Layla Ong is nice. That’s the sentiment I get from her every time we meet. At first glance, she’s your typical model; tall, skinny, incredible bone structure, long flowy hair (always tied in a top bun)… but it’s when you begin to chat with her, you realise that this girl is young… and innocent… and nice. And her niceness is precisely why I’ve singled her out as our first digital cover girl of the year.
“Niceness is underrated”, I say to her during our shoot; and the beauty of it is, she doesn’t realise what a joy it is to work with her — she probably thinks that her attitude is normal. Layla arrives on time, she remembers to bring the things she’s told to bring, she is patient while getting hair and makeup done, and obliging during the shoot. This may all seem pretty normal — and expected — but Layla does all this with an impish charm and ease, that relieves any awkward tension in a room full of industry strangers. And that makes her a boon to any set.
We begin our interview after the cover shoot; I noticed she was finishing off her shao you fan — her lunch which we bought and ate earlier, but she evidently had put one side to continue working because the makeup artist had finished his lunch first (see, niceness).
skincare (ALL NARS):
Aqua-Infused Makeup Removing Water, $43
Multi-action Hydrating Toner, $53
Aqua Gel Luminous Mask, $60
Luminous Moisture Cream, $90
Total Replenishing Eye Cream, $80
MAKEUP (ALL NARS):
Super Radiant Booster, $52
Aqua Gold Cushion Foundation IN Finland, $72
Radiant Creamy Concealer IN café au lait, $46
Light Reflecting Pressed Setting Powder, $62
Afterglow Lip Balm, $40
cos Knitted moiré jacquard T-shirt, $225
TIFFANY & CO. HARDWEAR LINK EARRINGS, $6,900
ABOUT GETTING INTO THE MODELLING BUSINESS
“I first got into modelling when I joined an audition held by Basic (Models), my mother agency in Singapore. So that was around two and a half years back when I actually got semi-interested in modelling; like I wanted to try new stuff and modelling was a whole new world for me as a Singaporean. I was 19 at that time, and I saw Aimee’s post on Instagram. She was promoting it on Instagram for Basic’s audition. Then I felt, oh it’s very interesting, it’s really very interesting.
Aimee was so famous then. I didn’t know her through the show (AsNTM3); I knew her on Instagram from following her page. I just came across it and I liked her page and I followed her. So ya, I joined the audition and after that, surprisingly I actually got through!
I was surprised, because at that audition, there were like a hundred girls. They all looked so good. They walked their walk, they looked so glam. ‘This one confirm in, that one in, this one maybe not lah‘ — you know that kind. I received an email from Bonita [the booker from Basic Models] later that night. I was very elated; it made my night! I’m like, ‘is this real? Am I really going to become a model?’ So that was when I first started modelling.”
THE RISE TO FAME
“A lot has happened, you know. But I must say I’m really very fortunate. I have been blessed like throughout, like it kept going so well. First, I went to London for placement. Then, I went on Asia’s Next Top Model. Then, I did several covers, shows, more shows in New York and all. And after that I landed a Gucci show for three times, and now Gucci commerce as well. So that has happened throughout — like that sums up the whole entire two and a half years.”
THE PROUDEST MOMENTS
“My most proud moment definitely would be Gucci. The e-commerce as well as the show. Then after that it would probably be Asia’s Next Top Model. That actually built my foundation, gave me so much recognition and a fanbase — a lot of attention from it. That really helped in modelling, really. Then after that would be the fashion weeks, all the different kinds of fashion weeks that showed me a different part of modelling and different other worlds.”
“I think the number one insecurity would be my body, I guess. Ever since I was very young, I never thought I was skinny. But people kept telling me ‘eh you’re very skinny’, ‘你很瘦 eh’. But I never thought that ‘oh, am I really that skinny?’ until I’ve seen pictures. I don’t have big boobs, don’t have a big butt. As a female you’d feel very inferior, like ‘I’m not attractive to men’. And even in modelling, mine is not a perfect body — I still am small for clothes, I still get rejected by agencies, by clients, because I am too petite. So that’s my number one insecurity.
I’ve a new goal now. I’m gonna gain weight and I’m working out almost every day as well. At home, I’d do squats and all. Small ones, but I can see changes now and I think I look better than before as well.
I’ve been told to get a personal trainer, but modelling is not a very high-paying job for me for now. So budget-wise, you have to be wise. I keep flying, food there is not cheap, everything is not cheap. And your salary, they’re all advanced. So they (the agencies) have to pay for all my accommodation and flights first before I really get the money. And with my money I would have to deduct more for my agency. People think it’s high-paying, ‘next time you’ll really earn a lot’. ‘Look at you doing Gucci, you’ll get Gucci shoes and all’. What? No I don’t! One pair is easily more than my daily pay, you know!”
MAKEUP (ALL NARS):
Smudge Proof Eyeshadow Base, $40
Sheer Glow Foundation in deauville, $74
Liquid Blush in Sex Appeal, $50
Eyeshadow in Matcha, $33
Kohliner in minorque, $40
Brow Perfector in Komo, $37
Climax mascara, $42
Powermatte Lip Pigment in Flame, $40
Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Get Off, $38
Mosaic Glow Blush in Fireclay, $65
cos long sleeve silk blend shirt, $175
cos oversized knitted technical mesh polo, $150
chanel metal/strass/resin pearl/resin necklace, $4,460
REGARDING THE GUCCI SHOWS
“I’ve done three Gucci shows. Fall/Winter 2018 was the first Gucci show, then Cruise, then Spring/Summer 2019. Then coming up, if I get to walk it, it will be the Fall/Winter 2019.
They’ve contacted me, but for every girl, everyone has to go through the casting like a few days before. So even if they want you to walk, it might not be confirmed unless they confirm the casting and confirm your fitting. And till that day, that moment, then you know you’re walking.”
MAKEUP (ALL NARS):
Brow Gel in Oural, $37
Brow Perfector in komo, $37
Brow perfector in ATACAMA, $37
Bronzing Powder in Laguna, $65
Highlighting Powder in Albatross, $62
Velvet Lip Glide in Swing, $40
TOPSHOP CAMISOLE (LAYLA’S OWN)
CHANEL choker necklace, $1,370
HER RELATIONSHIP WITH NARS
“I feel like NARS… ever since the start of my journey, has been very supportive. I first worked with them through makeup demonstrations. I’ve done several ones for them. That’s when I knew Julyen and Celeste; and Celeste has been so good to me, she’ll send me stuff. Like you know in life, you have to have the gui ren, you know? Celeste is one of my gui ren, definitely. So whenever they have projects, especially the local campaigns, they will get in touch with me. And Celeste will send me PR kits even though I’m not a makeup guru or anything, but she sends me PR kits and all! So NARS has really been a big part of my family. And for that campaign [the 2018 NARS Singapore palette), to represent Singapore, to be on the NARS page, it’s good.
It was shot by this photographer who shoots more objects (than people), so it was very different — the way he worked. It was all very fast; Julyen knew what kind of look he wanted. Nadia was very pretty; very beautiful on screen and in real life as well. So everything was really nice. I can remember that shoot very well.”
MAKEUP (ALL NARS):
Soft Velvet Pressed Powder in Eden, $62
Highlighting Powder in Fort De Franc, $62
Illuminating loose powder in Orgasm, $45
Skin Deep Eye Palette, $90
Velvet Eyeliner in Mambo, $36
Climax mascara, $42
Velvet Lip Glide in Stripped, $40
Lipstick in Belle De Jour, $40
shirt dress (layla’s own)
cartier juste un clou YELLOW GOLD DIAMOND NECKLACE, $5,250
ON THE HARD SIDE OF MODELLING
“I think people perceive modelling as really something that’s all glam and glitz, but actually in fact, it’s not. And it’s not as bad as like ‘oh to get a shoot, you sleep with the photographer, you sleep with the client’ that kind of thing. It’s nothing like that also. It’s in the middle. Sometimes you can be treated very nicely while doing a job. For example, in Singapore, I feel like the treatment is generally very good. Otherwise if we were doing it in other countries, it’s not as good because they experience seasons. So for example, if they want to shoot summer pieces during the winter season. They always do that. They don’t have enough things to care for the model. They won’t ask you like ‘are you ok?’ and they won’t prepare heat packs for you. Or while they’re styling you, they won’t bring a coat for you to wear. Then you really just have to bear with it. Work wise, it’s tedious also. For example, e-commerce. It looks like it’s very easy and all, but when I was doing Gucci’s, one model even fainted because of the long standing hours where you can’t even move. If you move, your clothes move as well and will get crumpled. You’ll get faces from the stylists like ‘um can you not move again?’ you know. And it’s really not that easy, and physically, you have to take good care of yourself. One acne and you know that it’ll appear on your photo… but it’s not as serious because you can cover up and all, but it still doesn’t look as perfect. You have to keep working on yourself I think, like improving your smile, do something else, do something more commercialised.
“I feel like, touching up is good. I have nothing against touching up because I think it beautifies and really according to the beauty standards now. You don’t want to see an acne on this model for a campaign — that kind of thing. Ya I’m ok because they don’t do it too exaggerated.
I’ve seen pictures of me where I look different; but I won’t be like ‘that’s not me’. ‘Maybe the eyes are a bit fake lah’ — just like that. Otherwise, it’s ok. I just don’t like it when they put too much on you, they don’t know how you look the most beautiful in. For example, if you’re Asian, they just slap the ang-moh makeup on you. It’s like, obviously no skills… but nobody gets to tell them that it’s bad.”
MAKEUP (ALL NARS):
Larger Than Life Long-wear Eyeliner in via veneto, $40
Eyeshadow in Pyrenees, $33
Skin Deep Eye Palette, $90
Liquid Blush in Orgasm, $50
Lip Gloss in Scandal, $36
top (layla’s own)
saint laurent leather jacket (editor’s own)
tiffany & co. hardwear graduated link necklace, $15,600
tiffany & co. hardwear wrap necklace, $18,800
DEALING WITH FANS
“I get a lot of messages on Instagram. Like ‘I want to become a model’, ‘how to be like you’, that kinda thing. I would advise them; don’t be scared and don’t be paranoid about yourself. Like, ‘Oh what if I have a piercing on my tummy, can I go? Maybe not…’ or ‘What if I’m too short?’ or ‘What if I’ve acne?’ you know… or ‘What if my hair is too short?’. They’re just very paranoid about such things about themselves. I tell them, ‘you just try it’. Nowadays, height isn’t a problem. Gucci no longer has a minimum height requirement of 1.75m for models. No longer, honestly. Most of the models who walked the show are not (up to that height). They’re normal height actually, like 160+ cm, really normal height. And I’ve never thought I’d be a model. No one told me ‘you’re very pretty’ that kind of thing ever since I was young. Who’d knew, you know?
I do have some enthusiastic fans, though. I think it was more after Asia’s Next Top Model. People would stop me, as in, for example, if I’m on the MRT, some would take pictures of me then send it to me; or maybe like most of them would send it to their friends, ‘I saw Layla on the MRT! She’s taking the MRT!’ But I’m ok with it. The worst is probably when people are being rude. There was this one guy… I was waiting at the MRT, at the sides, the seats. Then he just came down and like that [Layla pretends to take a picture with her phone shoved in the face]. He didn’t even ask me and say ‘hi I’m your fan’ that kind of thing, he just did that! Then I did [Layla recoils], then he was like ‘oh, can we take a photo?’. That was very rude I think. But generally, Singapore, you know how we’re a bit obnoxious? You won’t be like ‘hi can I have a photo?’. Some would just lift up their phones then take a picture. If I was asked, normally, we’re taught not to say no because they’re your fans. There was this one time I met Aimee on the street at Orchard then we said, “oh my god, hi!”. Then a fan saw and was like “oh my god, hi!” and then they actually took a photo of us together. It was very funny.”
ON MODELLING AS A CAREER
“I definitely won’t keep modelling in the long term. I think as it goes, beauty won’t be there; age won’t be there. Your face won’t be popular forever. For me, maybe now it’s the prime time, but maybe not after a while; so I never think that it would be practical to really do modelling long-term. When girls get out of modelling, some go into acting; but for me, I would want to be out of this scene totally. I want to make use of the followers that I have to start a brand or do F&B. Maybe a cafe that sells something different, yet something that caters to the masses. That’s something I’m interested in as well.”
Follow Layla on Instagram here.