‘I was told I didn’t have The Look'

Saturday September 07, 2019 Written by Published in Entertainment
Vivian Engu was New Zealand School of Tourism student of the year. 19090610 / SUPPLIED Vivian Engu was New Zealand School of Tourism student of the year. 19090610 / SUPPLIED

Vivian Engu says in order to be a model, she had to learn to handle the cruel criticism. 

“I still remember my first audition like it was yesterday,” says Vivian Engu.

“I bought my very first, second-hand six-inch nude pencil heel. I was so nervous that I ended up walking too fast for the first round of auditions.”

The young Cook Islander never thought modelling would be one of her passions until she was first discovered at the age of 17.

Born and raised in the Cook Islands with a touch of Tongan and Fiji heritage, Engu recalls starting her modelling career.

She was MC for a school fashion competition, and they had arranged for the Fiji Fashion Week organisers to be their guest of honour.

To her surprise it was after the school’s fashion show that she was invited to audition for a bigger event: Fiji Fashion Week 2012.

“To my amazement I made the cut for the two rounds of auditions. It later led to my first three months of intense modelling training, which I feel has really laid the modelling foundations of what I know today.

“I learnt the basics of cat walk, maintaining good posture, the art of composure, the importance of staying hydrated, just to name a few.

“Modelling was never something I thought I could or would do, until I was discovered.”

Even though Engu started attending modelling rehearsals during school weekends, it was hard to balance modelling and studying for government exams.

“It wasn’t easy; in fact, the fashion show was held on the week of my government exams.

“After the show was over and the results came out, I was so happy to find out that I was one of the 30 students out of 200 students in my syndicate to have scored an A grade in the government exam and was instantly subsidised for half my school fees by the government the following year.”

In 2013, Engu decided to put her modelling career on hold and took part in her first District Drawing Contest. She competed against 10 schools, and won first place.

She later participated in the national school competition, Kula Film, and won the audition for the main character for her school, won the Best Actress award in Fiji and was offered a $200,000 contract to be featured as a main character in a movie sequel.

However, sadly, Engu had to turn it down at the time, as she had to choose between completing her studies or acting.

In 2014 she returned to the Cook Islands for work and it was here that she came across the Cook Islands News family and was employed as advertising assistant for three years.

Engu’s passion for modelling was reignited in 2015 when she was given the opportunity to model for Tav’s Charity Fashion show to raise money for the next Miss Cook Island.

In 2016, she migrated to New Zealand and enrolled into New Zealand School of Tourism, studying diploma in Tourism and Travel Management.

During her first six months of study, she struggled finding a job, hence she registered herself into an agency to see if she could do modelling and acting while studying.

“This is when I decided to take up modelling as a part-time profession in New Zealand.”

Engu was the only Cook Islander at an agency at the early stages of her modelling career in New Zealand.

She said: “It was hard for me to get marketed because I was told I didn’t have 'the look' people needed for film or fashion. So for 2 years I was with the agency, I was only chosen for two jobs.

“So I knew I had to leave the agency and find work myself.”

Engu decided to completely change her look by cutting her hair, dying it blond for rebranding purposes.

“I had expanded my skills by learning how to do make-up and model for photoshoots. I also learnt how competitive the market is, and the importance of networking.

“I had to do this while maintaining my studies, and my work at the hospital once I found a job in the nutrition department. Also I learnt how to handle and accept all criticism whether it be online or verbal.”

She said she never planned this and only decided to go down this path when she realised she needed a job in New Zealand.

“I made that decision, modelling is now part of my life. For inspiration I reference to Pinterest, YouTube dance videos, America’s Next Top Model and Instagram. When I like a pose or a set up, I normally save it om my phone for reference.”

She advised that with modelling one must have confidence and a strong mind to handle criticism.

“So I turn to a lot of inspirational quotes from people like Maya Angelou, and Marilyn Monroe. My ambition is to one day host my own modelling course as well as organize my own fashion show that promotes body positivity.”



Vivian attended Black Rock Kindergarten and Avatea School during her early childhood years.

At the age of 11 years old she migrated to Fiji with her mum and siblings for further education.

In her first two years in Fiji, she was able to establish herself in Nasinu Gospel Primary School and be delegated with the President of the Library and Junior School Prefect Title. She then moved to Rishikul Nadera Primary School for her last year of Primary School and was instantly appointed school prefect and and was 3rd place in the government exams for my school and top score in geography and was awarded with her very first academic trophy.

She graduated from Rishikula Sanatan High School in 2014 before returning to Rarotonga.


She has featured in a short film, in New Zealand music artist Soul Brown music video, played as an extra in a Kiwi comedy film, The Breaker-Upperers, and has collaborated and networked with designers, makeup artists, videographers, photographers, product testers.

Vivian won the pageant Miss Elite Global Earth New Zealand 2018, and was first runner-up in Auckland’s Top Model 2018.

She was awarded Student of the Year for New Zealand School of Tourism 2017 and has walked for more than 12 fashion shows.

Her most recent fashion show was at the New Zealand Fashion Week 2019.


“Go for it! You don’t need to be a size zero to model. All you need is confidence and a good walk to start you off. Everything else will fall into place with experience and time. Consider getting into agencies and flying to places like Australia and New Zealand for paid jobs.”


100 squats per day. “I know it sounds impossible however if you were to divide the squats into four sessions in a day and do 25 squats per session, I find it leaves my legs and thighs looking well-toned and buttocks nice and tight which is ideal for any bikini photoshoot or a tight clothing photoshoot.”


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