DA MAN Darling: Kelly Tandiono, Bold & Beautiful

Top model Kelly Tandiono shows DA MAN a bluish bruise on her otherwise smooth inner knee and nonchalantly says, “I got this from paintballing yesterday.” At that instant, we know she’s not your stereotypical high-maintenance model; she’s one sexy tough chick, ready to plunge herself into a new set of adventures. By M. Berlian

Above photo: Dress and ring by Roberto Cavalli

This past October, Kelly Tandiono celebrated her 25th birthday. Reaching a quarter of a century can be a major, confusing, existential crisis-inducing time for some, especially women in the entertainment industry. Seeing that Kelly is listed among Indonesia’s top models of the current generation, with portfolios spread across the pages of various magazines around the world, one would think Kelly could avert the crisis easily.

Well, actually, she could. And she did, although not so easily. She won’t say being 25 is the turning point of her life (she thinks most girls have it in their 30s, anyway) but Kelly does feel some things have got to change one way or another. Things like her career, for starters. “I’m staying here [in Jakarta] now,” reveals Kelly. “I’m 25 already. I’m too old to be re-continuing my career abroad,” she says, laughing.

Kelly is happy to make her home and career in Jakarta; something she wasn’t able to do for the past nine years or so. She was born in Singapore (and has a Permanent Resident card) and raised in Jakarta. However, the demonstrations that consumed Indonesia in 1998 and beyond prompted many Chinese-Indonesian families—Kelly’s included—to send their children out of the country. Kelly was 14 when she headed back to Singapore.

It was around that time when people started to take notice of her striking beauty. She was already 171 centimeters tall and people around her had been telling her to try modeling. But she explains, “I was such a tomboy! Well, I still am, actually,” she recalls. “Back then, I never wore makeup and I tied half my hair up and shaved the other half, like a samurai. I wore baggy clothes and all. I looked like a boy!” But that didn’t stop the model scouts. “My mom wouldn’t let me [get into modeling at the time]. She told me to finish school first.”

Shortly thereafter, she left for Australia to enroll in a boarding school, where she would be for the next three years. When she was 18, she went to a college in Singapore, majoring in International Hospitality Management. For Kelly, college didn’t only provide her with the education her mom wanted her to have, but also allowed her some spare time, which she used to start her modeling career.

“At the time, I thought I should give modeling a chance, so I went to an agency in Singapore,” remembers Kelly. “Luckily enough, they wanted me, despite the fact that I didn’t have any portfolio whatsoever.”

Dress by Versace

And as we’ve found out, Kelly is just as fearless as she is fortunate. Kelly taught herself to model, watching other people on TV or magazines and asking for advice from photographers. By the time she finished school, she had graced a number of well-known female magazines and modeled on the catwalk of Calvin Klein’s fashion show during Singapore Fashion Week.

“At first, modeling was nothing but a hobby to me; a way to earn fast money fast. But then, as time went on, I found it really exciting and so I decided to make a career out of it,” she says. So when she was done with college and eager to pursue her other passion to travel the world, she said yes to her agency’s offer to model in other countries. “I love traveling! It was nice to be able to do that while working.”

With that, she flew to some of the most chic cities in the world; from Taipei and Hong Kong to London, Milan and Madrid. With exotic tan skin, an impossibly slender figure, sexy eyes and seductive plump lips, Kelly was a big hit in Europe. She appeared in Toni & Guy, The Body Shop and Adidas campaigns during her two-year stay in London. She also strutted her stuff on the catwalk during London Fashion Week and starred in Elle Macpherson’s lingerie TV commercial.

“The thing that makes me happy [about modeling] is that it allows me to travel and model abroad. I get a lot of experiences by doing that,” she says. “Also, competing with international models wasn’t easy. So the fact that I got to work and make a living [in these foreign countries]; I was happy. Very happy.”

Left picture: Swimsuit by Chanel Right picture: Shrug and skirt by Givenchy

Kelly is also happy about settling down a bit. After she renewed her contract with her agency in London, she decided to visit Jakarta and was pleasantly surprised when she received a lot of modeling job offers. “I left Jakarta when I was 14,” she reiterates. “Since I got back here, I have met lots of amazing people and my career has been going great.” She decided to stay.

It also helps that her Italian boyfriend likes it here, and it is him being in Jakarta that made up her mind to stay in the city. “If I go overseas again, it will take a toll on my relationship,” she says. “I’ve been in long-distance relationships, so I know that it won’t work for me.”

When asked if her boyfriend is a model too, she shakes her head almost immediately. “No, no! No way!” she says. “I’ve been with models before, I’ve had enough. Male models are more like accessories,” she says with a laugh. “Of course, not all of them are. But some are still child-like. They don’t have a mature mind-set.”

This isn’t the first time Kelly has fallen for a non-Asian. “Indonesian guys can be too possessive sometimes,” she explains. “With foreign guys, I’m free to do whatever I want, as long as we trust each other. I think Indonesian guys are, like, ‘Where are you now? You have to report to me at this hour, etc.’ Oh my God! I don’t like to be controlled… I don’t want to have to BBM my boyfriend and tell him my whereabouts every five minutes. I like to be alone, I have to have my own space. A woman has to be independent, anyway. You cannot be dependent on guys anymore.”

With a healthy lifestyle and an exciting relationship, Kelly is more than fit to achieve her future ambitions. “Next year, I’m going to study basic designing at ESMOD [fashion institute]. Just for two months. I want to make my own line or something,” she says. “And I want to try acting too. But I want to learn first. So probably in the next one or two years.”

Kelly has been acting since she was a kid, although unprofessionally and not necessarily in front of a camera. “I lie to and trick people all the time. Like, every time I lie to people, they always believe me!” she says with a chuckle, in response to why she thinks she’d like acting.

Kelly isn’t sure of what kind of movies or characters she wants to play in, but as always, she’s not one to back down from unknown challenges. “I think an actor has to be able to play all kinds of scenes or characters. An actor has to have a thousand faces,” she says. “I know it’s not easy. So I’m taking it one at a time.” DA


Photographs: Nurulita/Fotomojo

Styling: Gabriela Batti