Augustman A-Lister Hadri Hashim and noted photographer Ridduan “TTFGA” Ismail are reshaping the modelling landscape with their bold and daring enterprise Topboi Citizen.
Since the 1960s, modelling has grown from a niche career to a global institution of pop culture. Besides commanding the power to bring commercial goods and works of art to life and wielding enormous influence over consumers and onlookers, models also serve as harbingers of change and cultural icons, continuously breaking new barriers and redefining the standards of beauty with each passing generation.
While the international fashion and modelling scenes have collectively heralded numerous chapters, positive changes and reforms, becoming increasingly diverse over the years, the history of modelling in Malaysia, despite the nation’s multicultural diversity, has for many years now been largely charted by temporary foreign models.
Recognising a lack of representation for local talents and the industry’s need for a distinctive makeover, two like-minded individuals by the names of Ridduan Ismail, or more widely known as TTFGA (Tukang Tangkap Foto Gembira Anda), and Hadri Hashim, have taken the initiative to turn their mutual passion for fashion and unconventional homegrown aesthetics, into a model management enterprise called Topboi Citizen to chart a new course for the industry with their unique community of models.
The partnership is more than just a meeting of two minds. Originally conceived by Ridduan as a photography series, Topboi has led the established street photographer to discovering Hadri, the founder and managing director of the café Thursdvys, firstly as the series’ foremost talent and subsequently his business partner.
By virtue of their different backgrounds and professional experiences, they form a strategic partnership. As an established photographer with a keen sense of style, Ridduan serves as Topboi Citizen’s creative director. Hadri complements Ridduan’s artistic vision with the necessary business acumen to manage the agency’s operations and accounts, plus the practical experience of a regular model to mentor their recruits.
Photographed exclusively in the latest collection from Gucci for the latest edition of Leading Force by Augustman Malaysia, Ridduan and Hadri share about their mission to break the rules and lead the next evolution of modelling in Malaysia with Topboi Citizen.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR INDIVIDUAL ROLES AND STRENGTHS, AND HOW YOU COMPLEMENT EACH OTHER.
R: As a creative director, I’m responsible for setting the vision and direction of the Topboi aesthetic and overseeing the styling and overall image and presentation of the company and our models.
We have a model named Debbie J, who carries the boyish look very well. I reached out to her and said, “Debbie, I want you to go bald.” I knew from early on that it was her look. She hesitated at first until I said, “I’m going to give RM300 for you to go bald,” so straight away she said yes. Immediately after shaving, she was booked.
H: I’m the boring guy handling the accounts and nitty-gritty details. You need someone creative as much as you need someone practical. When you have that balance, you have the union of yin and yang.
WHAT IS THE TOPBOI AESTHETIC AND WHAT MAKES IT DIFFERENT?
R: The Topboi aesthetic is not the usual male model standards that other agencies follow. Our models look pretty much like bad boys. The day I discovered Hadri, he was bald and fitted the Topboi criteria. At the same time though, as we grow as a company, we’ve also expanded our portfolio to be more diverse and accept models who do not necessarily look like a bad boy to meet our clients’ diverse requests.
H: I think when we started in 2019, the market was quite different. The pandemic helped give local models more opportunities because a lot of the foreign models had to go home. It opened up many new opportunities because all we had were local talents. It was a time for our models to shine.
You can see a shift in the market where local models, especially male models, have become more accepted – the lean, edgy, not-your-usual type of buff models. That has certainly helped change people’s perception of male models.
WHAT DOES TOPBOI STAND FOR?
H: Topboi represents those who strive to be at the top of their game.
R: Ritz is a perfect embodiment of the Topboi spirit. He is Malaysia’s first male model to walk at Paris Fashion Week for Louis Vuitton.
HOW DOES A LOCAL MODEL BREAK INTO THE INTERNATIONAL SCENE?
H: It’s too long a pathway for me to tell, but I can tell you what it takes to be a model – it’s basically what Ridduan has always preached since I started – you need to have the right attitude in the way you carry yourself.
For example, our boys may have a certain bad-boy look, but when you talk to them, you’ll realise that they are in fact sweethearts. That’s the beauty of having an unassuming personality. Ritz, for instance, when we first met him, he was among a hundred other models who had come in for casting that day. But as soon as we caught sight of him, we looked at each other and thought of signing him. We saw something in him that resonated Topboi quality. The Ritz that you see now is not the same as the Ritz before. He was very shy and spoke no louder than a whisper. Thanks to the right attitude and grooming, he has grown to where he is today in just two to three years.
“Our boys may have a certain bad-boy look, but when you talk to them, you’ll realise that they are in fact sweethearts. That’s the beauty of having an unassuming personality.”
R: We constantly talk to our models, telling them that they need to have the daring spirit. If you want to venture out, you must be able to knock on every door because the competition in Europe is huge. Ritz was like, “Ok, I’m going to go do that,” and off he went knocking on every agency’s door in London until one eventually took a liking to him and signed him on.
WHAT ARE THE KEY INGREDIENTS TO THE SUCCESS OF TOPBOI?
R: I think it’s all about acceptance and identifying their niche. When Sadiq first came for casting, I had to turn him down. Even though I really liked his look, he just wasn’t translating that onto photos. He was nervous. But then I decided to reach out to him again and give him a try. In his first runway show, for a local designer at KL Fashion Week, he was wearing heels, and I was like, “Ok, let’s go!” He owned it. Sadiq followed that up with a show for Melinda Looi. He fits the androgynous criteria, and I kept telling him that his hair is his crown, his signature. So it’s about acceptance.
H: There had always been people with the Topboi aesthetic prior to our establishment. It was just harder for them to penetrate the industry on their own. What we’ve done with Topboi is that we’ve put together a collective and make a strong statement as a group. When you have an agency or a group, things tend to move faster. Everywhere we go, we walk in a pack.
“What we’ve done with Topboi is that we’ve put together a collective and make a strong statement as a group. When you have an agency or a group, things tend to move faster. Everywhere we go, we walk in a pack.”
READ THE FULL STORY IN THE 2022 EDITION OF LEADING FORCE, AVAILABLE TOGETHER WITH AUGUSTMAN NOVEMBER 2022 ISSUE .