Style Speaks Interivew for The9thMuse
AT FIRST GLANCE, CHARLOTTE Chen’s professional life seems the definition of a career in fashion – She works for Bao Bao Wan Fine Jewelry in brand strategy and business development; she’s starred in style shoots for Hong Kong Tatler, Ketchup, Style.com and Wall Street Journal Scene Asia; she’s written guest posts and done photos with Vogue China; and, Charlotte’s an Elle Star Blogger, sharing socialite soirees and snapping pics at the hottest events and openings around town.
That’s why it is so surprising to hear that until two years ago, Charlotte worked in banking. “My family has always been in fashion. My sister’s in fashion, my mum, my father…I’m the delinquent who went down the math route!”
With a mother in fashion design, a father in manufacturing and a sister currently working as marketing manager for Ralph Lauren, I suppose Charlotte did take a bit of a black sheep route in studying finance and economics at university, before going on to five years of banking. It’s my first clue that Charlotte is hardly your traditional fashionista.
“Two years ago I had a realization, or an ephiphany, and I said, I really should stop avoiding fashion and go back into it…I grew up going to fashion shows because my mother used to be involved in the Hong Kong Fashion Design Association. I’ve been to many tradeshows and Hong Kong Fashion Week every year; that was the highlight of my year when I was growing up. I’ve always been exposed to that industry, but I never thought of myself being in the business of fashion until recently.”
That decision to switch industries led Charlotte to Beijing, working for Bao Bao Wan. It’s a fine jewelry line started by Chinese socialite Bao Bao Wan herself. “She’s done one fine jewelry line and one diffusion line called And The Little Ones,” Charlotte tells me. “I help her find partnerships, look at the business side of things. The boring side of things!”
Charlotte may have jumped professionally to the fashion world with some hesitation, but it seems an unavoidable fit. Just four months ago, Charlotte was approached by Elle Hong Kong about becoming a Star Blogger. “It was completely random,” Charlotte says, explaining how she got the job. “Maybe they saw my Twitter account and Instagram, and they noticed me. That was it! I guess I’ve always been going to events all my life, so maybe from those exposures they decided that it would be interesting for me to talk about fashion.”
Charlotte’s blog audience would, I am sure, agree. Her Elle blog is fun and personal, with a collection of great photos from exciting occasions. Charlotte’s also interested in researching designers and collections; learning more about the inspirations behind the fashion she sees at events, and giving her blog readers a deeper understanding of the style world. “I want to make it a little bit more educational rather than, oh, this is a thousand snaps of myself! I am actually very camera shy.”
Camera shy? Charlotte? But, this is the girl whose gorgeous Instagram photos inspired Elle to hire her; the girl who’s done style shoots in Ketchup, Vogue and Tatler. And she’s camera shy?
Yes, indeed. Charlotte describes her photo shoots as “So awkward!” and goes on to tell a self-depricatingly hilarious story of her experience doing a 35th anniversary shoot for Hong Kong Tatler:
“So there’s five girls, and they’re all really photogenic, really good with the camera.I’m the fifth person. We were all in pastel gowns and we were lying on the floor. First off, I hate pastel! Secondly I don’t like lying on the floor, and third, these girls have perfect camera smiles, ready bam! It took me a long time to get my apparently quote-unquote ‘sexy face.’ The photographer is like, Charlotte just relax! Stop looking awkward! I’m like, I am awkward! If I don’t smile I just look really constipated. I just don’t know what to do.”
It’s refreshing to hear someone so lovely both on camera and off describe herself as awkward. Charlotte’s looking poised and hip today, in bright citrus fruit print Stella McCartney trousers, a white top and spiky black sandals from Furla. It’s an outfit that’s more than just stylish – it’s interesting. Charlotte describes her style as inspired by “sort of English Eccentric I suppose.” She’s into interiors and jewelry, and especially adoring of Wunderkammer. Popular in Renaissance Europe espeically, Wunderkammer is a collection of objects in undefined categories; a curiosity box.
“I have an obsession over taxidermy, over curiosity boxes from the 18th and 19th centuries…sunken libraries with horns coming out of everywhere and odd pickled sharks on the side. In London there’s a place called Beach Blanket Babylon which is one of my favorite clubs. It’s a very odd mixture of strange things in one place, and that’s sort of my kind of style. It’s just Wunderkammer!”
In her everyday style, this translates into a love of prints, a cerebral take on fashion, and a polite disregard for trends, celebrity icons, and anything too conservative. “For example, one of my favorite designers, Mary Katrantzou, her current season was obsessed with stamps…very vibrant and very whimsical prints. She takes inspiration from everyday experiences…it’s just her own fantasy. I like people who go towards their own fantasy direction rather than trying to work for specific clientele. That’s a true artist; they may not sell, but it’s a true artist.”
Along with prints and anything delightfully capricious, Charlotte’s also a big fan of accessories. Today, she’s wearing a collection of rings, bracelets and necklaces that add a confidently clamorous edge to her outfit. Charlotte tells me that one of her favorite accesory brands is Delfina Delettrez, otherwise known as a fourth generation member of the Fendi family. “She’s only 23 or 24, but she has already created this beautiful jewelry line. She has a very surreal take on jewelry, so it’s very whimsical.”
Charlotte is also very much into the blue and white beads known as evil eyes in Middle Eastern culture and jewelry. “I’m quite obsessed. My ex-roomamate was from Morocco, and she sort of introduced me to the world of warding off evil spirtrs with evil eyes, so then it became a motif that I’m known for.”
Charlotte’s got plenty of evil eyes peppered throughout her jewelry today, probably because she’s recently come back from Istanbul, among other destinations in European. I’m curious if travels influence her style, and Charlotte tells me that they certainly do. “I like to buy odd random local designers…to pick up stuff that’s a little bit more experiemental, so when traveling I usually ask a friend, where’s the area that’s hip and cool…I tend to find random treasures from different places.”
Her travels, her family’s involvement in fashion, her own work in business and finance and her delight for oddness and Wunderkammer certainly do combine in a most pleasing way when it comes to the style of Charlotte Chen – distinct, erudite, evocative, and despite her protests, anything but awkward.