A popular model in her youth, it’s interesting to listen to Cilla recount how she got into modelling. She had decided to dip her toes in the water to see where it would take her because “it was a good way to earn money right there and then, so I said why not.” With no experience but blessed with a good height and the eagerness of youth, she plunged into the world of modelling in Malaysia and Singapore but her endeavour was short-lived. Cilla was then modelling alongside Hanis Hussey and Ethel Fong, both of whom eventually headed to Paris to further their careers. “People have asked me: Why didn’t you go to Paris?” She had offers from modelling agencies in Singapore and overseas, but Cilla felt her calling was in Malaysia. She started her own modelling agency with a partner, and trained the likes of Kavita Sidhu. At 28 she closed her agency only to open another.
During her time in Singapore, she went under the wings of celebrated entertainment industry veteran Dick Lee. Another world opened up for her. “Instead of waiting by the side for my turn to go on the show, I was actually standing backstage watching all the goings-on behind the scene. The lighting and backdrops had to come together.” Little did Cilla realise how the new experience would change her life. “It became very natural for me to stop pursuing a modelling career.” Cilla moved into events and set up Cilla & Associates which she runs to date. “Creative work is what I enjoy,” says Cilla who has built a name for herself. She speaks enthusiastically about all the projects she has helped manage. A source of inspiration, Cilla has handled countless fashion shows and store openings. “I’ve done corporate events like ICI’s Colour Awards.” As she lulls you with her story of Alice in Wonderland rooms, it’s easy to imagine that many of Cilla’s events are quite magical.
“I’ve no problems with ageing. I embrace it. I have no qualms about telling people my age; they’re usually shocked when I happily tell them I’m 59, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve been in this industry for 34 years already. It’s inevitable that we will get older but you don’t have to feel old because age is just a number. I think as you get older, different stages in life are different. When you’re in your 20s and 30s you go through different feelings and when you look back, the journey that you’ve taken has ups and downs but you learnt a lot.”
“I’m not like what I was before, I’m sure I had a lot more energy. The aches and pains are bad, especially when you’re taller,” she says with a groan. “Nowadays, I don’t know if it’s the heels or the shoes, but I find that at a lot of events after the show is over, everyone is taking out their Havaianas and flats because the shoes are just not naturally arched and it’s very bad. If you want to die for fashion then go ahead.” She wiggles her pretty fox flats as she says this, “I’m living for my trainers.”
“For me, exercise is very important,” says Cilla. Having been in the beauty community her entire life, Cilla is used to the incessant need to be slim in her line of work. She keeps a cool head, opting for healthy eating rather than dieting. “Dieting for me is very bad because it’s only for that short time. It’s better to keep a healthy lifestyle.” Exercise is high on her list, but finding that niche has not been easy. “Gym work is not for me. I had a personal trainer and when they saw I could do more, they piled it up and I hurt my back. Then I started Pilates. But then with the machines, if you go too far it can pull you too much…so I told myself I’ll try yoga, and I found that I get fewer aches especially in my back.” Why her back hurts is a combination of many things. “I’m tall, when you’re tall everything is too low − the sinks, toilet seats.”
On men and age
“Some men age well, but women age better. That’s because we take better care. Nowadays, men too are making more an effort. At the end of the day, I think it’s down to good skin.” Keeping a young mind isn’t going to stop sagging skin and not all the men around her have maintained all aspects of themselves.
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