#1: Duan Mei Yue, model
With strong brows, wide-set eyes and a lanky 1.78m-tall frame, this 19-year-old is used to being taunted as “ugly”. Incidentally, those same features have landed her in the pages of i-D Japan and the runway of Dior’s S/S ’18 couture show in Shanghai — all within her first year of modelling. Adding to her X factor: her ’90s alt-girl style and boisterous, slightly goofball charm — best captured in her live beauty tutorials on Instagram (@dmeiyue). It’s little wonder that besides Mannequin Studio here, she’s signed to Women Management in New York — the same agency as Sun Fei Fei and Natasha Poly — and has netted an active 39K-strong social media following. As she cheekily puts it, she’s “Pinterest and Tumblr famous”.
#2: Iman Fandi, model
Everyone knows her as the only daughter of Singapore soccer legend Fandi Ahmad and former model Wendy Jacobs. Or the kid sister to soccer heartthrobs Irfan and Ikhsan Fandi. But at 18 and boasting the same winsome beauty and cool charisma as her mum, Iman Fandi has all the makings of the next top Singapore model. The first thing you’ll notice about her is how pretty she is. Her tawny skin is flawless, her features are almost perfectly symmetrical and take after her mother’s: bright, almond-shaped eyes; a straight, strong nose; slight bee-stung pout. The other most striking thing about her is to be witnessed in person: a cool composure and intelligence that’s beyond her years. Growing up in the public eye and constant advice from mum and her industry pals have made her keenly perceptive. (The psychology background doesn’t hurt either.) On set, she knows her angles and is instinctive about art direction. Off set, she’s affable yet polite — she credits her mother for instilling in her that in this line, “professionalism and respect for everyone are non-negotiable”. Her dad Fandi and elder brothers Irfan and Ikhsan — two generations of soccer heart-throbs — might lend a Beckham-like air to the household, but there’s a Kendall/Kaia/Gigi quality to her; Tay-Tay Swift be damned.
#3: Cheryl Tan, actress
It takes moxie to hold your own against top-billed veterans like Kit Chan, but this Singapore-based Malaysian did just that with her scene-stealing turn as the young Empress Dowager Cixi in last year’s blockbuster musical Forbidden City: Portrait Of An Empress. (For that, she earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination in this year’s The Straits Times Life Theatre Awards.) Her resume is packed with plum roles, many incidentally playing “princesses” — Juliet in Shakespeare In The Park’s Romeo & Juliet, and Ivy Chan in 2015’s Beauty World. Citing the likes of brassy American comedian Ali Wong as her idol, Tan says her dream though is to do “something that changes the way people think, or gives young women confidence to reject bulls**t”.
#4: Aarika Lee, marketing creative at Elementary Co. and co-founder of Life Beyond Grades
She’s best known as the turban-loving managing director of marketing, digital, and branding consultancy Elementary Co., musician, and Insta-cool mum of two toddlers. Currently on her plate: #LifeBeyondGrades, a campaign and series of conversations with parents which Elementary Co. is involved in, and Lee is a co-founder of. It aims to create a mindset shift in Singapore to dispel the increasing pressure of getting good grades in our young. The perfect icebreaker for their first dialogue session? Getting parents to share their PSLE scores — with no judgment at all.
#5: Tan Zi Xi, artist
Going by the moniker Messymsxi, Tan’s best known for her whimsical illustrations that have netted her an illustrious clientele that includes luxury fashion houses, Kiehl’s and Facebook. Child-like fantasy-inducing quality aside though, most of her works address humanity’s mismanagement of natural resources — a topic she’s been obsessed with since school. Take for example, “Plastic Ocean”, a large-scale installation commissioned by the Singapore Art Museum in 2016, and arguably the 33-year-old’s most prominent work to date. She collected and strung up over 20,000 pieces of discarded plastic to create the effect of being underwater – surrounded by trash. The installation generated global headlines, and travelled to Mumbai for the Sassoon Dock Art Project in 2017, with Tan recreating it using 400kg of plastic bought from recycling centres there.
#6: Yung Raja, rapper
From street-savvy odes about Mustafa Centre to viral parodies of the “Gucci Gang” brouhaha, there’s nothing this charming rapper won’t do. The 22-year-old started flaunting his silver-tongued flow and show-stealing charisma as a hype man at clubs, and has since become quite the budding hip-hop phenom, complete with fashionable Pharrell-esque pink hair. His X-factor: his authenticity and devotion to his roots — he’s a self-professed “brown superstar” who raps in Tamil and English. Just check out his infectious, M03 Records-endorsed debut single Mustafa — its hyper-stylised video’s already racked up over 1,100,000 Youtube views.
#7: Preeti Nair, comedienne and rapper
Most would know this comedienne by her public persona Preetipls and her unmissable Youtube videos in which she takes a stab at popular culture and pertinent social issues such as racism. Last October, the 24-year-old added one more avenue to speak her mind: rap. “Through (it), I can be super confident, badass and feel like I can say and do anything I want,” she says. Her first single Thicc, an infectious anthem for curvy girls, was something she long had in mind. “Looking the way I look — not just in terms of race, but also appearance — I wanted to say that it’s perfectly okay to look like me,” she explains. Despite a smattering of troll comments, the track chalked up more than 37,000 plays on Spotify in two months. Her third single will drop this month, and her self-funded debut EP by mid-year. “It’s the same things Preetipls would say, but translated into rap,” she says. What she intends to name it? “Singapore’s Top Album”, of course.
#8: Layla Ong, model
Represented by Basic Models Management, Layla Ong hit the headlines at birth as one of Singapore’s earliest test-tube triplets. Since then, she’s graced magazines and TV (Asia’s Next Top Model) with her unique Asian beauty — think Tao Okamoto with an alternative edge. She’s Singapore’s most editorial-looking female model since the ’90s with her willowy 1.76m frame and slightly alienesque features complete with a bee-stung pout — a look international designers would covet. She’s since walked multiple Gucci shows, including the brand’s cruise 2019 show in the south of France, and its latest Fall/Winter 2019 runway (besides MSGM and Dolce & Gabbana too).
#9: Li Wanjie, photographer and co-founder of talent agency Blu
“L’enfant terrible” reads the bio section of Li’s Instagram page @uuanjie — a fitting description considering the 18-year-old’s affinity for the weird yet wonderful as both an independent lensman and co-founder of the eight-month-old talent agency Blu. As the former — a pursuit he started at 16 — he channels the same poetic irreverence as global up-and-coming young photographers like China’s Leslie Zhang and Korea’s Min Hyunwoo (unsurprisingly, they’re his idols). Whether he’s capturing the rebel R&B artiste Sam Rui or doe-eyed beauty Fiona Fussi, his filmic, often light-soaked portraits conjure a sense of nostalgia and the surreal. At Blu, where he scouts, casts and shoots together with co-founder Nicholas Kent Tann, unconventionality is the highlight, with its current stable of eight models (including Serena Jane McNeill and Ryan Ong, pictured here) spanning a diverse mix of faces, races and body types that would easily make the runway cast of today’s most progressive labels.
#10: Rachael Cheong, fashion designer
The alum of the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague only has her graduate collection from 2017 to show, but it’d be prescient to say that when she gets down to business (give her a year or two, she says), she’s bound to blow up. Inspired by dolls, the said collection boasts 19th century-style dresses made up of a pastiche of pretty, intricately ruched fabrics like lace-trimmed gingham. It might sound sugary sweet — except that the pieces are brazenly deconstructed, then paired with latex bonnets and disconcertingly lifelike masks. Its boldly twisted, fantasy quality is almost Richard Quinn-esque, and — coupled with her artful workmanship — earned her a spot in the Lichting show at Amsterdam Fashion Week that spotlights the year’s top fashion graduates in the Netherlands. Now back after an internship with Marine Serre in Paris, she’s working with local band Aspidistrafly on their new album and music video. She’s also got the name for her label: Closet Children. We can’t wait.
#11: Dawn Ng, artist
This is the woman behind Walter (2010), an installation that saw her displaying a giant inflatable rabbit balloon guerrilla-style all over Singapore. She’s also the same name behind How To Disappear Into A Rainbow — of mirrors and blocks in pastel colours — launched as part of the reopening of Hermes’ Liat Towers flagship in 2017. For all her preoccupation with “the ephemeral and transient”, Ng’s works often possess a childlike joy and simplistic beauty that easily appeals even to the non-art crowd. She’s since gone on to stage her first performance art piece, 11, this year.
#12: Charmaine Seah-Ong, co-founder of Elementary Co. and Life Beyond Grades
At work, she heads a team of 11 as co-founder of boutique branding agency Elementary Co. — founded with the idea of bringing together like-minded folks with different expertise (she, for example, has a background in TV production, while Aarika Lee, above, has a flair for writing) to create an intimate one-stop shop. At home, she’s the firm yet friendly “boss” of two toddler girls. And everywhere she goes, she commands attention with her preternatural fashion savvy. Seah-Ong is also behind the movement Life Beyond Grades, that aims to “get parents to see past grades and encourage their children’s passions”.
#13: Chantal Tan, nightlife impresario and DJ
This striking 26-year-old and her husband Sant Ruengjaruwatana, are behind the party series Horizon99, started in mid-2017. Usually, the venues are only disclosed on the day itself, and veer towards the likes of, say, an industrial building in Geylang. Unlike many niche pop-up parties though, everyone is welcome. “It’s about crafting that safe space where everyone is allowed to be who and what they are without needing to conform or compromise,” says Tan, adding that the concept was born out of “boredom and the feeling of alienation” at existing nightlife haunts. An interior designer by day, she handles everything from creating the publicity posters to curating monthly mixtapes available on their eponymous Soundcloud, as well as playing an eclectic lineup of bold female artistes (Brooke Candy, Jolin Tsai, 2NE1) for the night.
#14: Mae Tan, marketing creative at Surrender Group
A marketing creative breathing new life into Orchard Road, it takes a millennial to translate the cult of luxury streetwear to the every man, and Mae Tan is that person. She’s orchestrated some of the biggest luxury-meets-streetwear launches in Singapore, from the collaborative collection between Surrender and Los Angeles-based artists DRx Romanelli and Cali Thornhill DeWitt, to the pop-up store within Surrender for the highly coveted Louis Vuitton x Fragment collection. Then there’s the standalone store for Virgil Abloh’s Off-White, opened in 2016 under the Surrender Group at 268 Orchard Road (of which they’ve since added regional addresses to their portfolio). Most recently on our shores and, similar to Off-White, Tan has done the same with streetwear label Marcelo Burlon County of Milan.
#15: Gabe Tan (left) & Christian Julian, cultural documenters
What do two Gen Z guys craving for more colour in the way people dress do to get their message across? Go to the hippest fashion events and underground parties thronging with like-minded Gen Zs, photograph the coolest and most stylish, then share them all on their seven-month-old Instagram page @whatsingaporewore. Far from typical portraits of image-conscious, cookie-cutter partygoers, their images capture youths in a distinctive mix of streetwear and vintage posing confidently for the lens. In an age when preening selfies have become the mark of a good night out, their work brings back the raw, intrinsic glamour of nightlife chronicled by The Cobra Snake in the 2000s and Gene Spatz in the ’70s and ’80s, reinterpreted for the hype generation. The goal, says Tan, 23, is to “cast a spotlight on people who love fashion” and inspire with this personal project, which has since earned commissions from Highsnobiety.
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