My Bag

Model booker Bonita Ma says a model's attitude is more important than looks

ON HER BAG: The 3.1 Phillip Lim 31 Hour Bag was a Valentine's Day gift from my husband a few years ago. I like it because I am always on the run attending meetings. I need a bag that is large enough for me to carry everything around.
ON HER BAG: The 3.1 Phillip Lim 31 Hour Bag was a Valentine's Day gift from my husband a few years ago. I like it because I am always on the run attending meetings. I need a bag that is large enough for me to carry everything around.PHOTOS: LIN ZHAOWEI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Model booker Bonita Ma says a model's attitude and good vibes are more important than looks in the industry

Fish out any item from model booker Bonita Ma's bag and she will be able to tell you the exact month and year she got it, who gave it to her and why.

Like the Vivienne Westwood wallet her husband gave her in January last year or the make-up pouch she got from a night market in Bangkok last April.

The co-founder and head booker of Basic Models Management, who is in her early 30s, is drawn to not just the form and function of her belongings, but also the story behind them.

Most items in her bag are from her husband, Mr Alex Lee, a Singaporean digital marketeer who is the same age as her.

They married in 2013 and have a four-year-old son, Daken.

Ms Ma's idiosyncratic style can be seen in her black dress with lightning bolt prints and draped with a long grey shawl, as well as her owl-shaped silver earrings.

The Hong Konger says: "I like things with a bit of cuteness. Even in the way I wear my hair, I don't mind if there is stray hair coming out of my bun - it is cute."

I like things with a bit of cuteness. Even in the way I wear my hair, I don't mind if there is stray hair coming out of my bun - it is cute.

MODEL BOOKER BONITA MA on her style

Not many people know this, but her first love was fashion design - telling stories through clothes. But she shelved the idea because she felt that art school would cost too much.

"So I went to the next best thing - models. After all, they are the ones wearing the outfits and I like managing people."

The Singapore permanent resident, who moved here at age 10, became a project coordinator at a commercial talent agency in 2007.

She later joined an international modelling agency as a booker in the early 2010s, but its Singapore office closed shortly after, leaving about 20 models stranded, she says.

That was when she co-founded Basic Models, in 2012, so the models would have jobs. The company also aims to groom Singapore fashion models from scratch and bring them onto the international platforms.

Apart from scouting for talent and finding them jobs, Ms Ma also trains them on their deportment, how to walk a catwalk, do their own make-up and hair as well as prepare for castings and auditions.

This keeps them in top form for clients, such as fashion designers, show producers, companies wanting to create catalogues, lookbooks, advertisements and, more recently, movies and TV shows.

She has secured jobs for her models in global fashion capitals such as New York and Paris. She also groomed names such as Aimee Cheng-Bradshaw, the second runner-up in the third season of Asia's Next Top Model in 2015; and Fiona Fussi, who appeared on the cover of Elle Singapore magazine in the same year.

Her agency currently represents more than 90 models from Singapore as well as from places such as Britain, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

In August last year, the company also started an artist division for its talents to develop acting and hosting skills. This, Ms Ma says, is to provide career longevity for models who wish to transition to the entertainment industry.

Looking back on her decade as a model booker, Ms Ma says her biggest life lesson is knowing to always say "thank you" and be grateful to those who have helped her. And this is the same advice she has for aspiring models, she adds.

"To succeed in modelling, it is not only about looks. What's more important are the model's attitude and the good vibes she or he brings onto the set. This is what moves a model's career forward."


Things in her bag

MEASURING TAPE

I carry this everywhere I go. I measure my models' hips and waists very regularly to get their latest measurements. These must match the measurements on their comp cards or they may not fit into the clothes that they have to wear.

For models who are going for overseas placements, I sometimes take their measurements every week.

VIVIENNE WESTWOOD WALLET

My husband bought this for me in Hong Kong in January last year. It is my third Vivienne Westwood wallet as I like the brand's designs.

Apart from credit, identity and reward cards, as well as photos of my husband and son, I also have a Kinokuniya privilege card, which allows me to buy magazines from the bookstore at a cheaper price.

I collect the magazine photo spreads of my models for their portfolios.

POPCORN-SHAPED MAKE-UP POUCH

I bought this at Bangkok's Talad Neon Downtown Night Market in April last year.

Inside, I keep my keys, eyedrops, sunblock, moisturiser and powerbank. I also have safety pins, hair pins and a stick-on bra in case any of my models needs it.

DIOR LIP GLOW COLOR REVIVER BALM

I don't like wearing lipstick, which tends to fade as the day goes by. Rather, I usually use lip balm, which helps to lock in moisture. I particularly like this product because it has a coral tint, which goes with my skin tone.

L'OCCITANE EN PROVENCE HAND CREAM

I don't like dry hands because I have sensitive skin and my hands will feel uncomfortable when they are too dry. I'm very particular about this, so I will re-apply the cream several times a day.

SAMSUNG GALAXY TAB 3 WITH KEYBOARD

I bought it last November. Before that, I would carry a laptop, which was really bulky.

I use my tablet to reply to e-mail, do presentations and show casting photos and catwalk videos of my models to clients. A portable keyboard also lets me type faster than on a touchscreen.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 19, 2018, with the headline 'Get funky with a dose of cute'. Print Edition | Subscribe