5’7”. But if any­one were to tell Mau­reen she isn’t tall enough to be on top (spoiler: they did—so­cial me­dia was abuzz about how a girl of 5’6” could have bested some­one who clearly tow­ered over her), her curt re­but­tal re­veals the young model’s pur­pose in want­ing to be­long to such a cut­throat in­dus­try: “I want to break the stereo­type.”

THE GIRL WHO BESTED THE COM­PE­TI­TION

It’s not as if this Filip­ina-ger­man is a walk­ing symbol of re­bel­lion against all model stan­dards. Af­ter all, with her ex­tremely pretty face, lithe fig­ure, pierc­ing eyes and the gait of a gazelle, Mau­reen— sans the height—bears all the mak­ings of a ver­i­ta­ble su­per­model. How­ever, those on Mau­reen’s side know that their cham­pion is an out­lier and an un­der­dog—a rogue mis­sile who just hap­pened to suc­cess­fully hit the tar­get. What served as Mau­reen’s most ob­vi­ous ace—that is, her beauty—turned out to be the se­cret spade that per­sis­tently at­tempted to dig her grave all through­out the con­test. As she bat­tled her way through Cy­cle 5’s mod­el­ing chal­lenges, Mau­reen had to el­bow out dis­parag­ing com­ments and crit­i­cism from her ri­vals.

It’s a se­ries of events that un­folded in dra­matic re­al­ity-show fash­ion: “You know what, for [some­one in the] Top 6 you don’t de­serve to be here,” In­done­sian con­tes­tant Clara Tan sharply told Mau­reen. (The model turned out to be a prob­lem­atic char­ac­ter in the sea­son, en­gag­ing in scream­ing matches with fel­low mod­els and call­ing Mau­reen “stupid” in one in­stance.) “Mau­reen is not on my level,” quipped Viet­nam’s Minh Tu Nguyen in one of the show’s con­fes­sional in­ter­views, as did Jen­nica Sanchez, Mau­reen’s fel­low Filip­ina in the con­test when she said, “This isn’t a beauty pageant. This is Asia’s Next Top Model,” al­lud­ing to her opinion that Mau­reen only had her looks go­ing for her. The saga of ASNTM con­tes­tants con­stantly bul­ly­ing Mau­reen turned out to be a con­sis­tent nar­ra­tive in the en­tire sea­son, but Mau­reen’s un­wa­ver­ing spirit taught her to dis­miss her haters and rally on. In her ini­tial spat with Clara, Mau­reen dropped a mean­ing­ful re­mark that would de­ter­mine her fate in the show: “Well, [whether I win] is not your de­ci­sion to make.” In­deed, it wasn’t.

If Asia’s Next Top Model Cy­cle 5 had a char­ac­ter lineup, Mau­reen’s would read: “Poor lit­tle pretty girl, bul­lied for her good looks.” Her stunning mien made her a walk­ing tar­get for the rest of the girls in the com­pe­ti­tion as she con­stantly had to parry through vari­a­tions of the same oblit­er­at­ing com­ment: “She’s just a pretty face with no tal­ent.” The Top Model se­ries—through its decade-long pres­ence in Amer­i­can re­al­ity TV and its var­i­ous fran­chises all over the world, Asia in­cluded—has been known to play up the an­tics, drama and con­tro­ver­sies ex­pected from a bunch of fash­ion-in­dus­try hope­fuls aim­ing to strike a hard-to-achieve, hard-to-sus­tain mod­el­ing deal. But in all Top Model sea­sons, it’s the Mau­reen-cen­tered bul­ly­ing plot that has heav­ily demon­strated the real cases of cat­call­ing, nit­pick­ing and com­pe­ti­tion among the show’s con­tes­tants—and the den­sity of its so­cial-me­dia cov­er­age only fanned the flames. Whether played up or real, Mau­reen has con­stantly made it her pur­pose to prove her de­trac­tors wrong even as she left the com­pe­ti­tion tri­umphant.

THE GIRL DRIVEN BY PAS­SION

Born in Ger­many and raised in Saudi, Mau­reen al­ways looked to the Philip­pines as the place to ful­fill her mod­el­ing dreams. “Get­ting dis­cov­ered by an agency here [in the Philip­pines] made me very ea­ger to leave Ger­many. I used to watch Ger­many’s Next Top Model and I al­ways wanted to do what they were do­ing.” Now barely out of her teens and liv­ing away from her fam­ily, Mau­reen still looks to her in­ner cir­cle for in­spi­ra­tion. “My mom has al­ways been my big­gest mo­ti­va­tion to fight and grow more as a per­son [Ed’s note: Mau­reen’s mom passed away from breast cancer eight years ago], but my man­ager re­ally pushes me to do the things I’m afraid to do. There’s noth­ing wrong with dream­ing big.”

To this day, Mau­reen is in fight mode, and the con­stant dili­gence to pur­sue her cho­sen craft is her ammo of choice. She rec­og­nizes that her mod­el­ing ca­reer was prac­ti­cally nonex­is­tent be­fore she joined Asia’s Next Top Model, and be­lieves that this served her well in get­ting the judges’ fa­vor. “In a com­pe­ti­tion like that it isn’t bad to be in­ex­pe­ri­enced,” Mau­reen says. “It gives you so much room to grow and im­prove. You’re this sponge that just ac­cepts ev­ery com­ment, crit­i­cism and lec­ture. You ac­cept, learn and then use them.” Work has been at a con­stant surge since her win, and Mau­reen, much to the prob­a­ble dis­ap­proval of her haters, has been rack­ing up wins day af­ter day. “I work al­most ev­ery day, and if my man­ager could, she tries to give me a free week­end.” While Mau­reen’s in­ex­pe­ri­ence is up for crit­i­cism, one will never find fault in her ded­i­ca­tion.

A mall meet-and-greet in­ci­dent had Mau­reen come face to face with 1000 fans in­stead of the ex­pected 80 as the venue’s four floors quickly filled up with sup­port­ers from all over the coun­try, some even lin­ing up as early as 4 a.m. It was a turnout Mau­reen did not ex­pect, but not want­ing to dis­ap­point her fans, the model stayed for four hours more than what the agree­ment called for, all while re­fus­ing to sit down or take a break.

Her pro­fes­sional com­mit­ment may be one of her defin­ing traits, and the cover shoot only re­in­forced that. A pair of Ba­len­ci­aga span­dex stock­ing boots—skin-tight with heels bi­ased un­usu­ally of­f­cen­ter, not ex­actly com­fort­able footwear—proved to be dif­fi­cult for her to bal­ance on, let alone pose in. But there was noth­ing am­a­teur about the way Mau­reen nailed her looks, sur­pris­ing the team as she jumped her way to a pose that teemed with all the per­fect nu­ances: a mean­ing­ful gaze, an ex­pert mouth gape and fin­gers po­si­tioned just right. Th­ese facets may be in­con­se­quen­tial to the un­trained eye, but in the mod­el­ing world, nail­ing minute de­tails demon­strates un­canny kines­thetic in­tel­li­gence, which very well serves as cur­rency to in­dus­try recog­ni­tion. “I think Mau­reen’s a nat­u­ral,” shares Pre­view Creative Di­rec­tor Vince Uy. “She takes di­rec­tion well and goes be­yond the poses ex­pected of her. At one point while we were shoot­ing out­doors at 1 p.m., Mau­reen was pro­ject­ing so many im­pres­sive faces and poses when I re­al­ized the mir­rored pan­els re­flected heat di­rectly onto her. The heat where she was was in­tense. But not once did she flinch or did I hear her com­plain. She main­tained her com­po­sure and pro­duced amaz­ing photos with us.”

“Dur­ing the com­pe­ti­tion, Mau­reen would take in the judges’ com­ments to heart, even their com­ments on the other girls. She’d con­tem­plate on what the judges say and ap­ply them to how she does her poses,” shares Chinie Go, Mau­reen’s man­ager. As the shoot went on, the Pre­view team’s praises just gave cre­dence to what the im­ages on th­ese pages show: Mau­reen was able to por­tray a level of tal­ent sim­i­lar to mod­els who have been do­ing it for years.

THE GIRL MOLDED BY A WOMAN

This was a fact made ap­par­ent to the team as they pro­duced Mau­reen’s Pre­view cover: to tell Mau­reen’s story is also to tell the story of her man­ager. Chinie Go of Prima Stella MGT, a sea­soned tal­ent man­ager, has been in the busi­ness of scout­ing tal­ents for many years be­fore she came face to face with Mau­reen af­ter dis­cov­er­ing her through so­cial me­dia.

“I dis­cov­ered Mau­reen on In­sta­gram when she was 15, but we had just been in con­tact via Mes­sen­ger un­til last year, when she came to the Philip­pines last Septem­ber,” Chinie shares. In the field of mod­el­ing and entertainment, where fleet­ing It girls and fresh faces make tal­ent scouts scram­ble to get new ones signed daily, Chinie works against the grain. Pa­tience is Chinie’s virtue, as her strict rule is to wait for tal­ents to fin­ish high school or col­lege first be­fore she signs them—no mat­ter how long it’s go­ing to take. “I wanted Mau­reen to fin­ish high school. That goes for all my other tal­ents. I don’t force them to work. Kailan­gan ni­lang ta­pusin kung ano ang kailan­gan ni­lang gawin.”

Fortunately for Chinie, the wait was worth it with Mau­reen, whose in­nate sim­plic­ity struck the man­ager from the get-go. “When I started speak­ing to Mau­reen, [I saw that] she was very sim­ple and she had big dreams. Mau­reen is very au­then­tic. She’s as sim­ple and as real as pos­si­ble.”

It wasn’t long af­ter tak­ing in Mau­reen that a cast­ing for Asia’s Next Top Model landed on their laps. And as Mau­reen landed a spot on the fi­nal lineup, Chinie took all of two days to train her in­ex­pe­ri­enced ward be­fore leav­ing her to bat­tle it out on her own. “[In those two days, I gave her] guid­ance on what to wear, how to man­age her time, how to walk, what ges­tures to do, what the essence of the re­al­ity show was. I made sure I took just two days to train her, noth­ing more kasi kung mas mata­gal, hindi na magig­ing au­then­tic ’yung gi­na­gawa niya.”

It’s this stub­born ad­her­ence to au­then­tic­ity that has guided Chinie in man­ag­ing Mau­reen and all her other tal­ents. “As a man­ager, you’re also a men­tor. You’re teach­ing them to be a bet­ter per­son para hindi lumaki ang ulo. I’ve seen a lot of peo­ple be­come di­vas in the in­dus­try. We’re all the same, we just want to get re­spect, but you don’t need to make peo­ple feel that you are higher than any­body else just to get that re­spect. I want all my tal­ents to be as grounded and as down to earth as pos­si­ble. It’s the peo­ple who made you pop­u­lar, so what’s the point in stress­ing that you’re on top of them?”

It’s great to know that in Chinie and Mau­reen’s camp, noth­ing has changed from four years ago—the man­ager bro­ker­ing deals, train­ing and guid­ing her young model, and Mau­reen be­ing the same girl Chinie scouted years back. “Mau­reen hasn’t changed. She is still as hum­ble and grounded. When she was in Asia’s Next Top Model, I had no con­tact with her. She [won] all on her own. She’s very pas­sion­ate. If she wants some­thing, she’ll do it, nasa puso ta­laga niya. It’s real.”

Did she ever think Mau­reen would win given that she was to­tally new to mod­el­ing? “Yes,” Chinie an­swers with con­vic­tion. “To be hon­est, the mo­ment I asked Mau­reen to join ASNTM and she said ‘Yes,’ I al­ready knew she was go­ing to win. I felt some­thing—that sure feel­ing. And that was the first time I ever felt it.”

THE GIRL WITH A BLIND­ING FU­TURE

As she leaves the playpen and set­tles into the big world of mod­el­ing, Mau­reen knows that the world she chose has dras­ti­cally changed from what it was be­fore. To­day, mod­els are in­spected un­der the bub­ble of so­cial me­dia, where who they are off-duty is as im­por­tant as their on-cam per­son­al­i­ties. To wade through the pres­sure, Mau­reen looks to gutsy mod­els such as Cara Delev­ingne, a per­son­al­ity she loves pre­cisely be­cause “She’s not afraid to show who she is. I just want to show peo­ple who I re­ally am and not por­tray some­one I’m not. It’s hard to find peo­ple, espe­cially on so­cial me­dia, who stay true to them­selves. I don’t want to be like them. I want to stay true to the per­son I am.”

On the top model’s plate are six big en­dorse­ment deals—from makeup to fash­ion to tech—that her man­ager se­cured, all with solo en­dorser billing. The duo stayed firm to that ca­reer de­ci­sion, not ac­cept­ing co-am­bas­sador­ships or a co-star­ring role in en­dorse­ments. Chinie elab­o­rates: “Mau­reen won her ti­tle in the most au­then­tic way. Hindi siya nanakit ng kapwa niya and that’s what won peo­ple’s hearts. I told [the brands we talked to], ‘She got to where she is all on her own—fight­ing for her coun­try. Give her the credit she de­serves.’”

Af­ter ful­fill­ing her com­mit­ments in the coun­try, Mau­reen sets her sights on build­ing an in­ter­na­tional pres­ence. She’s gear­ing to do an Asian tour to thank all her fans in the re­gion, then pro­ceed west­ward to pen­e­trate the Euro­pean and Amer­i­can mar­kets. But be­fore Mau­reen leaves the coun­try, she’s plan­ning to tour un­funded char­ity or­ga­ni­za­tions and lo­cal foun­da­tions as her way of giv­ing back to her fans.

Win­ning the Top Model se­ries cer­tainly isn’t a hard and fast pass to an il­lus­tri­ous, long-last­ing model ca­reer—many a Top Model win­ner’s ca­reer has fiz­zled out af­ter their vic­tory lap. Mau­reen faces this fact with a laser-sharp fo­cus and mo­ti­va­tion that’s hard to bring down. “Be strong, work hard and show them that you’re not just a pretty face. Don’t en­gage in neg­a­tiv­ity—just use it as a mo­ti­va­tion to fight.” And to the un­usual num­ber of de­trac­tors that have served to rain on Mau­reen’s pa­rade since day one—those who have been say­ing she isn’t ex­pe­ri­enced enough, skilled enough or even tall enough—this is her bat­tle­cry: “Don’t let them win.”

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