Full Circle: Chelsea Chau-Kuok Talks Style & Her Six Wedding Dresses
Chelsea Chau-Kuok is twirling in a green patterned kaftan against a backdrop of sherbet-hued clouds. Kiss by Prince is playing in the background, the sound bouncing off the studio walls. Amid the jewellery dripping from her ears, neck and wrists, I notice a thick, solid jade bangle bound tightly around her left arm.
“I never take it off,” Chau-Kuok later tells me. “I’ve worn one since childhood and have gone through a few over the years. In Chinese tradition, it’s said that jade is supposed to protect you, and when it breaks or shatters, it means it has absorbed bad energy or pain for you.”
In fact, the only time she has ever taken off her jade bracelet was during the birth of one of her and husband Justin Kuok’s two sons, one aged two and the other just six months. After the shoot, Chau-Kuok has to rush to take their two-year-old to a music class. “They’re going to think I’m crazy, walking in there with my hair done and this full face of make-up,” she quips.
I ask if the jade bracelet tradition is one she will pass on to her children. “Definitely! I mean, if I have a girl,” she says coyly with a laugh. A mother-daughter bond over fashion is something that Chau-Kuok knows well.
Style runs in the family
Reina Chau is certainly an edgier dresser, and it wouldn’t be surprising to catch her in a head-to-toe ensemble by Comme des Garçons. Her affinity for sculptural, artistic pieces could be credited to her love of the arts—an avid collector, Chau regularly attends VIP exhibition previews, as well as private dinners with artists, designers and gallerists. She’s dined with the likes of Pearl Lam, Donatella Versace and Baz Luhrmann.
“People constantly stop her on the street to ask about a piece she’s wearing,” says Chau-Kuok, a Stanford University graduate who later studied at the Gemological Institute of America in New York before establishing her own jewellery company, SW1 Projects. Today, Kuok is a dedicated full-time mother of two. “If I ever get stopped, it’s usually because I’m wearing something of hers. She is definitely trendier and more adventurous than me.”
Unfortunately, they don’t share the same shoe size—Chau-Kuok, a size 35, says it’s “rare” to find shoes that fit her size and her style—but she still has connections. “My dear friend Edmundo Castillo is the global head of product design for Stuart Weitzman and he has designed a custom pair for every big moment in my life,” she says.
The world is her playground
The mother-daughter duo are frequently seen together at exclusive events, including runway shows and cocktail parties. But Chau-Kuok’s most memorable fashion moments with her mother are their shopping trips to destinations like Tokyo, New York and Marrakech, the latter being where Chau-Kuok celebrated her marriage to Kuok. The couple hosted a lavish event for 100 guests in May 2017 where ChauKuok wore no less than six fabulous gowns.
Shopping for her wedding looks was an event in itself for her and her mother, who travelled around the world to the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and, finally, to couturier Ashi Studio in Beirut, Lebanon, where she found an embroidered coat and gown that she wore for both her Hong Kong wedding, a lavish ceremony for 700 guests at Sevva, and her Marrakech nuptials.
“As soon as I saw the dress, I knew,” says Chau-Kuok. “I’m a very quick shopper. If I see something, I immediately know whether it’s a yes or a no.”
She also wore two Oscar de la Renta gowns on her big day, a symbolic choice for Chau-Kuok, who recalls the first fashion show she attended was de la Renta’s during New York Fashion Week in 2011, when she worked in the city as an account manager for a PR firm. “It was my first Oscar gown,” she says. “To wear his designs at my wedding, it really felt like things had come full circle.”
A style that's all her own
While she can rock a couture gown like nobody’s business, Chau-Kuok humbly describes her style as “modern classic”, listing her wardrobe staples as striped T-shirts, a good pair of jeans, quality white basics and large statement earrings. “Something as simple as a good pair of earrings has the power to change your mood and the way you carry yourself,” she says. “The other night, I was at home in sweats and I just decided to put on these big costume earrings. I felt like I had transformed.”
Chau-Kuok cites her style inspirations as vintage Balenciaga, Dior and Givenchy—“I love Audrey Hepburn in classic Givenchy,” she says, drawing out the word ‘love’ for emphasis. “I also adore old glamour shots by [Richard] Avedon and Irving Penn. They had such a strong influence on my style.”
You should always dress for yourself and not for anyone else.— Chelsea Chau-Kuok
An appreciation for legendary designers aside, Chau-Kuok makes it a point to stress that style and luxury don’t necessarily go hand in hand. She recalls reading former Vanity Fair special correspondent Amy Fine Collins’ coffee table book, The International Best Dressed List: The Official Story, a retrospective of the publication’s famous (or infamous?) institution that was founded by Eleanor Lambert in 1940. That old-fashioned list, which Lambert once said was “a publicity stunt…when the fashion world was in wartime chaos”, and its strictly elitist criteria offer a stark contrast to today’s more relaxed attitude towards fashion, as individual style and tongue-in-cheek irony are increasingly celebrated.
“There was this belief that fashion could be seen as a competitive sport, which I don’t think it is,” says Chau-Kuok. “What I think is, you should always dress for yourself and not for anyone else. There are only three things that I believe will never go out of style: effortlessness, confidence and red nail polish.”
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- PhotographyAmanda Kho
- StylingRosana Lai
- HairVic Lai, Jean Ting
- Make-UpKaren Yiu, Gloomy Kwok, Kamen L
- Stylist's AssistantMira Uttamchandani, Agnes Shu