Thai contestant wins pioneering model search for trans women

Slay Model Search Asia was organized by Slay Model Management, an agency that promotes trans models
and advocates for trans rights, helping them to break into the business

Winner of the first Slay Model Search Asia Nana Jantarat from Thailand

Nana Jantarat from Thailand emerged victorious at the Slay Model Search Asia, a pioneering modeling contest for transgender women held on 27 April at ABS-CBN Studio 10 in Quezon City. She bested 23 other contestants.

Abby Ecalnir from the Philippines was declared first runner-up while another Thai contestant, Sauce Chulalakkul, was second runner-up.

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF IG/abby_eclnr13 | First runner-up Abby Ecalnir from the Philippines.
PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF IG/chulalakkul.official | Second runner-up Sauce Chulalakkul from Thailand.

The groundbreaking competition was organized by Slay Model Management, which exclusively focuses on uplifting transgender models in the industry. Based in Los Angeles, California, it is founded and run by Filipino-American filmmaker and executive Cecilio “Cece” Asuncion. It has held transgender modeling contests in the United Stated and recently held its first Asian contest, considered to be the first international modeling contest for trans persons.

Slay Model Search Asia was participated in by 13 contestants from the Philippines (Vivi Hedendahl, Louell Celis, Tracey de la Cruz, Vi Macario, Nella Johnson, Ecalnir, Mykee Garcia, Mitch Ochosa, Elle Carbonilla, KC Cusi, Drian Bautista, Lauren Sanz and AJ Jaluage); five from Thailand (Jantarat, Chulalakkul, B Kanapat, Risa Purisa and Tangelina Likitwatnannon); three from India (Meera Singhania-Rehani, Neerja Punia and Sandra Nandeibam); one from Indonesia (Vheny Aggreny); one from Malaysia (Lily Othman); and one from Vietnam (Fellini Rose). They were mentored by American Slay Model Search winners Rain Batingana, Tyra Castillo and Jasmine Basanes.

PHOTOGRAPHS by roel hoang manipon for the daiy tribune, IG/nanina_sasi, | (ABOVE) Slay Model Management founder Cece Asuncion with Flux International president Queen Victoria Ortega and pioneering trans model Crimsona Kaiser. (Left) Winner of the first Slay Model Search Asia Nana Jantarat from Thailand.

These contestants competed in the swimwear portion and were trimmed to the top 12 — Dela Cruz, Jantarat, Cusi, Setiawan, Celis, Bautista, Purisa, Kanapat, Ecalnir, Rose, Sanz and Chulalakkul — who were then interviewed.

The top 12 were broken into pairs and each pair competed against each other in walking the ramp in the Head-to-Head Challenge. The winning contestants — Jantarat, Cusi, Celis, Purisa, Ecalnir and Chulalakkul — advanced to the
semi-finals. They then competed in evening gowns with Chulalakkul, Jantarat and Elcanir making it to the top three.  Jantarat eventually won the competition.

Other contestants were given special awards — Rose (Best Editorial Model), Purisa (Best Runway Model), Ochosa (Slay Sisterhood Award), Dela Cruz (Miss Bigo, from votes in the live-streaming app) and Chulalakkul (The Cece Save).

The contest judges were comedian, host and TV personality Vice Ganda; award-winning writer, model and editor Myrza Sison; magazine editor and stylist Carole Cuasay Tagle; entrepreneur Richelle Bello-Casurao; celebrity photographer Jan Mayo; cosmetic brand general manager Audrey Laglagaron; pageant producer and visual stylist Izza Dungca; fashion designer Zarah Juan; Flux International president Queen Victoria Ortega; writer, magazine owner and National Director of three Miss Universe franchises Josh M. Yugen; entrepreneur Trisha Bantigue; and host and filmmaker Dwight Allen O’Neal.

Hosted by comedienne and TV personality KaladKaren and trans man model Cameron Scrase, the program featured performances by Maymay Entrata and Sam Hashimoto.

Expanded advocacy

The Slay Model Search Asia is a way for Asuncion to support LGBTQ+, particularly trans, people in the Philippines and Asia and expand his advocacy for trans people, particularly in the modeling and fashion industry.

It has been very difficult for trans people to break into and succeed in modeling because of discrimination and lack of opportunities. Trans models with Filipino heritage who blazed the trail include Crimsona Kaiser, Geena Rocero and Leyna Bloom.

In 2014, Asuncion directed the documentary What’s The T? which shows the challenges, successes and lives of five trans women in the US and provided him with a deeper understanding of the struggles of trans people.

In 2016, he established Slay Model Management.

“In the beginning of Slay, there were no opportunities for trans models. A lot of education had to happen, many awkward conversations, inter-community discourse and the daily urge to educate people on social media that trans is beautiful. However, our story is not one of strife or victimhood; it is one of resilience, success and the importance of vigilance,” Asuncion said.

Representation matters

His agency has helped many trans models and changed their lives. Now, he is bringing his work to Asia, announcing the opening of a branch in Metro Manila on 22 April during the press launch and preliminary competition of Slay Model Search Asia at the bar Revel at the Palace in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City.

Asuncion appointed Niccolo Cosme and Ben Bernabe as co-directors of Slay Models Asia, which will hold the license for the Slay Model Management brand not just in the Philippines but also for Asia. For the contest, his company partnered with ABS-CBN Global.

“As a fashion and beauty photographer for more than two decades, I have made it a point to advocate for trans visibility and representation in fashion and beauty, not just through my words but also through my body of work. I have been working with trans models — whether for my conceptual art pieces or my commercial work — to promote inclusivity in my industry and I’m excited that I will be able to do this on a larger scale as co-director of Slay Models Asia,” Cosme commented.

On the other hand, Bernabe, executive director of health and human rights NGO The Red Whistle, said, “Speaking as an LGBTQIA+ rights advocate, I believe the success of Slay Model Management proves that trans visibility matters; and trans representation matters. I am excited to be a co-director of Slay Models Asia and to work towards greater inclusivity for trans people in the region. Trans models, just like any model of any gender identity, just want to work and give their best at what they do and we will do our best to find them clients who will see them as the beautiful persons that they are.”


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