Singapore national swimmer Nicholas Tan has always dreamt of making it to the Olympics, the pinnacle of sports.
This year, he has finally reached the top - albeit in the fashion world instead.
The former Asian Games (2010) and two-time SEA Games (2007 and 2011) competitor is among seven male models selected for Italian fashion house Dolce & Gabbana's 2014 spring/summer worldwide advertising campaign.
That makes him the first Singaporean man to feature in a top European brand's campaign for its season collection. Former top local male model Colin Wee had featured in American brand DKNY's spring/ summer 2005 campaign.
Tan, a Harvard University Bachelor of Arts graduate, said: "I never imagined that I would get a chance to do something like this.
"Being part of a worldwide campaign like this, it's like making it to the Olympics of fashion."
This top-tier assignment represents a quantum leap from the 23-year-old's past modelling experiences for local magazines August Man and Men's Folio.
It is rare for a relatively inexperienced model such as Tan to be part of D&G's six-month campaign, which is a highly prized assignment in the modelling industry.
His sporting background is believed to have been part of his draw, as D&G had previously used other athletes such as China's badminton ace Lin Dan in its advertisements.
Nevertheless, when Tan received an e-mail from D&G's headquarters in Milan last May, he dismissed it as a prank. It was not until his friends in the modelling industry convinced him of the e-mail's authenticity that he finally replied.
In a matter of two weeks, he was booked on a flight to Milan and soon found himself in the famed D&G headquarters on Via Broggi.
With him were top models like Oliver Cheshire of Britain and South Korean Dae Na, and waiting behind the camera was well-known fashion photographer Alvaro Beamud Cortes.
Not surprisingly, the occasion was nerve-racking for Tan, as he felt like a fish out of water away from the familiarity of the swimming pool.
He recalled: "Standing behind the blocks before a race, it's nervous, but also an acquired confidence knowing that I am prepared.
"But during that shoot, I haven't had that much exposure, so I was definitely a lot more nervous."
One of the highlights of his six-day Milan trip was meeting Domenico Dolce who, with Stefano Gabbana, founded D&G.
Tan recalled that he was getting his hair cut when the entire room of stylists abruptly stood up to greet the Italian.
He was introduced to the 55-year-old Dolce, who explained the mood that he should be conveying in the photographs.
Said Tan: "Prior to that meeting, they had seen me only in pictures, so I was not so sure if they would like me in person.
"But Dolce was super nice and he spoke to me and explained the mood to me. I think he knew that I was not experienced like the rest."
Cortes, who has shot the covers of fashion magazines Vogue, GQ, and Elle, said of Tan: "He was great on the set and it was a pleasure working with an elegant guy like Nick."
With his latest fashion venture completed, Tan - the second of three children of former university lecturer Tan Boon Tiong and his wife Eunice, who works in the shipping industry - hopes that it will give him an inroad into the entertainment industry, where he hopes to pursue an acting career.
His ambitions in the pool have not dimmed, either. The former butterfly specialist, who once held the 50m and 100m fly national records, still hopes to represent the nation when it hosts the SEA Games next year.Olympics of fashion
This story was first published in The Sunday Times on Jan 26, 2014
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