Brunch with Buro: Sheena Liam

Brunch with Buro: Sheena Liam

In her element

Text: Yvette King

Image: Hanna Hillier

In anticipation of next week’s final episode of Asia’s Next Top Model cycle 3, Sheena Liam speaks about moving up the ladder in her modelling career and what it takes to be a Southeast Asian model

Sheena Liam first caught our attention when she beat 15 other finalists to emerge as the winner of Asia's Next Top Model (AsNTM) cycle 2. A year later, the Malaysian model has fronted the covers of Harper's Bazaar Singapore and Malaysia, signed on with Storm Model Management — the same agency that discovered Kate Moss — and walked the Diane Von Furstenberg show at Singapore Fashion Week.

In the midst of her hectic schedule, I caught up with Liam over brunch to find out how her modelling journey has taken off since AsNTM.  

Being a part of the Storm family certainly has its perks. You met the brow queen herself, Cara Delevingne. What did you say to her?
I met her at the agency office. I was walking towards the office and noticed the paparazzi hovering downstairs. I headed up and jokingly said, "Who's here? Kate Moss?". I didn't say anything to Cara though. I had a feeling people were always in her way wanting things from her, and I didn't want to intrude just for a picture. However, I was so starstruck; I walked into the Storm sign and cut my shoulder. I now have a 'C' shaped scar. I call it my Cara scar [laughs]. 

You're known for your bleach blonde mane. Has that worked against you as a model? Before you won AsNTM, some people didn't think you would get work...
I don't think it was unfounded advice. The Malaysian market is a little more traditional and conservative, making it tougher for a platinum blonde Asian to get a job. I was very lucky to be on a show [Asia's Next Top Modelwhere my hair was an advantage instead of a hindrance.

Speaking of AsNTM, was winning your biggest pinch-me moment?
I didn't expect it at all. I know it's cliché but I'm a 'worse case scenario' kind of person. I was just psyching myself out and mentally telling myself that it's not the end of the world if I didn't win and to smile and be gracious about everything. But when my name was flashed on the screen, I felt a cold shiver and blanked out for a good few seconds. The real situation was a lot more awkward than it looked on TV.

Was it strange watching yourself on screen?
It's always strange. You never sound or look like how you picture in your head. I didn't realise that I had such a girly voice [laughs]. I still flinch when I see myself on TV.

Sheena Liam

We are down to the top three for this season's AsNTM. What advice would you give to the girls to help them win?
There's not much advice to give. It really boils down to the judges. I have no idea what they're looking for this season. However, post-show advice would be to work as hard as you can. I see a lot of girls privatising their accounts in anticipation of the comments which I don't believe is the right move. Embrace everything as it comes. And a good social media following does lead to opportunities.

You recently walked for Diane von Furstenberg at Singapore Fashion Week. Were you nervous at all?
No, but I was surprised to be chosen. Diane was very nice and friendly. She talked to all of us backstage and even gave me a peck on the cheek after the show. It was amazing to have met her.

Sheena Liam + Diane Von Furstenberg

Talk me through what happens backstage before a big show. Is it glamorous or hectic?
It's pretty hectic for everyone else. There's a lot of people working backstage from makeup artists to hairstylists, choreographers, dressers and the stage crew. Models generally just sit or stand and wait as they get checked and re-checked before the show starts. The only time it's really hectic is when we need to change outfits during the show.

What's the main perk of your job?
Getting to travel and meeting legends in the industry such as Sarah Doukas, the woman who discovered Kate Moss. I also gain exclusive access to amazing projects and it is there I meet very passionate and creative people that inspire me to work hard and do more.

I see that agents are adding your social media numbers to their comp cards. As a model, how important is it to have a strong following in this day and age?
I don't think the emergence of social media influencers will ever change the need for models. But when you have a following, it's such an asset to certain companies who know that you're able to reach out to their audience beyond the pages of a glossy magazine.

You're on the June cover of Cleo Malaysia rocking the double denim trend. Is there anything you've been dressed in that you've hated?
Of course, I don't always get outfits I like but I don't mind it much. I'm paid to wear things so it's not exactly the worst tragedy to wear something you don't like.

What's next for you? 
I'm currently waiting for all my travel visas to come through. I'm leaving for Portugal really soon. Then I'm heading back to London to work with Storm, and I might be going to New York. It's hard to be certain what my next plans are when the job is so fluid. You'll just have to follow me on Instagram and check out my Facebook to see where I end up. 

Photography: Alexio Yeoh
Makeup: Alvin Loh
Hair: Ckay Liow