The fabulous adventures of former supermodel Ethel Fong and her musician daughter Tanis Chalopin

Ethel Fong decided she wanted to celebrate half a century of her life on this planet by accomplishing something amazing. I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. It is a wonderful dormant volcano, with an elevation of 5,895 meters above sea level and quite challenging even for those who are in high physical condition. Fong brought in a pair of Manolo Blahnik high heels. “I wanted to wear it when I got to the top and be cool no matter where I was,” Fong, now 58, recalls with a laugh.

She did not go alone. On the flight were 21 friends and relatives, including her daughter Tanis Chalopin. Only 19 reached the peak; The three who did not feel unwell due to the rise or lacked the confidence to deal with the recent ascent. Fong admitted she had doubts, too. After all, before climbing, she did not sleep in a tent or walk for longer than 15 minutes on a treadmill.

But Fong persevered, reaching the summit just in time to watch the sunrise, with Manolo Blanex in her hand and her daughter at her side.

The girl is like her mother

Ethel Fong wears Clash de Cartier hoop earrings and a Panthère de Cartier necklace, ring and bracelet set.
Her daughter, Tanis Chalopin, wears a Clash de Cartier single earring and ring, a LOVE necklace and ring.

This perseverance was a mainstay in Fung’s life. One of seven children, Fong grew up in Pasir Panjang next to the old Haw Bar Villa. She remembers sneaking into the theme park with her siblings and looking in awe at the images of heaven and hell and the mythical characters that power both planes.

At the age of fifteen, Fong went for a three-month grooming course. Coaches noticed her height and asked her if she was interested in modeling for fashion shows. From there, it was a slow but steady rise to the top of the modeling world, culminating in that Giorgio Armani campaign. Yes, the famous Spring/Summer 1986 campaign with Fong staring at the camera with her piercing eyes.

Shalobin has definitely inherited this trait. When she was thirteen years old, she asked to go to a senior boarding school in the UK. She joined the swimming team and competed in the 100m and 200m breaststroke. She also qualified for the junior skating team that specializes in giant slalom. While the 27-year-old no longer competes, Tanis still occasionally teaches people to skate. She is also a freediver and reveals that she is one of the models in the PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) Free Diving campaign. Oh, and she completed the New York Marathon in 4 hours and 13 minutes.

“I like to challenge myself. I have a complete personality,” Chalopin says.

Both mother and daughter admit that they have very different personalities. But that and the distance – Fong resides in Nassau in the Bahamas while Chalupin is currently holed up in the Swiss mountains – hasn’t dampened their strong relationship with one another.

“We have a great relationship. It’s like a dream. She’s been a friendly kid from day one. When we meet, we have dinner with each other and have long conversations,” says Fong. The two meet four to five times a year in different countries around the world, depending on their their respective tables.

Chalubin is planning while “I just showed up,” Fong says with a laugh. Last year, they spent the festive season in Switzerland with the rest of the family, spending a lot of time in the kitchen preparing a feast to entertain their guests. Fong claims she is a lazy chef, but Chalupin pushes her to adventure. “Sometimes, we are very adventurous,” Chalopin jokes.

separate endeavors

Fong is in the midst of another challenge – building her home in Nassau. The project has occupied her for the greater part of five years and she envisions it will take at least another 18 months before it is completed.

“We work without a master plan, which is why it takes so long. We just build it all the way, like Lego. I’m a full-time contractor now!” adds Fong.

Ethel Fong wears Reflection de Cartier earrings, Geometry & Contrast necklace, Reflection de Cartier ring and LOVE ring.

The plan is for it to be a family home “so our two kids and significant others can stay with us,” Fong explains. There are separate buildings so everyone can have their own space, with a large communal space dedicated to mingling. When she’s not busy with her home project, Fong is a benefactor. She leads the Deltec Initials Foundation, part of the Deltec Group where it is chaired by her husband, Jean Chalopin.

The Foundation empowers the people of the Bahamas through the power of the arts, entrepreneurship and education, either by providing scholarships or supporting them in their individual endeavours. Fong does not believe in writing big checks for large charities, having witnessed the waste and arrogance found in these entities. Instead, she prefers the personal touch and tries to get to know each person the organization supports.

“I realized that many were just doing it for their ego, while spending unnecessarily a lot of money. So I got a little frustrated and did smaller initiatives that could go a longer way and still make me feel good,” says Fong.

She donates money every year to a small school in Burkina Faso. While $12,000 may be a fairly small amount, it goes to provide breakfast for 350 children.

“The money buys the grain for the parents, who then grow it, grow it and harvest the crops so they can cook for the family, including the kids. I think this is a more sustainable way to do charity than just buy food,” says Fong, adding that she has been doing it 15 years ago. She is also proud to share that the school’s pass rate is close to 100 percent.

As for Shalopin, she has been busy making a name for herself as a film and television author. Search her name on IMDB and you’ll see a series of credits to her name, including the Chinese remake of Singapore’s The Little Nyonya and the Japanese-Filipino animated series Barangay 143. She also composed music for Disney’s Trail of the Panda when she was 14 Only her age.

However, her favorite work so far is a YouTube series made for kids called Miraculous: Chibi, which is part of the Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir available on the Disney+ streaming service.

“It was really fun because the characters don’t talk, so the music had to push everything forward. I had to match the music to the gestures. It’s one of the toughest challenges I’ve faced so far as a composer.”

Music has always been a huge part of Chalopin’s life. As a child, she remembers browsing her father’s Beatles collection and listening to them over and over again.

At the moment, she is working hard to score goals in an undisclosed TV show from Amazon Prime. She is also planning to release new music after being on hiatus for nearly five years.

“I wasn’t proud of the music I was releasing in 2017, so I took a step back and focused on composing and producing music while working on my skill as an artist. I realized that when I started writing music for fun in my spare time I created more tracks. Now I’m slowly releasing this big buildup,” she explains.

Last month saw Chalopin release Je T’aime and more to come in French and English this year. It remains to be seen if it will be a complete LP.

Less talk, more work

Tanis Chalopin wears the Santos de Cartier watch, necklace, Juste un Clou ring and LOVE wedding ring.

Hard work is something Vong and Chalobin clearly practice, but never preach. By the way, the duo agree that people need to get out of their soapboxes and log out of their social media accounts.

“It’s a very polarized world now,” Fong notes. “We need more respect and understanding. Everyone insists their way is the only way and get into big fights because they get very emotional about it.”

Shalobin agrees. “There is a lot of chatter on social media, but after they have said their article, they just sit. But is any change activated? Mostly not. We talk a lot, but very little.”

Fong’s solution is simple – more leaders, less politicians. But she acknowledges that it is easier said than done. Democracies are designed in such a way that those who are ambitious and enthusiastic about power receive it and, paradoxically, should go to those who do not want such responsibilities in their own hands.

In the meantime, mother and daughter focus on what’s out there right now. Chalopin wants to continue to compose music that she hopes will be remembered long after she is gone; Fong also wants to continue to make a positive impact on the lives of the people she met along the way through her work and social interactions.

“Oh, high heels and glitter. I want people to remember me for that too,” Fong laughs. “Actually, I’ve told my kids that when I die, I want them to burn me and throw my gray into the sea and then have a party!”

Even in death, you want the amazing Fong, just like how her life was. Pasir Panjang’s long, faded teens are sure to make their mark on the world, literally, with their Manolo Blahnik heels.

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