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.
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.”