Nora Ariffin is the undisputed first Malay “supermodel”, an actress and a realtor. Born on October 7 in Singapore, Nora was raised with her six siblings in Tanglin District. Her mother was an elementary school teacher, and her stepfather was a policeman-turned-cab driver.
Her career as a model began in 1985. At the time, she was a student at St. Margaret's Secondary School, the oldest girls' school in the Far East. She was discovered by jazz singer Jacintha Abisheganaden (or Ja for short), whilst working as a weekend salesgirl at the ‘Blue Ginger’ boutique, owned by Ja’s mom. Ja introduced Nora to her former husband, a Carrie Models scout Dick Lee. Believing she had model potential, Nora entered the prestigious Ford Models' ‘Supermodel of the World / Singapore 1985’ contest and won. A month or so later, she won ‘Best Female Model’ at the Glamour Awards Singapore. The prize was a photo shoot in New York. In 1986, Nora did a brief stint in modeling in New York and San Francisco.
Shortly after, Nora left Singapore for the world’s fashion capital, Paris. She arrived at the time when 80’s top models Anna Bayle, Mounia, Kirat, Toko, Dalma and Iman ruled the European runways. Paris was an exciting scene for such “exotic” looks, a staple in almost every fashion house. Upon arrival, Nora was snapped up by l'agence Glamour, the same modeling agency as Yves Saint Laurent’s muse, the late Katoucha. At the time, the two leading fashion photographers were Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton.
Nora’s first modeling assignment was with Guy for Vogue Paris. She and another model were flown to Florida for a 16-page editorial shoot at la Résidence L'Ermitage de Palm Beach and Miami. She later became Guy's muse and went on to become one of the first Asian models featured in Vogue Paris and Harper's Bazaar Italia.
Whilst in Paris, Nora starred in Citroën AX ‘Révolutionnaire!’ TV ads directed by Richard Raynal (RSCG creative director), Raymond Depardon and Andreï Konchalowski. She also appeared in a print ad for Liliane Romi boutique and a TV ad for BMW. In 1988, Nora did a major ad campaign for Rabarbaro Zucca, appearing in magazines, on Italian TV and a giant billboard in Piazza del Duomo, Milano. In the very same year, she was handpicked by Italian director Dario Piana to star in his stylish Giallo movie, ‘Sotto Il Vestito Niente 2’.
In the early 90’s, Nora lived in Bophutatswana (South African “homeland”), where she partied with the rich and famous at Sol Kerzner’s Sun City resort. She then relocated to the Big Apple where she landed a much-coveted Cover Girl cosmetics contract, appearing in an ad campaign along side supermodels Niki Taylor, Luciana Curtis, Lana Ogilvie and Rachel Hunter. In 1997, she achieved international fame as the first Asian model to front the Chanel 'Allure' ad, and a year later, she earned recognition as the face of L'Oréal Feria worldwide, appearing on a huge billboard high above Times Square.
During her 23 years as a model, Nora has worked with top photographers Guy Bourdin, Herb Ritts, Sante D’Orazio, Matthew Rolston, Michael Wirth, Nino Mascardi, Thierry Cazaux, Jacques Bergaud, Susan Bowlus and Lisa Houlgrave, appearing in Vogue Paris, Harper’s Bazaar Italia, Harper’s Bazaar US, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, PHOTO France, Vital, L’Officiel, Bucks and on the covers of Singapore’s very own Her World and Female.
Nora has been a resident of Manhattan for nearly 20 years. She is represented by Ford Models, and more recently, has worked with Tiffany & Co., Sephora and Darby Scott. Ever evolving, Nora completed a two-year professional actor-training program at the William Esper Studio New York, and landed a starring role in two feature films, notably ‘Skin Art’ (1993) and ‘Into My Heart’ (1998) – both of which received international success. In 2003, she performed on stage in Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan’s ‘Broken Bones’, a dark drama about spousal abuse, at the Producers’ Club in New York.
Further broadening her horizon, since 2004 Nora has enjoyed great success as a broker with Halstead Property, one of Manhattan's prestigious real estate agencies (where she is also a VP), where she brings a worldly experience and perspective to her work. She found the transition from modeling to real estate invigorating.