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Nadya Rufina: Raised in Macao, this Indonesian model is making waves across Asia

The teenage model opens up about how she got into her career, daily life on set and what it’s like to work with Gucci.




Less than 1 minute Minutes

The teenage model opens up about how she got into her career, daily life on set and what it’s like to work with Gucci.




Less than 1 minute Minutes

Nineteen-year-old model Nadya Rufina Widjaja, known professionally as Nadya Rufina, is taking Asia’s fashion and beauty world by storm.  

“Not only do people in the fashion industry know who Nadya Rufina is, but many also want to work with her,” fashion photographer Roni Bachroni tells Macao News. “She can already be considered Indonesia’s supermodel.”

In a way, she could be considered Macao’s top model, too, given that she spent much of her youth in the city and her family has such deep roots here. Widjaja’s family moved from Jakarta to Macao – where five generations of her Chinese-Indonesian dad’s family had lived – when she was just two months old, and they spent the next 11 years in Macao. 

Nadya Rufina studied at the Macau Anglican College until her folks upped sticks again, this time to Bali. At age 14, Widjaja enrolled in extra-curricular classes at Denpasar’s Point Management Modelling School.

Modelling is in the Widjajas’ blood. Widjaja’s mum, Ivone Susan, graced the cover of Indonesian teen magazine Aneka in 2000. And her dad, Brian Douglas, continues to star in fashion photoshoots for Muslim festivals. Both Widjaja’s sisters – 20-year-old Marissa Lorylin and five-year-old Miranda Adrina – are models, too.

Nadya Rufina and her family
Rufina (bottom left) and her family wearing traditional Balinese outfits – Photo courtesy of Nadya Rufina

JIM Models agency scouted Nadya Rufina when she was just 14 years old. Since then, she’s worked for major international fashion labels like Gucci, Christian Dior and Marc Jacobs. You may have spotted her on TV and social media commercials, or up on billboards wearing designer labels like Sapto Djojokartiko and Biyan.

During an opening in her hectic schedule, Nadya Rufina sat down with Macao News to talk about her work, what she misses about Macao, and the connection she shares with American model Kaia Gerber.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Macao News: What’s a typical day like for you?

Nadya Rufina: Right now I have a lot of jobs here in Jakarta. But I go back to Bali each month, even if it’s just for two or three days. If I don’t have anything booked for weeks, I stay in Bali longer to spend time with my family and friends. 

If there’s a fashion show or photoshoot booked, I have to wake up early. We get paid by the hour during photoshoots, so there’s not much waiting around. But for shows, we’re on stand-by early in the morning, even for a nighttime show. We start with rehearsals and make-up, then wait until the show starts before we get dressed, so there’s a lot of waiting around time. Auditions and castings for shows and shoots keep me busy as well.

Photoshoots are tough, too, though. We have to look all cheerful and happy and I find it hard to smile at times! 

On days off, I catch up with my friends or just stay home because work gets tiring. If I’m not out with my friends, then I love watching movies or TV series. I love thrillers, mystery and horror movies even though I get scared easily. And in terms of series, I’m watching the new season of ‘Outer Banks’. I try to eat a healthy diet to keep my skin clear and my weight ideal for modelling.

Music is my go-to, especially when I’m putting on makeup. Some of my favourite artists are The 1975, Dominic Fike, and The Ivy

MN: You spent much of your childhood in Macao. What do you miss most about the city? 

NR: The last time we were in Macao was in 2018, but my family and I are visiting again in April. I miss a lot of things, actually. One of them is how you can simply walk to get to places. Over here in Indonesia, you have to take a car wherever you go. I used to love walking around Macao and discovering these tiny, cute and hidden lanes. I miss doing that with my cousins. 

MN: Coming from a family of models, did it seem inevitable you’d enter the industry? 

NR: When I was six, my older sister [also now a model] and I used to play dress-ups. We’d pretend we were on the runway or doing a photoshoot. So, I obviously never disliked the idea of modelling… but I didn’t grow up expecting to do it professionally. I liked photography and videography more. I loved making short films with my friends just for fun, pretending we would post them on YouTube. So, it seemed like I was heading more towards that direction. 

Then, when I was 14, my mother sent me to modelling school. I used to take 6 pm classes after [regular] school every Monday and Wednesday. It was focused on runway and fashion shows, so we learned basic poses and catwalks, the type of posture you need when walking the runway.

I wasn’t actually that interested initially and found it really challenging. I wasn’t used to being in a world where I had to get my makeup done and meet new people every day. But I started to enjoy it when I began doing fashion shows. I loved the whole process, from rehearsals and makeup to finding out what type of clothes we would wear. 

A few months in, my current modelling agency, JIM Models, scouted me. I was so happy someone reached out. Especially since JIM Models is one of the biggest agencies in Jakarta.

Nadya Rufina | Jakarta Fashion Week 2023
Rufina didn’t foresee herself becoming a model, but that changed when she walked in her first fashion show – Photo courtesy of Nadya Rufina

MN: Your mum is also a successful model in Indonesia. What tips has she shared with you?

NR: My mom would always tell me to greet everyone with confidence and kindness because, in the modelling industry, you never know when you’ll meet someone who can help you grow. Mom also told me that if the clients like you, they’ll ask for you again.

MN: You are tall – 176cm. Have you always been comfortable with your height?

NR: It was uncomfortable at first, especially since I didn’t like being the centre of attention. I grew to be okay with it around the time I started modelling. As a model, the taller you are, the more shows you get. A lot of auditions and castings require a height above 174 cm.

MN: When did you first feel like you’d made it as a model?

NR: It was in 2019. I was still attending high school in Bali, so couldn’t get to Jakarta that often and had even turned down a few jobs. But that September, I got a call-up for the Jakarta Fashion Week. 

It was a great feeling to be in one of the country’s most well-known fashion weeks. It was exciting to see all the designer clothing I was going to wear, like Peggy Hartanto, Jan Sober, and Stella Rissa. That week, I met a lot of people and made new friends. I was nervous, but once I got onto the stage, it felt good to be up there. I consider it an experience I won’t ever forget. 

MN: Which brand has been your favourite to work with so far?

NR: I liked the Gucci shoot best because they had a cool concept. It was held at Grand Hyatt Jakarta. They played with lots of different lighting: natural light, black and white, and some orange in there too. It felt different to a usual shoot because we were given the freedom to just play or run around the hotel while trying on uniquely patterned, colourful clothing. It was fun to be part of that. 

MN: How do you see your future playing out?

NR: I’d love to be part of some international fashion weeks, like Paris Fashion Week and London Fashion Week. With the support of JIM Models, I hope it can happen one day. For now, I wish to continue my modelling career here in Indonesia… and only join the international fashion weeks once I know I’m ready. 

Eventually, I do want to go to university. But I don’t know what to study and I’m afraid to make the wrong choices! Right now I’m taking a gap year to figure things out. 

If I continue modelling, I want to have some other line of work as well. My sister and I want to start a brand together, maybe clothes? We’ll see what happens there.

MN: Has your job changed you as a person at all?

NR: I used to be really shy, but after four years of modelling, I’m more open now. I actually start conversations when I arrive at the set or show these days. Before, I would sit and wait for someone to say something to me. I’ve definitely gotten better at communication and building relationships with people.

MN: Is there a particular model that inspires you? 

NR: Kaia Gerber. I first heard about her when I was in the eighth grade. I checked her Instagram and liked seeing her modelling. But back then I never thought that I would actually be a model myself. 

Once I got into the industry, I admired her even more. Especially knowing that she started at a young age like me. I also found it incredible that her mom, [former US supermodel] Cindy Crawford, was a model. I felt like we shared similarities because my mom modelled, too. I admire Kaia a lot and aspire to be as successful as she is someday.

MN: Any words of advice for those who hope to be as successful as you someday? 

NR: The job gets easier over time. It’s a process to get to the place you want to be in. Rejection has been normal in my modelling career. Sometimes it’s okay not to get every job or fashion show. I overcome it by staying positive and reminding myself that there will always be more opportunities in the future. From the beginning of my modelling career until now, it’s all been worth it. 


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