Nina Ismail Sabri on calling her own shots
She may be the daughter of a politician and the wife of a fashion designer, but Nina Ismail Sabri is more than that. Lily Ong sits down with this independent soul who is not afraid to call her own shots.
Nina Ismail Sabri is accustomed to living in the spotlight. You have little choice in the matter too, if your father is a very prominent man.
“I have been a politician’s daughter for as long as I can remember. People often address me as Ismail Sabri’s daughter rather than my own name,” she says candidly.
Now, it certainly takes guts for anyone to be able to face the intensity of media attention on a daily basis. It can be difficult when every move you make and every word you say is subject to criticism. Luckily, Nina was no wallfl ower and not one to wilt under such pressure.
“Since I was little, I watched my mother adapt to sharing her husband with the public. Through her teachings and example, I am aware of the codes of conduct required because I have been applying them while growing up. Everyone watches your every move and therefore I always remember to be careful with my actions, as the slightest mistake I make could jeopardise myself and the people around me,” shares this passionate entrepreneur.
Being the eldest child and the only girl among her siblings, Nina had always been competitive from a very young age. “My brothers never dared to bully me, because they know I am the boss,” she joked cheerfully before adding something about herself: “I always have this desire to do something meaningful in my life so I can be quite detailed in everything I do.”
If you are one of Nina’s 200,000 followers on her Instagram account, you will find this meticulous nature a jarring contrast with the persona she projects publicly. “A lot of people who follow me on social media think I am princessy because of my looks,” admits this woman with an angelic smile.
But in reality, the opposite is true; Nina is no damsel in distress. Just ask her husband, fashion designer Jovian Mandagie and he will assure you of this fact. He says, “Nina is organised and she is a perfectionist. She makes sure things go according to plan. Not many people will see that quality in her unless they have spent time getting to know her!”
The pair first met through Nina’s mother, who was Jovian’s client. Nina, who was pursuing a masters degree in business in the University of Queensland, Australia at that time, described him as “formal and a bit boring” due to the cordialdesigner-client relationship they had then. It was only when they were sitting side-by-side in a fl ight bound for Jakarta that they had the chance to get to know one another.
During the two-hour flight, their small talk turned into a full-blown conversation about their shared interests. Since then, they became good friends and eventually, husband and wife. “Nina’s kindness and vibrant personality are two major traits I am impressed by. Whenever I am frustrated about work, her presence always puts my mind back into a positive place. No one has ever had that effect on me before,” says Jovian proudly about his spouse.
For Nina, she is happy to have found someone who is as ambitious as she is. “I have always been competitive. I want to win. It was hard for me in my past relationships. I needed someone who is as career-driven as I am. I was not willing to ‘slow down’, so to speak,” she says, on how she eventually fell in love with her husband.
She adds, “After we got married, we opened businesses within months after each other, back to back. We compete but we remain supportive of each other. With Jovian, I found someone whom I could run freely with towards my goal, and I know he will always be with me—sometimes ahead, sometimes behind and sometimes beside.”
Career-wise, Nina had always wanted to work with children. This desire stemmed from her formative years, when her father—whose experience growing up from humble beginnings, shaped him—would take her and her brothers to visit the rural poor and encourage them to reach out and help the needy. Nina was drawn to children and spent a lot of time trying to connect with the kids, to draw them out of their shells.
When she went abroad to study, she continued this social outreach and it has become an integral part of her life.
“I have had the chance to volunteer and visit children innhospitals and orphanages in Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia. I noticed one common thread—these kids do not want material things. They crave for education, love and attention. No matter which part of the world, they love it when they have visitors who would read to them or braid their hair while listening to them,” she says in recollection of her volunteer work.
“Children are sincere and affectionate. Having them around is a true joy for me.”
Photography: Eric Chow from Blink Studio; Styling: Andrea Wong; Blouse and skirt: Jovian Mandagie; Jewellery: Tiffany & Co; Watch: Hublot