Singapore’s Fashion Industry

Sex sells in the global multi-billion dollar fashion industry. But I only became truly aware of how it could permeate all levels of this gilded world, even in Singapore, when I was on the receiving end of several inappropriate encounters.

During my years as an assistant stylist, fashion writer and a male model, my experience was not completely negative. However, I hope my account serves as a cautionary tale for the young and impressionable, who wish to take on an industry where champagne smiles and glittery promises are often nothing but smoke and mirrors.

My First Day

Mediacorp, Alexa Chung for Longchamp, 78 Neil Road. My first day went by in a flash, and I found myself at a bar on a Tuesday night sandwiched between my boss, his casual f**kbuddy, and his good friend.

It was 2.00am and I was exhausted from running about town completing my assignments, but my boss had insisted I come with him. Given that it was my first day, I thought it would be rude to decline his offer.

Ten or so servings of Black Russians later, we were in a state of slight inebriation and the collective haze of blaring music and flashing lights, when my boss placed his arm over my shoulders. With a suggestive smile, he told me I was attractive.

I had just broken up with my boyfriend weeks back and fought against the comfort of physical intimacy and witty conversations with a stranger, however temporary.

But, why did I have to care? No one was going to feel sorry for boys like me.

He whispered if I’d like another drink with his lips touching my cheeks. I smiled back at him, as he brushed my hair away from my eyes and asked if I wanted to take this conversation further.

Before I knew it, a new glass was on my coaster and my tab was picked up.

Red flags

Having been around the block, so to speak, there were several names of casting directors that often came up when models shared news of dodgy people who expected sexual favours in exchange for lucrative assignments.

What shocked me most about the modelling industry was not that these esteemed industry veterans were so horrifically predatorial, but how the majority of those in-the-know simply stood by and allowed this culture of sex-for-jobs to flourish.

While I tried to avoid the politics, I noticed the slight bias in professional decisions made by my boss had created friction between me and some of my disgruntled colleagues.

Despite being more junior than my coworkers, I was prioritised for luxurious work trips and my name took precedence in the credit roll of projects.

I tried to brush off the rumours, but my boss’s intentions were made clear to me one night during an overseas work trip when he requested to share a room with me in the resort villa.

That night, as I was dozing off in bed, he climbed on top of me and asked if we could take things beyond a work relationship. I refused.

Casting Couch Calls

Fortunately, modelling wasn’t the job I intended to carve a career from nor was it my sole source of income, so I could walk away from the industry whenever I wanted to.

Having worked alongside foreign models years younger than I was, I can now empathise with the constant pressures they face; the cumulation of cutthroat competition and unwarranted sexual persuasion in an industry that does little to protect them.

These days, when I look at a magazine cover and see the next It Boy staring back at me, I sometimes think about how I could have been him.

Then again, he could also have been me.

People saw the glamour of the industry. But what everyone couldn’t see, were the scars on my upper arm where I dragged a penknife over, conveniently concealed by my big sleeves.

What everyone didn’t know of, were the three therapists I had been visiting for my garden variety of mental issues to get over.

What everyone didn’t hear of, were the moments I cried when no one else was around to witness how vulnerable a young, aspiring model like me could be.

Cover image: Source*

*Note: The brand featured in the cover image is in no way affiliated to the issues the author described in this article.