S'porean Vivien Ong models in New York Fashion Week and gets married -- all before 23

17 June 2014 / 2 years 4 months ago

By Tan Min Yan,
June 13, 2014

Her World magazine’s June 2014 cover girl, Singapore model Vivien Ong, has relocated to the Big Apple, walked in New York Fashion Week and got married, all before the age of 23. She chats with us about love, life and her career end game (hint: it’s not modelling!)

First of all, congratulations on getting married. You must get this a lot, but why did you decide to settle down at such a young age?

Many of my friends were asking me if it was a shotgun marriage! (Laughs.) What happened was this:

My then boyfriend (model Steven Patenaude) and I walked past the Manhattan Marriage Bureau where musical group Pink Martini was performing and getting couples to dance along.

We joined in, and I thought “wow, it’d be so nice if we could just get married now”, but I kept it to myself as we’d only been dating for about four months. Later that night, Steven admitted that he’d had the very same thought.

We gave ourselves some time to think about it, and two weeks later, knowing we still felt the same, we got married! My mom was thrilled for me – she adores Steven and loves that he’s such a stable influence in my life.

That’s so adorable. How did you guys meet?

He was a friend of a friend. She happened to be the only person I knew when I first moved to NYC in March last year, and she brought him along when we decided to meet for coffee.

It’s terrible, but I actually had him written off as a “dumb male model” when we first met, and wasn’t keen on speaking to him at all! It wasn’t until after getting to know him better that I realised what a down-to-earth guy he was.

We started hanging out by ourselves and eventually started dating.

So you didn’t move to New York City for him then?

Technically, no. I’d decided on NYC as I could be nearer to all the fashion capitals of the world and still be able to sustain myself – it’s more affordable to travel from New York to other cities for work.

But I decided to settle down in NYC for good after things between Steven and I started getting serious. How do you think you’ve changed since moving there? I’m a lot healthier – I used to crash diet days before a shoot and never exercised.

Steven actually opened my eyes up to taking my career seriously. We now spend most of our time either at home or at the gym, and we plan all our meals (usually salads with some protein).

It’s a pain sometimes, but we intend to make full use of our years as models – the career lifespan isn’t very long, after all. I’m no longer “the ah lian who eats McDonald’s” – this is how some of the local stylists used to think of me!

Modelling in NYC and walking in New York Fashion Week – you’re literally living the dream! What is it like working there?

It’s all just work to me, to be honest. But I do love that I’m able to express my opinions about the clothes I’m supposed to wear at shoots and stylists respect them. Now that I’m married, I draw the line at wearing lingerie and anything too sheer.

Once, a stylist wanted to put me in a sheer Givenchy top, but I refused. He wasn’t very pleased at first, but after listening to my reasoning, he relented. The shoot turned out great anyway.

You mentioned wanting to pursue journalism at Columbia University. Tell us more.

I did internships at Asiaone and Stomp while I was in Republic Polytechnic. Journalism has actually always been my end game – once I make enough money to go to school, I want to settle down with a job in journalism.

But who knows what doors the fashion industry will open up to me – I’m keeping my options open.

I’m sure everyone’s asking what you miss about Singapore. How about what you don’t miss?

The weather! Well, I thought I did after the brutal winter in NYC, but a week back in the Singapore heat and I changed my mind. Also, I don’t miss the food as much as I thought I would.

If I do get a craving, there’s a Malaysian restaurant in Chinatown called Nonya that serves the most amazing asam laksa and roti prata.

So what are your plans for the future? My plan’s the same as it was when I first started modelling: to make as much money as I can, and pursue a career in journalism.

And now that I’m married, I’ll have to hold a wedding. We plan to have one in the next couple of years, just an intimate one for our closest friends and family, in Hawaii.

This story was first published in Her World magazine June 2014 issue.

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