I once heard a joke about how the fashion set – models, designers, muses – stay slender: with a diet rich in “vitamin C” (coffee, champagne and cigarettes). Going by what’s happening in the scene now though, it’s about time to put that cliche to rest.
In the last two years, club selfies have given way to gym selfies on the social media platforms of designers such as Nicolas Ghesquiere, and Cushnie et Ochs’ Carly Cushnie and Michelle Ochs. In terms of beauty, heroin chic has been replaced with the post-workout glow, while once lithe, almost delicate bodies are toning up, what with the new wave of models like Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner, revered for their Instagram feeds of #fitspiration as much as their athletic physiques.
Local industry insiders seem to have caught on to the fitness trend too. In the past year, I’ve witnessed my editorial brethren succumb to the cult of yoga, pilates and Crossfit; these same people used to count walking two streets to lunch as exercise. There are even vocal advocates among the fashion PR crowd. Take Lin Ong, a communications manager at a French luxury house whose commitment to exercise is well-known among her industry peers, so much so that colleagues have joined in her classes. (Her sport of choice? Circuit training, for offering “maximum output within the shortest time”.) Or Samantha Cheok, a PR executive at another French label who credits her toned, lean silhouette to ballet and pilates on the reformer (she swears that it’s more targeted than the mat version, and boosts flexibility more effectively).
Both talk exercise with the same fervour they have for artisanal ready-to-wear and leather goods. Their enthusiasm is infectious and, coupled with my own goals of looking like Gigi Hadid (okay, fine, Bella), I decide to get in shape with cues gleaned from the fashion-savvy fitness fanatics around me and on the social media sphere.
Enter Penny Pun, who by day is an assistant marketing communications manager working alongside Cheok. By night, she teaches pole classes, an activity the dance lover first picked up in 2012 as a fun alternative to running. “I was feeling very unfit and wanted a workout that I would enjoy to keep me motivated,” she says. A forward-thinking choice, considering how hired pole dancers outshone Lil Wayne as the main highlight at Alexander Wang’s New York Fashion Week after-party last September.
Pole, as I learn from a lesson with Pun, has come a long way from the early 2000s, when it was seen as a liberating way to “unleash one’s inner stripper”. Sure, the more seasoned students exchange their executive wear for tiny ruched shorts, strappy cropped tops and seven-inch platform heels; Slap – the Telok Ayer studio where Pun teaches at – even stocks sequinned bra tops and booty shorts. But it’s now taken as a serious technical sport that focuses on acrobatic and gymnastic finesse.
My hour-long beginner’s class flies by in a blur of wiggling hips, hair flips and clumsily executed spins to the pulsating beat of Jason Derulo’s Get Ugly. Pun is cheerful, chirpy and encouraging, and my nervousness soon gives way to laughter. I start to see why pole is so hot. Post-lesson, I spy classmates who – like me – came in running gear browsing the selection of shiny clubwear out by the reception.
French fashion’s grand dame Carine Roitfeld prefers ballet, revealing in her 2013 documentary Mademoiselle C that intense practice keeps her in shape. If actual ballet is too intimidating though, there’s now barre. Based on the exercises ballerinas do to strengthen their muscles and stamina, it’s said to be suitable for all, and supposedly gives a leaner, more sculpted physique, better posture and a ballerina-esque bod. No wonder it’s a hit among the likes of Lily Aldridge and Karlie Kloss. Incidentally, Webarre – the first dedicated barre studio in Singapore – opened in Tanjong Pagar in January.
A single session is merciless. Co-founder Anabel Chew leads the class through what seems like an endless series of planks, raised-heel squats, leg lifts and tricep curls, before launching into the high-intensity interval training (HIIT) segment. For the uninitiated, HIIT traditionally entails a minute of extreme cardio movements, like jump squats and burpees, followed by a minute of rest, then repeat. Barre HIIT is regular HIIT amplified. No one’s going to stop you from wearing leotards and tutus, but most turn up in yoga or hardcore workout gear sans shoes.
“Point your toes as you jump! Lift your arms like a swan! Bring out your inner ballerina,” Chew trills as I flop about. By the end of the hour, I am reduced to quivering jelly, and even the complimentary shot of coconut water that’s offered to students can’t revive me. I’m not surprised when Chew says her evening and weekend classes are always full, with a fortnight-long wait list – I can’t comprehend how anyone can return to the office after such exertion.
One would think that yoga – what seems to be the most popular sport among my fashion publishing counterparts – would be more forgiving, but at the trendiest studio in town, that’s debatable. Founded by singer-songwriter Alicia Pan in 2012, Yoga Movement counts local media personalities Liv Lo and Carla Dunareanu as students, and boasts four locations all outfitted with the same hipster aesthetic – whitewashed brick walls, polished concrete floors and exposed ceilings. The one in Orchard even stocks a sizeable range of premium yoga wear from It athletic brands like Bokeh and Lululemon.
Most of my fellow yogis for the Yoga Core class come clad in these labels, designer towels in hand, and practise arm stands and advanced poses even before the instructor arrives. Any pressure of competition soon gives way, though, to a strange camaraderie over the challenge of finding zen in an open-air studio. Yes, the heat can be unbearable, and the routine the hardest I’ve done, but this is the most authentic and therapeutic yoga experience I’ve come across. I’d gladly sign up for more.
Which leaves me with the activity said to give my favourite Hadid her bombshell curves. Google “Gigi Hadid’s workout routine” and you’ll get 332,000 results listing boxing, plus snapshots of her sparring in the ring at New York’s Gotham Gym, aka the “boxing gym for supermodels”, including Kendall Jenner and Sara Sampaio. I can’t jet off to the Big Apple, so I settle for the next best thing: a private training lesson at Virgin Active in Raffles Place, possibly one of the most modern-looking gyms here, complete with an in-house cafe that serves free-flow cucumber and lemon water, apples and bananas.
My trainer Mus begins by wrapping my hands and wrists with cotton tape, explaining that it stabilises and protects them while maintaining proper alignment to prevent injuries. Then the gloves go on and, with the theme song from Rocky running through my head, I spend the next 45 minutes doing “pad work”, or throwing punches at a pair of cushioned mitts he holds up at shoulder level. It’s initially awkward, but after continuous jabs and ducks, I feel an adrenaline rush; the sound of glove hitting pad profoundly thrilling. The only drawback from playing Million Dollar Baby? Trying to regain feeling in your hands after.
The best part of my quest to earn a Hadid physique, though, comes post-class: when I discover shower rooms with amenities that can rival a luxury spa’s. Showers come with toiletries from artisanal label Panpuri. There’s a recovery zone that boasts steam and ice rooms, an area dedicated to foot soaks, a detoxifying Himalayan salt room, and even sleep pods where one can catch a quick snooze – which I promptly did. After all, a fit and healthy lifestyle is about balance.
Photography: Joel Low. Styling: Tok Wei Lun. Photography Assistant: Alfie Pan. Styling Assistant: Edmund Chang. Hair: Sean Ang/Fac3inc. Makeup: Melissa Yeo/Fac3inc, using Bobbi Brown. Model: Natasha/Mannequin.
An adapted version first appeared in Female‘s May 2016 issue.