S'pore girl to strut down Project Runway
by Joanne Soh
WALKING down a runway wearing the latest threads from fashion designers, in front of celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan, Rebecca Romijn and Heidi Klum.
That's what model Celine Chua has been doing in a popular US reality television show.
The 29-year-old Singaporean recently made her small screen debut on the sixth season of Project Runway (which aired in the US on 20 Aug) as one of the 16 models attached to the show's competing designers.
Hosted by German supermodel Klum, Project Runway is the reality show for aspiring fashion designers who compete for a cash prize of US$100,000 ($144,500) to start their own line.
So how did a local girl who wanted to be a chef get into that?
Celine told The New Paper in an e-mail interview that she moved to New York six years ago 'to try her luck' in modelling. 'I met up with a few agencies and finally signed with New York Models Management.'
The ex-Methodist Girls' School and Anglo-Chinese Junior College student was spotted by Celia Teh, a former model and then general manager of Elite Models, at a food court. She later represented Singapore at the 1999 Elite Model Look competition.
After earning an economics and sociology degree from the National University of Singapore, Celine headed to Hong Kong and was signed to Starz People where she walked the runways of the Gucci and Chanel shows during the Hong Kong Fashion Week in 2002.
A Project Runway novice - she confessed to never watching an episode or even a commercial for it - Celine went for a 'general casting (at which) they filmed you walking and flipped through your portfolio'.
After a call-back the next day and several psychological tests, Celine was chosen to be one of the models for the sixth and latest season of the show.
Celine may not be the fairest of them all (she readily admitted she's only 'of average looks'), but at 1.83m tall, she stands out as the tallest contestant.
Along with American models, there are girls from Ireland, Venezuela, Gambia and Israel. Celine is the only Asian face there. She is in the running for a US$25,000 cash prize if she is the last model standing.
But Celine said the model is more or less at the mercy of the designer she is assigned to. 'But this is a show about the designers and there's nothing else we can do regardless of our talent.'
She added: 'It also depends on whether your designer decides to stick with you or choose other girls for a variety of looks. When the designer is eliminated, it doesn't mean his model gets the boot too, but we really don't have any influence. It's just luck, I guess.'
She has had her share of luck, but the leggy lass is quick to add that 'hard work and the right attitude' must go together.
'I never thought I would find success overseas when I started working as a model in Singapore,' she said.
Go behind the scenes
As luck will have it, this season's Project Runway includes a spin-off segment called Models Of The Runway, where viewers can see the models in their 'natural habitat' and get an insight into how they feel about the designers and about one another.
'I knew about the spin-off only on the day I flew to Los Angeles where this season's show was shot,' Celine said. '(It) adds a new perspective and offers a behind-the-scenes look.'
She added self-deprecatingly: 'I don't quite understand what is so interesting about watching models.'
She said: 'This whole Project Runway experience has opened my eyes. No matter how talented or how confident you are, many situations are not up to you.
'What is yours will be yours.'