DA MAN Darling: Laura Muljadi

Laura Muljadi is one of Indonesia’s top models, but she is much more than a pretty face. Having spent much of her youth feeling self-conscious, the kind-hearted beauty now dedicates her free time to helping children improve their own lives and self-esteem. By M. Berlian

Dress by Dior, high waist brief by La Perla

Laura Muljadi grew up wanting to be something different entirely. “A policewoman,” she says. “Or a lawyer! I wanted to be a superhero,” she continues, laughing.  She may not have ended up fighting crime in a mask and a catsuit, but Laura is a hero in her own right. For quite some time now, Laura has been working as a part-time teacher for street kids in Jakarta. It’s a part of her voluntary work at Sahabat Anak, a non-profit organization that focuses on the welfare of homeless children in Indonesia.

Laura calls herself “stiff,” especially when around people she’s just met (“I’m not the kind of person who can just go up to someone and go, ‘Dude, what’s up?’”), but strangely, she never finds any difficulty connecting with children. “I always think that kids are less judgmental [than adults].” Her involvement in Sahabat Anak started when a journalist she met introduced her to the organization. At that time, Laura was looking to dedicate a good portion of her free time to doing humanitarian work. This passion didn’t exactly come out of nowhere; during the time she spent in the Netherlands, studying international communication management and completing her thesis on how to utilize the media to assist domestic workers, Laura had already familiarized herself with a number of women and children’s organizations.

“I returned to Jakarta [from the Netherlands] and continued my modeling career here; something I was very happy about. But I couldn’t help feeling that something was missing,” she says. “Before this, I thought of joining Komnas Perempuan (National Commission on Violence against Women) but there were conflicting schedules, what with my work as a model and all.” That doesn’t mean her interest in women’s issues stopped there, though. In fact, Laura is currently writing a blog post on World Pulse, an online global media network aiming to empower women. One of her entries about Indonesia’s domestic workers can still be accessed on their site. Her next one will center on the search for female identity and how the media influences the way women view their body image. “I think that, by helping [other women], I’m helping myself too,” she says. “Because I used to feel the same way before.”

Outfit by Etro

Off to a rough start
Laura’s success story is an inspirational one. She is not, after all, what the majority of people in Indonesia, who are often obsessed with fair complexions and light skin, would describe as the ideal of beauty. Very few would guess that the darkskinned Laura is actually of Chinese descent, something that made her feel insecure when she was growing up. Her dad used to tell her to not take swimming lessons, so her skin wouldn’t get even darker. She proved skeptics wrong when her modeling career started to take off in a big way. It was jump-started when Emilie Bouwman, owner of the modeling agency Favourite Models, scouted her when she worked as a waitress in a restaurant in the Netherlands. Things didn’t slow down even after she got back to Jakarta. Awards began piling up; one of them was the Best Model ‘Designer’s Choice’ in 2009 Jakarta Fashion Week. In 2010, she was chosen as the icon for the prestigious Jakarta Fashion and Food Festival. She also became the muse for designer Didit Hediprasetyo, walking the runways of Paris Fashion Week twice while wearing pieces from Didiet’s spring-summer 2011 and 2012 collections. And she’s just getting started.

Bustier and short by La Perla, gloves by Diane Von Furstenberg

All’s well that ends well
It’s only understandable that, when DA MAN asked her which of her many achievements she treasures the most, Laura gets completely tongue-tied. After a really long silence, she finally says, “I still have to think about it. I think every accomplishment I achieve has its own value. Whether it’s me winning a poetry reading competition in elementary school or a singing competition or getting the Best Model award; each of them has a varying level of excitement.“ She adds, “I mean, I was happy when I was appointed Putri Kepulauan Jawa in 2006 [a sub-award given to the favorite contestant from the island of Java in the Puteri Indonesia beauty pageant]. But I was also happy when I got to cook fried rice in a competition in my neighborhood. I haven’t really thought about [what achievement I’m most proud of]. What matters to me right now is that I can make my parents proud of me.”

Outfit by Louis Vuitton

With a number of titles—model, teacher, women’s rights activist—under her belt, we ask her to pick the one she most wants to be remembered as. Laura replies, “I want to be remembered as a woman who has succeeded. I’m a survivor, I was struggling as a teenage girl with dark skin, but I was lucky enough to be able to find my identity. I make my dreams come true. Not a lot of people are brave enough to do that. I got what I wanted so far and I’m a happy person. I made all my choices. I earned money doing what I love most. I can do things for people I care about. I love and I’m loved,” she says, smiling. “And I can shop!”

Photographs: Robin Alfian
Styling: Gabriela Batti
Videographer: Dimas Anggakara