We talk to Malaysian-Chinese model Ling Tan about her style and her 25 years in the industry.
Breaking on to the scene in the mid-’90s and billed as Southeast Asia’s first international supermodel, Malaysian-Chinese Ling Tan has worked all the major fashion weeks, appeared in the pages of many magazines and was the first Asian model on the Victoria’s Secret runway. After a quarter of a century in the business, she’s still posing and walking up a storm today.
What was your breakthrough moment in the international fashion arena?
I’d say it was working with the legendary photographer Richard Avedon, who photographed me
for the Pirelli Calendar.
Tell us some of your favourite photographers you’ve worked with.
Albert Watson, Irving Penn, Peter Lindbergh, Richard Avedon, Steven Meisel and Tyen are just a few names.
What was the most memorable moment in your career?
The grand finale of the Yves Saint Laurent Huate Couture show in Paris on January 22, 2002. It was the most memorable runway show for me. I was wearing a 1962 “Smoking” Tuxedo a from his first collection.
You’re often described as the First Asian Supermodel. What it was like in the 90s breaking through fashion as an Asian woman? How has fashion changed since then?
When I first started modelling there were not many Asian models working in Europe and the United States. I was lucky to work with so many talented people in the fashion industry and they were all very kind, considerate and respectful to me. But in the last 15 years, the shift is that luxury customers are mostly from Asian countries now and they come to Europe and United States to buy big brand designer goods. Lots of brands and fashion editors started to put Asian models on their runways and magazines, resulting in a dramatic increase the diversity of Asian models.
In terms of diversity, how much do you think still needs to be done in the industry?
Today many designer houses and magazine pages in Europe and the United States are using all races on their pages and runways, promoting diversity as their customers come from diverse parts of the world.
Describe your own sense of style.
I like to wear comfortable clothes with chic, confident and timeless style. When I invest in my wardrobe, I make sure I’ll wear the clothes again and again for many years. I’m not into buying new collections every season and then discarding them the next.
You live in New York now. how does it inspire your sense of creativity and style?
I live in Westchester, a suburb of New York City. It is a very beautiful, calm and peaceful town. I wear more colours and comfortable clothes when I go out.
Outside of modelling and fashion, what do you like to do?
I love gardening and growing organic fruits and vegetables at home.
What do you prefer: model dressing on duty or off duty?
Model dressing off duty.
Your sister Ein was also a model. what was it like being siblings in the same competitive game?
My sister and I were lucky that we had a few opportunities to be photographed together in New York and Paris for various magazines and campaigns.
You’re from Malaysia originally. Do you miss your homeland – and if you go back, where do you usually visit?
Yes, I miss Malaysia, my family, home cooked meals, local foods and durian. I always stay in my home in Kuala Lumpur when I visit. I’m very close to my family there.
Since you’re still working now: how is it 25-plus years on?
It is getting harder because the fashion industry is always looking for and using new faces.
(Hero image: Ling Tan In a 1988 Vivienne Tam campaign)