Photographs by Lenne Chai
Words by Kerry Tinga
Published on May 2, 2022
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The Singaporean top model joins LINEAL in a conversation about her illustrious career.
“It’s my first time as a model in New York,” writes Singaporean model Kaigin Yong. After walking for Coach in New York Fashion Week, but just before she jet-sets to Europe for other work, she graciously finds the time to exchange emails with me. What’s it like, any routine, I ask, curious about the world behind the glamour curtain I presume exists in fashion week. “There is no routine,” she replies, “everyday is different and I’m taking it all in, making the best out of my time here.”
After winning the modelling competition The New Paper New Face in 2017, Kaigin’s star has been on an exponential rise. Since the competition, she has walked major runways of the world, presenting the most fashionable pieces. With calm and poise, she makes sure the clothes don’t wear her. In London she has walked for Erdem, in Venice for Dolce and Gabbana, in Copenhagen for Stine Goya, in Paris for Balmain, Yohji Yamamoto, and Dries Van Noten x Christian Lacroix, to name a few. For the last show, a Spring 2020 collection, a striking image of Kaigin on the runway covered the front page of The New York Times Style section. Even before she walked for New York Fashion Week, she had already made it in the fashion capital.
Although the first thing we often think about with models is their looks, they aren’t just to be seen and not heard. Kaigin is not a mere ‘new face’ from a modelling competition nor a flat image printed on the newspaper. She and her fellow models aren’t moving mannequins just to show how clothes hang. There is much thought, humble though she is to admit it herself, in what she does and what she adds to fashion and art.
“I first listen to the creative direction and build synergy with the team by aligning expectations,” says Kaigin when I ask how she balances her own individuality with the vision of the fashion brand. “Then, through feedback at work, I determine if there is an opportunity for me to add value to the overall outcome by making subtle changes in my expressions and movements.”
When models like Kaigin do something exceptional to add to the overall outcome, as she puts it, it may seem as if they did nothing except walk up and down a straight line. There is subtlety in their work that is often mistaken for undeserved ease in life.
“The misconception that modelling is [an] easy work should be challenged. Behind the bright lights, the reality is that models need to be resilient and mentally tough to navigate uncertainties. The toughest part of my job is that hard work is not always rewarded. A lot depends on timing and luck, despite putting in your greatest effort to hone your craft.” Kaigin may model the most glamorous of clothes but she does not shy away from being honest about the cynical parts of the trade. “We are constantly subjected to a highly competitive environment during castings, where chances of landing a job are slim, especially when it comes to models of colour.”
She remembers hearing how it was common in the not too distant past of casting calls where models were seen as tokens for performative inclusivity. A single model was meant to represent all members of their ethnicity or orientation or size as if we aren’t all complex individuals of intersectional identities with unique lives. Because brands needed to check a box so they wouldn’t be called out, sometimes models are not appreciated for their beauty, true beauty. If there was already an Asian model in the cast, why hire another one? That sort of mindset was prevalent in an industry that is meant to help people express themselves, but felt like it was gatekeeping creativity and expression for a select few who had the “right” look.
“Thankfully, there has been positive progress in the industry towards embracing diversity and inclusion. I have been part of shows that celebrate the beauty in differences, with wonderful casts of young and old, of all shapes and sizes,” Kaigin adds, reflecting on her young yet illustrious career. Still, she sets her eyes on the world ahead, on the steps we can all take. “For these changes to become a regular part of the industry, I hope that we, as consumers, will be open-minded in accepting diversity in fashion. With a strong collective voice, we can all become the catalyst for change. A colourful future awaits.”
In the humble tone that exudes from our conversation, Kaigin shares some thoughts for aspiring creatives on how to balance having high standards and hopes for themselves with the harsh realities of the field: “Be patient and keep an open mind and open heart. Constantly seek to improve your craft and your passion will speak for itself. You do not need to seek validation from others, let it come from within yourself.”
Styling by Isabella Chan
Hair by Christvian Wu
Make up by Kat Zhang
Set Design by Angela Zhang
Photo Assistant: Jonathan Tan
Studio : Urban Aperture
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