Ladies First: Crazy Rich Asians' Fashion Stylist Andrea Wong On The Importance Of Building Self-Confidence
Andrea Wong didn’t study fashion. Though she has a degree in media and communications, the start of her career came by chance when her job application to Harper’s Bazaar Malaysia’s marketing department sat on top of a rejects pile and got picked up by a fashion editor who was looking for a coordinator at the time. “I remember once the fashion director asked me who some of my favourite designers were and I said Tom Jones instead of Tom Ford,” she says, laughing at the memory. “That’s how green I was.”
Five years later, Wong managed to rise up the ranks and eventually became the publication’s fashion editor. Leaving soon after to focus on styling, she quickly carved a name for herself by dressing prominent figures for covers and speaking passionately on industry panels. “That was when I slowly began to believe in my own capabilities and taste, because I had no one to fall back on,” she says.
When Mongoose Publishing—which distributed the local Time Out and Esquire editions—wanted to open Elle Malaysia and asked Wong to launch its inaugural magazine in 2014, she leapt at the chance to bring a new editorial voice to Kuala Lumpur. “Originally the publisher just wanted me to create a female version of its male titles, but it was important to me that I kept Elle’s international DNA of talking about real issues pertaining to women’s lives.”
One such topic is the lack of self-confidence women often feel when it comes to enjoying success in their careers. Wong was guilty of it herself when Hollywood came knocking. In 2017, she got an email from producer Nina Jacobson, who was working on the film Crazy Rich Asians and needed a local stylist to dress the cast. “I thought I was being pranked,” Wong says. “I wouldn’t allow myself to believe it until I had sat down with Nina, the director Jon Chu and costume designer Mary Vogt that very evening, and started working on the film the next morning.”
As we all know, the film, which was the first Hollywood movie to feature a majority Asian cast since The Joy Luck Club, was a blockbuster hit, drawing rave reviews and spawning online articles and memes galore when it came to the cast’s fabulous wardrobes. Wong is particularly proud of successfully convincing the sceptical director to let Awkwafina’s character Goh Peik Lin be dressed in the now-iconic Stella McCartney pyjama look.
“I used to attribute my success to luck,” she says. “I thought that I only got the gig because they happened to be shooting in Malaysia and Nina conveniently found me. But later she told me she had scoured all of Asia to find the right stylist and that gave me a sense of validation. I find we really don’t give ourselves enough credit.”
Crafting the tone and message of the Crazy Rich Asians costumes came with a particular set of challenges—it was important to Wong and the team that the clothes accurately reflect what was described in Kevin Kwan’s novels, but also that they did justice to how women in Asia dress today. It was not “Asian fashion viewed through a Western lens”. Wong took into account common superstitions in relation to colour and steered clear of Asian motifs. “I didn’t want there to be any ‘oriental details’, whatever that means,” she says. “Instead, we included local Asian designers like Michael Cinco from the Philippines or Vatanika from Thailand.”
Whether as an editor or stylist, Wong learned that it’s a privilege and responsibility to have the power to choose what gets seen and to direct the audience’s gaze towards worthy causes like supporting homegrown or sustainable brands. Styling, she says, when used well, can be a powerful medium to change minds.
“When I was approached to do this interview, there was a split second where I doubted if I was worthy of being positioned alongside the other women,” she says candidly at the end of our chat. “But then I took a moment and looked objectively at my career: I can say I have worked hard to be where I am today.”
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