The editor was from Hong Kong's Joyce magazine, which uses a mixture of Western and Far Eastern models, despite selling to an almost entirely Far Eastern readership. For them, the big girls, the ones you've just got to have, are still almost all white. So, what is it, I asked the editor later, that makes Ling stand out? "She's easy-going, good at getting the job done, polite, a pleasure to work with. She is always on time and is effortlessly adaptable." Yes? And? "She's a Kate Moss, out of that cool chick mould," was the reply.
This is not the first time Ling has been compared to Kate Moss, and it is not hard to see why. She shares with Moss that been-there, done-it look, the hint of late nights and hard living that stamps cool on everything she touches. The physical resemblance - girlish skinniness, less-than- perfect teeth, straggly London-girl hair - is apparent to everyone but Ling herself. "It's a big compliment to be compared to Kate Moss," she says. "We are not similar looking, but maybe our chameleon quality is the reason why people compare us. What I think makes Kate Moss so special is her ability to change her look. I try very hard to give each designer and photographer something different that works for their concept and clothes."
Ling arrived in the West two years ago from her native Malaysia. Since then, her rise has been swift. A year of working the constant round of Malaysian hotel catwalk shows means she was already a pro on arrival in New York. Within months, CNN fashion show Style With Elsa Klensch had picked up on her star potential, profiling her in a 10-minute feature. Her big break came when Richard Avedon asked her to represent China on the 1997 Pirelli calendar. Since then, she has shot with a fantasy fashion league of photographers - Penn, Testino, de Battista, Demarchelier, Mondino - for a fantastic array of shiny magazines and VIDs (Very Important Designers). The Joyce editor gushed on: "Anyone who works with her thinks she is a new super. She so evidently has star quality."
Ling had a middle-class upbringing in a small village "not far from Kuala Lumpur. We had animals running free in the village - chickens, ducks, dogs and pigs. I would cycle round the village every day to pick up an Indian-style breakfast and see my friends." She was born, she says, in the Year of the Tiger, leaving it to us to deduce that this was 1974. Her origins are extremely important to her - she describes herself as "100 per cent Chinese". Her father was a businessman and her mother was a fine tailor who instilled in her daughter an enduring passion for clothes. "She would copy my favourite designers' clothes for me," Ling remembers. Thus attired, and by then studying fashion, she was approached by a local agent and asked to model in a hotel fashion show. "During my first week, I was spotted by an American crew looking for models for a Tiger Beer commercial. I got the job."
Chinoiserie is fashionable just now and the media spotlight is most definitely on the Far East. Ling believes this interest, and all the attention focused on her, is all to the good - just as Naomi and Iman opened up opportunities for black girls, so Ling is creating a market for Far Eastern features. Already, Ling lookalikes grace the books of agencies eager for a secondary slice of the Ling thing. "Considering how many Asians there are in the world," says Ling, "there should be more on the runways. The fashion world is still centred around the Western world and its women, and a lot of Asian magazines think that Western models appeal more to Asians. I want my success to help Oriental women understand that they are beautiful as Asians, and that they don't have to conform to the Western standard of beauty."
Malcolm McLaren, self-confessed fashion victim, is keen to leap on the Far Eastern fashion bandwagon. He has put together a band of five girls of Chinese extraction from across the Far East. The result is Jungk, and one of its high-kicking rice girls is Ling. McLaren describes the act as being "kung fu fashion, Asian invasion. The marriage of East and West in a very karaoke style." "When he heard I could sing he tracked me down in Paris and gave me an audition," says Ling. "That is when he learned I only knew how to sing in Chinese. It was a funny audition, but he liked my voice and I loved his creative ideas and energy." Jungk's first album will be released by Warner Brothers early next year.
Ling seems to be handling the pressure. She is rumoured to be the new face of Prescriptives, and parent company Estee Lauder is reported to be sponsoring Jungk's debut performance in New York next month. "I want to continue with both modelling and music. I know it will be difficult to do both but I'm ready to try," she says. And if it all goes bung, there's always her original career choice. "I still love to design and make clothes for myself, but right now I am too busy to think about dressing anybody else."
Adapted from the current issue of 'Scene'Reuse content