Ethel Fong is living the good life

Two formally suited businessmen stop talking and start staring as she strides confidently across the lift lobby of the Four Seasons Hotel in Orchard Boulevard.

Her full lips, smoky eyes and glossy long tresses are striking. So is her slender 1.8m frame, clothed in a tasteful ensemble of champagne- coloured Ralph Lauren silk blouse, black Balenciaga pantsuit and pointy toe Mary Janes from Manolo Blahnik.

In the 1980s, Ethel Fong turned heads as one of the rare Asian models who worked the runways of Paris, London, New York and Milan, graced the pages of Italian Vogue and W magazines, and became the face of an international Armani campaign.

She quit the catwalk 23 years ago to marry entrepreneur Jean Chalopin, a Frenchman with a 700-year-old mediaeval castle, and raise two children, both of whom are now in university.

But the 49-year-old has clearly lost none of the presence which got her a contract - making her the first Singaporean and second Asian to do so - with the world-famous Ford Model Agency in New York in 1985.

"I will try to remember," she says with a laugh, when asked to chart her journey from gawky kampung girl to jet-setting international model.

"It seems like my last life now," says Mrs Fong-Chalopin who now helps to run StoryPlus, a foundation she set up with her husband to support literacy and education for underprivileged children. Her beginnings, she says, were humble. The second-youngest of seven children of a shipyard painter and a housewife, she grew up in a wooden house with a zinc roof on a little hill in Pasir Panjang.

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