Her father’s a tycoon and her mother’s a star of the silver screen, but Elly Lam shines in her own right
“Perfect timing! We’re just about to order pudding,” squeals Elly Lam as she bounds over and hugs me. “Come. You must have one.” Before I can demur, the 26-year-old daughter of Peter Lam and Lynn Hsieh asks for another place to be set at the table where she is lunching with an old school friend, a date I’ve inadvertently crashed. Such easy intimacy on our meeting should come as no surprise, as my new acquaintance has been calling me “love” and “dear” on Whatsapp and pepping her messages with emoticons of hearts and flowers. The girly and uncomplicated openness that Elly projects online is clearly a genuine trait in real life.
This authenticity is no doubt a key to the Insta-babe’s online success. With upwards of 90,000 followers on Instagram, Elly’s envy-inducing feed of pictures from a well-dressed, well-travelled life means luxury brands clamour to work with her—Louis Vuitton, which dressed her for our cover shoot, being a perfect example. In real life, Elly is as immaculate and doll-like as she appears in the virtual world—and entirely focused and switched on.
Talk at the lunch table turns to the double-edged sword that is social media. Just weeks after the launch of Instagram Stories, Elly confesses she finds today’s plethora of social media platforms overwhelming. “There’s WeChat, Instagram, Snapchat and now Insta-tatler_stories… it’s too many. You find yourself sitting at lunch trying to figure out what to post on which platform. My sister asked me recently, ‘Do you think you’re having a good time when you’re so worried about Snapchatting and taking a good picture everywhere?’ And I have to admit,” confides the Insta-starlet, “there are times when I’m so worried about capturing the perfect moment that I forget to be in that moment myself.”
The puddings arrive, but a discussion about the recent furore caused by American Vogue editors’ criticism of the world of blogging distracts us from digging in. The editors had railed against “pathetic” fashion bloggers posing “in borrowed clothes.” “In some ways I understand why the editors are lashing out,” says Elly, “but everything is online now and a lot of the younger generation don’t read Vogue as much—it’s easier to scroll through Instagram and find out what’s in and what’s not. But also a lot of these bloggers are paid to promote certain products and brands, which is not good.”
Despite her significant online following, Elly does not promote particular brands on her account, nor does she consider herself a blogger. “My Instagram really is just me and what I’m doing. I appreciate being considered an online influencer, but I don’t consider it a career path, more just something fun I can do on the side.”
Just a few days before our meeting, Elly set out on the next step of her career, a job at Media Asia, the entertainment arm of her tycoon father’s property and media empire. Shadowing a senior vice-president, she will follow the production of a new movie from inception to completion, working in particular with the marketing team on product placement in the film. “It’s going to be really interesting to see all the aspects of how a movie is made,” she says.
The appointment makes her the fourth of the five Lam siblings to work for their father’s companies (Lester is executive director and CEO of Lai Sun Group, Elly’s twin, Lucas, works for the business in Mainland China and Evelyn works for the real estate arm). One wonders if there is any sibling rivalry? “We are very lucky because we have all been given opportunities to participate in different sections of the company,” says Elly, “so none of us are directly working together or stepping on each others toes.”
The baby of the family, Elly lives with her mother, Lester, Evelyn and Lucas, while her oldest sister, Emily, lives with her husband, venture capitalist Kent Ho, and their one-year-old son, Cameron. Elly looks to her Taiwanese-born mother, a former actress, as a source of inspiration. “She is the strongest person I know. My dad was always very busy when we were growing up—he’s a businessman and he has his things going on—and my mum was the one who singlehandedly brought us up. She never dated anyone after my father and her main focus in life has been the five of us."
Elly also greatly admires Emily, who is expecting another baby—“having a one-year-old and being pregnant is not easy”—and is excited to have another niece or nephew on the way. “It’s actually really fun because I’m the youngest in my family so I’m used to being spoilt by my older siblings and being taken care of,” she says. “This is the first time in my life that I’ve actually had the desire to take care of someone else and be there for someone else. It’s a new feeling.” Of her siblings, Elly is particularly close to Evelyn, who is three years her senior. “We would often have sleepovers in her bedroom—even though we have our own bedrooms—and watch zombie movies together.”
After graduating from International Christian School in Hong Kong in 2009, Elly spent two years studying at the London College of Fashion. While she found the course interesting, it cured her of any ambitions to work in the industry. “I think I mistook my love of shopping for a passion for fashion. Going to LCF made me realise that just because you love the clothes doesn’t mean you want to make them.” And although she adored London, she struggled with the “weather and gloominess.”
It turned out that Elly was much better suited to the sunnier climes of California, where she headed after London to study psychology, gaining a bachelor’s degree from Los Angeles’ Pepperdine University in 2016. “I’m for sure a Cali girl. It’s such a healthy place and it’s got such a positive vibe. The weather there makes it hard to be in a bad mood. The skies in LA are like nowhere else; every day it’s like a painting in front of you.”
After nearly five years in Los Angeles, Elly recently moved back home to be closer to family and friends. “I would love to retire there one day or perhaps have a second home up in the hills,” she says. “In LA you really get the best of both worlds. It’s a big city but it’s surrounded by amazing countryside—it’s not all glitz and glamour. There’s just so much to do and see if you put yourself out there,” she says and proceeds to list various attractions, from national parks and beaches to partying in Vegas and skiing Big Bear and Mammoth. Her breathy enthusiasm leaves no doubt that LA is where her heart lies: “That’s why people in America never leave—they have everything.”
Unlike such Americans, this Hongkonger loves to travel and has just returned from Bali, where she packed in lots of sightseeing. “Some of my Indonesian friends actually commented on my photos that I had seen more of Bali in five days than they had in their whole lives.” Asked to nominate her favourite Asian getaway destination, Elly raves about Chengdu. “My maternal grandmother is from Sichuan so I’m a huge fan of spicy food. I love it, love it, love it. The spicy food in Chengdu is just crazy. Every restaurant is good, and the more rundown, the shabbier and dirtier the restaurant, the better.”
Now that she is back home, Elly is keeping her options open. “I felt a little lost on returning to Hong Kong, as my psychology degree is not vocational without a master’s. For the moment, I’m going to focus on the film thing, but for me it’s a process of elimination. I’m just going to see what I do and don’t like.” She hopes she may be able to help reinvigorate the local film industry. “Hong Kong used to be considered the oriental Hollywood and now that I’m working for my family in the entertainment industry, I would love to be given the chance to reignite the old Hollywood charm Hong Kong once possessed.”
As we ponder the ways this might be achieved, our attention wanders back to the puddings before us. But before we attack: phones out for that all-important Insta-shot.
This article was printed in the November 2016 issue of Hong Kong Tatler