Originally published in YOU.PH
By the time this is published, Paris couture and Men’s Fashion Weeks have ended. Yet 20-year-old Suraj Aku, who stands 6’2, is still having the time of his life in the world’s fashion capital working as a model.
Two months ago, Fil-Am photographer Raen Badua was in the Philippines on a vacation, and was on a lookout for local models to do portfolio shoots with. One of them was Suraj, who almost wasn’t able to make it because he had to work on his visa. Luckily, to the surprise of everyone, he made it, and even earlier than the appointed time—enough proof that he takes modeling seriously. “Being dedicated and loving what you do is very important,” he told us.
This Indian-Filipino former nursing student started a modeling career in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. “It might have been the most difficult time to start a career, but I’m very happy that my career was still able to develop quickly,” he said. “It was already a challenge in itself, since it was very difficult to go outside and to work. But thankfully when the restrictions got lifted, slowly I started to go to shoots and worked with the creative teams.”
Getting antigen tests for every project was the norm. “I’m thankful that during that period I was safe from COVID. It was tough, but since I loved what I was doing, pandemic didn’t stop me from working.”
He was a nursing student that time who would attend online class from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day, “When I have a shoot or work, I would bring my laptop or phone to the set, I still need to make time for school.”
Now that he lives in Paris, he took a break from school. “School was a very fun time but it’s definitely not for everyone,” he said. “I can’t imagine still being in school right now. But I know school won’t leave me, so maybe in the future I’ll go back.” But definitely not nursing, he said. “I find myself to be still working in fashion industry because I love it.”
Among the fashion designers, he is drawn to Karl Lagerfeld and John Galliano, “Their creative ideas are very interesting for me. We can all agree that it’s very eye-catching. And that what mostly inspired me to become an artist and love art.”
He wanted initially to become a fashion designer. “Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always been creative, whether in styling, photography and more! My core memory is—my sister and I would have a drawing battle/challenge where we would draw something and ask people in our house, who drew better. Of course I always won!” he said.
“So to be where I am now made me realize that I really love art, fashion and the creative direction. I realize that I’ve been wanting this ever since.”
Damon Rutland of Nomad Management, a European modeling agency, spotted him, became his manager, and helped bring him to Paris. “Having people who truly believe and support me all the way has given me the strength and courage to keep on achieving my goals,” Suraj said.
“I love Paris! Everyday I’m excited to walk around and see interesting things, like beautiful architecture, street graffiti, posters, food, people and many more! This city didn’t fall short of my expectations. It kept me excited about what to see and what I’ll experience every day!” he said.
One notable experience in Paris happened after a very long day of casting. Suraj was walking to his next casting when someone emerged from a store, walked up to him, and asked if he was a model and if he had an agent. “He invited me to meet his friend inside the store, who’s actually a casting director. They told me that they’re working on something. We took some polaroids and I talked about my experience here in Paris. That day is very memorable for me. And it made me realize that there are always opportunities everywhere we go.”
He finds it fun going to test shoots and meeting talented photographers, makeup artists, models, casting directors and stylists. “Being surrounded by the positive energy and creativity is very much why I enjoyed and the reason I wanted to be involved in this industry.”
Suraj explained how meeting different types of people made him realize that he loves to be a part of an industry where he is able to express himself in many ways. “It’s an industry where you could be whoever you wanted to be, and that’s really important and what I really loved.”
Photography Raen Badua
Styling Luis Carlo San Juan
Videography Lem Atienza
Skull ring from ac632
Shot on location Espacio Creativo Escolta special thanks to Belj Beljica