Make no mistake: Christine Chiu lives a life of extravagance. In 2019, she and her husband, plastic surgeon Gabriel Chiu, made headlines when they booked out the glitzy Beverly Hills shopping destination Two Rodeo for an over-the-top Chinese New Year party. Lychee martinis and champagne flowed alongside catering by Wolfgang Puck. Dancers, magicians, fortune tellers and martial artists entertained guests, who took home lai see envelopes from a tree filled with money.
Later that year, when the Chius’ son, Gabriel Christian Chiu III, aka “Baby G”, turned one, the family threw a party at the Cayton Children’s Museum in Santa Monica, complete with a custom-built rollercoaster, Ferris wheel, arcade, 10-course meal and a claw crane machine filled with Gucci gifts. Both events were caught on camera for Bling Empire, the reality series released on Netflix in January, which documents the wild antics of a group of wealthy Asians and Asian-Americans living in Los Angeles. The indulgent lifestyles and petty battles on display made the series a runaway hit and a much-needed source of escapism during the pandemic.
Chiu’s affinity for haute couture is well-documented on the show, and she is a regular at international fashion weeks, flying by private aircraft to Paris twice a year for shopping sprees and reportedly spending six-figure sums on pieces from Dior, Chanel and Dolce & Gabbana. “Fashion is the most exciting storyteller. Haute couture is art and I try to acquire at least one piece from each show I attend, to collect an element of fashion history,” she says from Los Angeles. Her favourite fashion week memories include eating bread pudding at the actual home of Louis Vuitton in Asnières, France, dinner on the stage of La Scala in Milan and her own private baby shower hosted by Armani.
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Crazy rich is an appropriate title to give Chiu. But crazy misunderstood would be too. The 38-year-old Taipei-born socialite and philanthropist was quickly branded the show’s villain by press and fans for her catty antics and snide remarks, particularly those towards cast-mate Anna Shay (“You’re not my competition. You’ll never be my competition,” she says on camera). However, she tries to brush off any criticism. “It always hurts to hear people speak negatively about you,” she says. “It took some time for me to stop reading the comments online and [not] feel like I wanted to defend myself from every single one of them or shout from the rooftops, ‘You have me all wrong!’ to the haters. I have had to make peace with the fact that people will have opinions about me that I cannot control.”
Though she appears gregarious and charismatic when navigating the many social occasions depicted on the show, Chiu says she’s naturally rather introverted and that her intentions are not as shallow as portrayed. “My passion for fashion may be misinterpreted as superficial or materialistic. My philanthropic efforts may also be misconstrued as social climbing,” she says. She works with a host of organisations, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Costume Council, Unicef Chinese Children’s Initiative and the Step-Up Women’s Network. Even Baby G’s decadent birthday involved a US$1 million donation to the museum to fund free admission for children from underprivileged backgrounds.
My passion for fashion may be misinterpreted as superficial or materialistic. My philanthropic efforts may also be misconstrued as social climbing.