“Lucky” Editor-in-Chief Eva Chen: The Super Cool, History-Making Sister You Wish You Had

 

She’s the chicer, cooler older sister you wish you had — one with all the ins on the best stuff, one you want to have a glass of wine with. Sure, Eva Chen’s the first Asian American editor-in-chief in the Condé Nast publishing empire and the youngest EIC at a major American fashion publication, but don’t let her trailblazing, history-making ways intimidate you. The Lucky magazine #girlboss is redefining what it means to be an editor in the 21st century and leading the charge for print to thrive in an increasingly digital world, one hashtag at a time. 

 

Eva Chen has just returned from a trip. “I took a very long, long, long vacation,” she says. “It was approximately three days.

“But it was my first time really and truly away,” she quickly adds. At a destination spa in the Poconos, Chen says she tried fly-fishing, took an upside-down yoga class, attempted to meditate (“which is the opposite of my personality, so it was 25 minutes of agony”), went wine tasting to sample local Hudson Valley and Pennsylvania vintages, and finished two books. “I know you’re not supposed to be like, I accomplished a lot on my vacation,” she says, “but I do feel like I accomplished a lot during my vacation.”

Even during a short getaway, Chen is a to-do-list-checking master. But that just may be her modus operandi, especially since her ascent to the position of editor-in-chief of Lucky magazine, Condé Nast’s publication devoted to shopping and personal style. On any given day, six floors above Times Square, Chen may be finishing up one of her more than a dozen appointments, responding to hundreds of reader emails, getting primped for a photo shoot, holding a biweekly mentoring interview with a young future editor, or sifting through hundreds of photos, trying to decide, perhaps, which photo of Dakota Fanning should be the one to grace the cover of Lucky’s September 2014 issue.

These are just a few of her duties as the top editor, a position she describes as “four simultaneous jobs.” But the post ultimately comes down to making choices on stories and photos that will connect to the fashion magazine’s readers. If her choices result in an increase in the number of subscribers and website visits, that will surely make the publisher and advertising sales people happy. And it just might please her boss, the notoriously hard-to-please Anna Wintour.

But even here, in the rarefied publishing air at 4 Times Square, headquarters for the Condé Nast empire (which includes titles like Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and Bon Appétit), there’s one person whose opinion may hold even more sway: Chen’s mother, who follows her 34-year-old daughter on Instagram. The other 200,000-plus followers of Chen’s social media musings are eager to weigh in, too, on everything from pictures of her outfits (accessorized with her signature peace signs), the beauty products she’s gone through, her famous fashion friends who stop by her office, and her shoe-bag combo for the day posted on the commute to work. Chen gets thousands of comments, and she wholeheartedly welcomes the feedback.

“I’m cultivating Lucky into a lifestyle brand,” says Chen, “and I want people to get a sense of what it’s like to be a magazine editor.”

***

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 3.59.13 PM

 

It was the summer of 2013 when Condé Nast’s Artistic Director and Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour tasked Chen with rebranding Lucky and relaunching its website. In the process, Chen not only became the youngest editor of a major U.S. fashion magazine but also the first Asian American to hold the top editorial position at a Condé Nast title. Lucky, originally modeled after Japanese shopping publications, had changed the fashion magazine formula when it debuted in December 2000, but was hit hard by the 2008 recession and in need of a boost. Chen, who started as a beauty writer at Elle magazine in 2002 and spent seven years at Teen Vogue as beauty and health director, as well as special projects editor, now works directly with Wintour on the direction of Lucky. “She is the pre-eminent magazine editor, so to learn directly from her has been a great privilege,” says Chen.

But where Vogue is aspirational, Lucky is accessible, and that’s a reflection of Chen. As part of a younger generation of technologically savvy editors and writers (she organizes the twice-a-year Lucky Fashion and Beauty Blog conferences, a.k.a. FABB, that connects everyday style bloggers to celebrities, models and stylists), Chen knows the importance of stepping into the spotlight and actively making connections both in person and online. Her Klout score, which measures a person’s online influence on a scale of 1 to 100, is more than 70 (which is generally considered celebrity level). And from 2013 to 2014, Lucky saw a 34 percent growth in its social media footprint.

With the help of the virtual world, Lucky is being talked about again, as it brings in a new demographic. Currently, the average reader of the magazine is 38 years old, but according to Condé Nast metrics posted online, users of the website, for which Chen is still trying to work out the bugs from a recent redesign, are younger and more affluent. A year into her tenure, the total circulation of Lucky is at 1.1 million, and the website gets 22 million hits a month. As of May 2014, Lucky had added 18.7 percent more pages to its publication, with a 2.1 percent gain in ad pages and 41 new advertisers, including high-end luxury retailers Fendi and Louis Vuitton.

And it’s not just the advertising. Unlike most fashion magazines where high-fashion runway photos are staples, the editorial pages of Lucky are filled with street style shots and street style-inspired spreads. Fashion and beauty bloggers contribute regularly, and there is a distinctly more multiethnic look to the faces on the pages. As soon as she took the helm at Lucky, Chen asked the casting director to find a more diverse selection of models, and the change was evident from the start. Chen’s debut issue, September 2013, alone featured the Asian faces of fashion director Anne Keane, photographer Phil Oh, blogger Esther Quek, TV host Alexa Chung, magazine editor Caroline Issa, and models Pan Yan, Bonnie Chen, Tao Okamoto, Chanel Iman and Liu Wen. Chen is especially proud of the recent May issue, which features a particularly cool looking Indian model, Natasha Ramachandran, in a summer beauty spread called “A Look of One’s Own.”

“There are so many stylish women on social media that will redefine what beauty is,” says Chen, citing YouTube makeup sensation Michelle Phan and super bloggers like Aimee Song. “I hope that has a trickle-down effect. I’m really inspired by what they’re doing.”

Chen herself should be added to that list. When she posts a picture on Instagram previewing this cover story for Audrey and soliciting questions, she gets more than 600 likes within 10 minutes. Her followers want to know everything from where she got her adorable Hello Kitty iPhone case to how good her Chinese is. One follower writes, “Thank you so much for being so relatable — you’re a role model, and sometimes it makes me tear up when I think about you and other Asian American creatives … being visible for the little Asian American kids right now. They have you all to look up to, and that’s really something.”

“I always wanted a sister,” says Chen, whose only sibling is an older brother. “I think that’s why I always gravitated towards fashion and media, so I can be the older sister and dispense the advice.”

***

 

eva chen

 

Fashion and journalism weren’t always in the cards for Chen, however. Growing up in New York’s Greenwich Village with a Taiwanese mother and a Shanghainese father, Chen was an English and creative writing major on a pre-med track at Johns Hopkins University when she decided to change directions and pursue journalism. Her parents — whose immigrant story is fairly typical, with her father working at a restaurant in Chinatown before starting his own business, “making everything happen so that my brother and I could go to the best schools we had available to us” — were shocked and confused, but not necessarily disappointed.

“The lack of perceived stability [in the media world] can be intimidating,” says the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism alum. “My parents are very supportive because they truly want me to be happy. I think it helps I don’t ask them for money for groceries,” she laughs.

Despite having gone to an Upper East Side all-girls school with few Asian classmates, Chen has always embraced her Asian-ness, having served as president of the Asian American Association and then as vice president of the Chinese Student Association in college. “I’m always the first to say I’m Chinese American, first-generation American, child of immigrants, and my parents made everything possible for me,” she says. Her family speaks “Chinglish” at their regular get-togethers, where they still eat Chinese food “like almost every night.” And even someone in Chen’s position is not immune to your typical immigrant parent’s, shall we say, reticence to compliment.

“My parents’ generation of Asian parents are not the kind of people to say they’re so proud, or ‘good for you,’ or ‘congratulations.’” Chen adds, good-naturedly, “My mom very kindly sends me a critique of the magazine every single month. Yeah, she does that. It’s very Asian. Which is at once comedic and yet also still hair-tearing-out-y.”

That being said, Chen admits that if a young woman comes up to them at a restaurant and starts gushing, her parents “find it kind of bewildering, but I think secretly gratifying, even though I don’t think they would ever tell me that to my face.”

One way her parents are atypical is in their silence about her having kids with her British husband, Tom Bannister, whom she met while studying abroad at Oxford her senior year. “They see how I’m putting literally every fiber of my being into this position,” she says. “I’ve been at this magazine for nine months, which is about the time it takes to give birth to child, and I think they know how tunnel vision I’ve been about that.”

Being Asian has “always been a part of who I am,” says Chen. “I think in the fashion and media industry today, there are so many people pretending to be something they’re not — personality-wise, image-wise, lifestyle-wise. And for me, I am who I am. I’ve never really had a reason to question that. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve never had to ask myself, ‘Did I not get this because I’m Asian?’”

Recognizing the tie to the growing Chinese market abroad, Chen sees fashion as being quicker to embrace the Asian face, not just the designers but in the modeling industry as well. She cites Liu Wen, whom she considers a friend, and Korean American Soo Joo Park, whose blond locks kicked off a trend. “But there are still not enough,” she says, adding, “The fact I can name every Asian working in fashion — is that a good thing or bad thing? I don’t know, but it’s a fact.”

14-0510_EDU_Multicultural_Parent_Banner_HS_AudreyMag_BD1

But if fashion still has a ways to go, Hollywood, in Chen’s mind, is woefully in the dark ages. Though she calls herself “a very even-keeled person,” she speaks passionately when the conversation turns to the lack of Asian faces in Hollywood. “You know that classic icebreaker question: Who would play you in a movie? And I’m always like, ‘Well, I don’t know, maybe Morgan Freeman, maybe Melissa McCarthy.’ Because there aren’t enough Asians.

“It makes me really angry,” she continues. “I don’t understand how it’s still OK for certain shows to have humor that’s directed against Asians that would not be OK for many other ethnicities.” She mentions one sitcom with an unflattering Asian male character (though she admits she hasn’t watched in a few years, she says, “I watched that show once and I had to turn it off … I was horrified”), as well as a tech industry-based series that offends her “feminist streak” by its lack of female representation. “There’s one woman; she has a secretarial role,” she says. “That kind of thing I find outrageous, especially because I know so many strong, smart women in tech who are just changing the world.”

Chen hopes that Hollywood will one day catch up to other industries, like hers, that have more Asian Americans in positions of power. She can’t wait to sit down someday with Janice Min, the former editor-in-chief of Us Weekly who is now running The Hollywood Reporter. Chen has also recently chatted over lunch with Joyce Chang, the newly minted editor-in-chief for Self magazine.

Asian American women specifically, says Chen, start with a handicap of appearing quiet and passive. “It took me 30 years to get comfortable with myself. You have to work harder to be heard. Standing up for yourself is the hardest thing to do.”

***

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 3.59.47 PM

 

When Chen first landed the coveted EIC title, it was the minority designers who were among the first to reach out to her. Of course, she knows them on a first-name basis: Jason (Wu), Phillip (Lim), Carol and Humberto (Lim and Leon, respectively, of Kenzo and Opening Ceremony). And on the occasion of her Audrey photo shoot — which marks the first time she’s gracing the cover of a magazine — she called in only Asian American designers from the Lucky closet.

As she’s getting her hair and makeup done for the shoot, dressed in a chic sweater and Topshop heeled loafers that she’s already shown to her Instagram followers on the way to work, she is multitasking, a mock layout of the next issue taped on the adjacent wall. And who could blame her? In addition to editing the monthly magazine on a day-to-day basis, Chen is responsible for coming up with new ideas for the brand. (Condé Nast just announced a spin-off e-commerce platform, with Chen as its chief creative officer.) And yet she insists on nine hours of shut-eye a night, something she has previously called her secret to staying sane.

During a time when the magazine industry is in flux and struggling to stay relevant in a digitally fragmented world, Chen remains, as always, “glass half-full.” With each post and hashtag, she’s bridging the gap between consumer generations and breaking down barriers.

“For me, it’s been about bringing a fresh perspective,” says Chen. “Lucky’s a magazine about shopping, but it’s also a magazine about personal style. I think that’s the elusive thing that everyone’s trying to figure out right now.

“And we don’t talk down to you,” she adds. “The voice that Lucky pioneered was this friendly, accessible, we’re-your-best-friend voice. If you see us in real life, we’d invite you to sit down with us and have a glass of wine or go shopping with us.”

Though Chen admits she may be losing readers of a certain demographic — she cites a letter from a 52-year-old first-time grandmother who says she no longer identifies with the content — for every one letter like that, Chen gets three letters from 20-somethings who are discovering the magazine for the first time or former subscribers who are rediscovering it. “Every letter that I get like that — I’m not gonna lie — brings a tear to my eye and makes me so, so, so happy,” she says.

Chen still remembers being a 21-year-old intern at Harper’s Bazaar, walking through Times Square, with its tourists buzzing and giant billboards flashing, and passing by what was then a newly built Condé Nast Building, with aspirations of being part of the story- telling going on inside.

Thirteen years later, ensconced on its sixth floor, Chen looks like a pro, seamlessly changing from one outfit to the next for her photo shoot. But she retains the spirit of that 21-year-old intern, as she acknowledges that she’s still learning on the job. “I feel very grateful to be even in this position,” says Chen. “My entire career has been a great risk and a great adventure.”

 

This story appeared in Audrey‘s Fall 2014 issue — get it here.

Story by Ko Im, with contributions by Anna M. Park and Ada Tseng.

Photos by Conan Thai.

Makeup by Brian Duprey, hair by Chris Lospalluto.

 

 

Sandra Oh for Audrey Magazine Summer 2014 (Cover Story + Photos)

Story by Michelle Woo.
Photos by Lever Rukhin.

After nearly a decade of breathing life, love and humanity into Grey’s Anatomy’s beloved Dr. Cristina Yang, Sandra Oh is looking in a new direction. The woman whose eyes — and every emotion behind them — changed the way we look at Asian women on the screen, is now turning her attention to the next generation.

It’s nearly impossible to sit at a table with Sandra Oh inside a Korean café in Los Angeles and not study her face. That face. The one that, throughout her 10-season run as hyper-driven surgeon Cristina Yang on ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, has said so much with every subtle movement — a crinkle in her forehead, the flutter of her eyelids, the quiver of her chin. The face that made fans gasp for air when she was abandoned at the altar, grin in satisfaction every time she fired off one of her sassy one-liners (“I am laughing, just not externally”), and loyally watch her navigate years of twists and turns, from an icicle stabbing to a plane crash to PTSD.

Just where does that expressiveness come from?

“That’s a really good question because I have no idea,” Oh tells me, touching her cup of latte with the foam shaped into a heart. “You’re not conscious of it, like you’re not conscious of how you’re looking at me: your head is slightly tilted, your eyebrows are slightly up, your eyes are open and your mouth is soft. You’re not conscious of any of that.” She does say that people, particularly men she’s dated and her mother, have often pointed out her inability to mask her emotions. “If I’m angry inside of me at a three, it comes across as a 10.”

We end up talking a lot about faces, a topic the actress has passionate feelings about. Wearing a fitted navy blazer, her hair a plump array of ringlets (she has naturally wavy hair), Oh says she once read a magazine article about the rise of plastic surgery in Korea influenced by K-pop stars, and it still upsets her. “I was taking a shower and just thinking about that,” she says, leaning in intently as she speaks. “It’s a very dysfunctional thing. Korean women don’t even know what they look like. Before even finding their own identity, they change it. I find that so … antihuman.”

At 42, Oh wants to help empower young men and women, particularly those discouraged by the lack of faces like theirs in movies and on television. Having just hung up her white coat for the final time on Grey’s, a show she’s dedicated nearly a quarter of her life to, winning a Golden Globe and five Emmy nominations for her role, she ponders where to go from here. She’s going to act, no doubt — she’s in the upcoming comedy Tammy with Melissa McCarthy, which hits theaters on July 2, and she’s starring in a play in Chicago this summer called Death and the Maiden.

But she’s also looking to do more. “You get to a point in your life when you realize you can do things in a more concrete way,” says Oh, who comes across as soulful and introspective. She wants to be part of a shift that moves society forward in its representation of people of color, which involves seeing more Asian American actors propelled from clichéd sidekicks to rich and meaningful characters. Pausing for a moment, she tries to think back to when Asian American women first started taking on television parts that historically weren’t available to them.

“If you go back to, I dunno, 10 years ago, Lucy Liu was on, ummm, what’s that show?” Oh asks.

Ally McBeal,” I reply.

“Yeah, she was on Ally McBeal, and … who else was there?”

“There was … Margaret Cho.”

“Yeah, well, Margaret had her show, like, 20 years ago,” Oh says. “So we’re tapped into this industry and those are the only two people we can think of? That’s really, really sad. I know that we have more than a handful that we can point to now, and it’s really about bumping up those numbers, you know?”

The issue is one that hits her deeply. Oh has an email that she saved from her producer, who wrote to tell Oh something her daughter had randomly said at dinnertime. The producer’s daughter is 10 and adopted from China.

She pulls out her iPhone and looks for the message. “Here, I’ll read it,” she begins. “She said, ‘I used to think I was kind of ugly because I had squinty eyes, and then I met Sandra and she has squinty eyes and is beautiful, and now I don’t think I’m ugly.’” Oh puts down her phone and takes a slow breath. “When I read that, I burst into tears because I felt like that when I was 10, and if someone as beautiful and as full of life as she is can feel that way, then how many other 10-year-old girls feel that way?”

She shakes her head. “I just keep thinking, how can I transform this?”

Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 4.37.13 PM Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 4.37.36 PM

THE LACK OF DIVERSITY in the Hollywood landscape is part of the reason that Oh feels “so lucky, sooooo lucky” to have been able to play the nuanced, emotionally complex role of Cristina Yang. Part of the original crop of surgical interns at Seattle Grace Hospital when the show premiered in 2005, Cristina became what Slate television critic Willa Paskin proclaimed “one of TV’s most original and influential characters.” She was quick-witted, sarcastic, competitive, brutally honest and unyieldingly loyal — her friendship with main character Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) was a pillar of the show.

Prior to filming the season finale (which aired after press time), Oh felt like she was getting off a “fast-moving train,” and the fact that she would never scrub in again hadn’t fully hit her. She did, however, find a moment to plot out which items she would steal from the set. “I took a rug from Cristina and Owen’s [Kevin McKidd] apartment that we stood on for I dunno how many years,” she confesses. “And you know, I’ll probably take my stethoscope.” McKidd, who plays Cristina’s on-again-off-again love, says he’s going to miss the marathon workdays he spends with Oh, who introduced him to the practice of meditation and would play with his kids whenever they visited the set. “With most actors, when you talk to them, they’ll nod while looking on,” says McKidd. “When you talk to Sandra, she’s engaged and really listens and there’s no bullsh-t. She’s a deep-thinking, compassionate human being.”

As for why she’s leaving Grey’s, Oh says, “I feel like I’ve completed my job. Working with the writers, we’ve unearthed every stone.” While she says it’s too early to really see the ripple effects from a primetime television show where almost half the cast are men and women of color, Oh believes she was part of something monumental. “I just haven’t felt that there’s been another show that has brought so much light to a different type of casting as ours did,” she says. “It’s the magic of time. It was the right time in society, in the culture. It was the right grouping of people.”

Beyond race, the series was also gutsy in other ways. A couple seasons back, Cristina had an abortion. A child simply would have shattered her career, the one by which she defined herself. “There was no fanfare about it,” says Oh. “That’s how far we have come as women. My character was making that decision based on what was right for her as opposed to a medical emergency or her being attacked or reasons that would otherwise have been more palatable.” She points to the fact that Cristina had also gotten pregnant early on in the show, in 2005, but before she could have an abortion, she lost the baby. Over the past decade, she says, there’s been “a shift.”

“I really tried to create a character who followed herself,” Oh says. “[Grey’s creator] Shonda Rhimes, the writers and I were very interested in creating the kind of character who is not bound by a husband, not bound by a family, and is only really committed to herself and who she is in the world.”

How she became that character — and how she becomes any character she plays — is a calculated process in itself. “You can see Sandra’s dedication in the look of her scripts,” says costar Chandra Wilson, who plays no-nonsense surgeon Miranda Bailey. “They are completely marked up with highlights and colored tabs and notes that are full of intention. It doesn’t matter the size of a scene — she wants to be honest every single moment.”

Oh’s supreme focus revealed itself early on in her career. Her big break came when, at age 19, she beat out more than 1,000 young women for the title role in The Diary of Evelyn Lau, Canada’s made-for-television film about a tortured poet who flees her disapproving parents for a life on the streets. At her audition, she asked the producer and director for a moment to focus. Then she laid on the floor for five minutes. “I love that girl,” Oh says with a laugh, reflecting on her younger self. “She didn’t know you’re not supposed to do breathing exercises in the middle of a f-cking audition. She only knew to follow her own instinct.”

Screen Shot 2014-05-28 at 4.38.13 PM

The actress says she gets her audacity from her mom and dad — a former research scientist and businessman, respectively — two people who, as she describes it, “freakin’ left Korea in the mid-’60s and just changed their lives.” Oh adds, “The insanity and challenge of my parents’ generation going through occupation, living through occupation, living through the second World War, living through the Korean War, then coming out of the Korean War and then in their mid-20s, coming to America — that to me is fearlessness. It’s like, hey, I’m gonna go to some American school and not know the language and then get a job. I mean, who does that? Immigrants do that.”

Oh gets philosophical as she ponders what drives success. “There are so many articles and books and studies about this generation not being challenged, and my belief is that if you’re challenged, you find out who you are much quicker,” she says. “Privilege is such a trapping because it’s a longer road to ever finding out who you really are. You have to be able to say no to a safe place.”

For Oh, who grew up in a suburb of Ontario, Canada, that meant pursuing acting in spite of her parents’ objections, trusting that they would still love her and ultimately understand her. A self-described “extremely hyperactive, hyper-sensitive kid,” Oh began performing when she was 10, playing the Wizard of Woe in a musical operetta called The Canada Goose. She trained in ballet, then studied drama at the National Theatre School in Montreal and went on to star in a London, Ontario, stage production of David Mamet’s Oleanna. “I just lucked out,” Oh says of her path. “I lucked out with the family I had. I lucked out with where I grew up. I lucked out in a lot of ways where, in my early years, I didn’t encounter anything that crushed me.”

More than luck, though, Oh’s evolution is the result of careful decision-making, beginning with the characters she chooses to play. Those have ranged from the dual-life-living artist Jade in the film Double Happiness to the inscrutable personal assistant Rita Wu on the HBO comedy Arli$$ to the asskicking wine seller Stephanie in the Academy Award winning indie megahit Sideways. Oh says she made a commitment to herself early on that she wouldn’t take on stereotypical, throwaway roles. “There are certain bars that you strive for, that you set for yourself, and then hopefully you’ll achieve that bar and then you’ll get another bar,” she says. “So at one point, that was a bar. I said, no more ‘prostitute to the left.’”

Then she chuckles and adds, “But one of the prostitutes that I’ve played — I haven’t played that many — was in this wonderful film called Waking the Dead that Keith Gordon directed. I played the Korean prostitute, and I didn’t want to go in on it, but then I decided, well, someone’s going to take this part and it should be me. It turned out to be a really, really positive experience. Keith was a wonderful director, and it became much more than a cursory part. I think I had no dialogue, but my goal was that if the camera was ever on my face, people would think, ‘What’s going on with that character?’ It
was about her inner life.”

When asked if it frustrates her when other Asian American actors take on token roles, she says with zero hesitation: “Never. Never ever, ever. Ever.

“It is hard out there,” she explains. “Doing what we do as actors is crushing every day. If anything, I search for the magic that they are bringing. Because they better bring it. Every actor has a choice, an opportunity to transform something. If you enter into a situation where there’s no room for transformation and you feel comfortable playing something that’s demeaning, then that’s on you. But there’s a whole range of what is right for you as an artist. Let’s say this character is a completely demeaning character and that demeaning character is essential to the story — I’d wanna play that.”

Oh believes the issue of responsibility as an actor of color is “very complex.” She says, “I don’t think you can rule out responsibility. If you so choose to take it, it’s there. But I also feel as much, if not more, responsibility to who I am as an artist. The next step for me is to try to figure out that balance. Having said that, one serves the other. If you are true to yourself as an artist, you will do good work. If you do good work, if you do truthful work, you will represent a culture well because you will be seen, hopefully, as an artist that’s worthwhile and someone who we want to see telling our stories.”

One of the stories Oh will be telling post-Grey’s is that of Paulina, a former political prisoner who encounters the man she believes raped and tortured her 15 years earlier, in the award-winning play Death and the Maiden at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater starting June 13. Director Chay Yew, one of the first people Oh met when she moved to Los Angeles, calls the actress “a shining bright light. She is able to fiercely love and embrace all the characters she embodies, despite their flaws, shortcomings or darkness. In turn, we find ourselves in every character she portrays.”

To center herself, Oh meditates every day in her Los Angeles home — she’s on the board of a nonprofit meditation group called InsightLA. Her best days, she says, always involve “family and friends and some sort of creative work.” She keeps her personal life private and doesn’t consider herself a celebrity (“I detest that word,” she says). And now with Grey’s behind her, she’s looking to do something — something more.

When Barack Obama was elected president, Oh says it was a “game-changer,” explaining, “I could feel the rumbling inside of myself because I somehow felt I was part of that change.” Now, more than ever, she wants to encourage Asian Americans to be bold. She’s involved in community outreach and says she’s open to starting a dialogue on race, in Hollywood and beyond. “I’m trying to teach Asian American girls that they are perfect the way they are and all they need to do is discover themselves,” she says.

If they ever need some inspiration, they can simply look at her face.

 

This story was originally published in our Summer 2014 issue. Get your copy here. 

 

 

Stylist: Anita Patrickson for The Wall Group
Makeup: Georgie Eisdell for The Wall Group
Hair: Christine Symonds for The Wall Group
Location The Legendary Park Plaza Hotel

Spring 2014 Cover Story featuring Singer-Songwriter YUNA

Story by Ada Tseng. 

Singer-songwriter Yuna Zarai (known as Yuna) has a quick and easy remedy for writer’s block: “I just call up my best friends and ask, ‘Hey, do you have any drama that I can write about?’ Usually, they’re like, ‘Sure!’ And then I’ll show them [the resulting song] as a gift.” She laughs. “My friends are so easy.”

Many of her self-penned songs are about relationships — from happy-in-love songs (“Lullabies,” “Favourite Thing”) to heartbreak (“Mountains,” “I Want You Back”) to a perfectly satisfactory fling you know won’t last (“Lovely Intermission”). “Decorate,” a song from her first international EP in 2010, about missing a recently departed lover so much that you keep your home decorated with objects that the person likes just in case he or she comes back, is another example of a track inspired by one of her male friends. “It’s such a sad song, and a lot of people think I went through that,” she says. “[But] I’m really close to my best friends, so if they feel sad, I feel sad, too. It’s emotionally draining, but I get affected immediately.”

The 27-year-old grew up in Malaysia, making a name for herself in her home country before relocating to Los Angeles a few years ago. Her self-titled international album Yuna, released in 2012, had a famous supporter in Pharrell Williams, who produced her hit single “Live Your Life” and often mentioned her name when interviewers would ask him about new artists to follow. In addition to her music, Yuna is a fashion trendsetter as well. She runs her own online store November Culture, and earlier this year, she launched her own clothing line 14NOV, which features more conservative clothing such as headscarves, turtleneck maxi-dresses and oversized cardigans. “There are a lot of girls, especially in Los Angeles, that want to dress up sexy and fabulous,” she says, “but there are also a bunch of girls like me that would rather cover up!”

The Malaysian singer has gotten a lot of questions about her Muslim heritage since her debut in the United States, a country not accustomed to seeing a pretty girl in a turban singing and strumming her guitar onstage, but Yuna tends to downplay any potential politics in favor of talking about her music. In some ways, despite her uniqueness (the eye-poppingly beautiful fashion plate would stand out in a crowd even if she weren’t the star of the show), she comes across as your typical girl-crush. Dressed in a shimmery black-gold headscarf with gold statement necklaces and a long, black pleated skirt (“I’m really into black and gold right now,” she says), she was charismatic performing at a sold-out Bootleg Theater show in Los Angeles last December, for an audience that happened to include her own parents who had flown out from Malaysia to see her.

Yuna started creating music on the piano when she was 14, but songwriting remained a mystery to her until she picked up the guitar at 19. As soon as she learned how to play three chords, she started making up songs for her friends, teasing them about liking boys or not being over their exes.

Yuna essentially learned English through music. “At first, it was just me re-creating songs I already knew,” she says. (Her English is now fluent, with only a hint of Malay accent.) Inspired by many American female singer-songwriters, including Fiona Apple and Lauryn Hill, as well as Malaysian artists like Ning Baizura and Sheila Majid, Yuna says she feels more comfortable writing lyrics in English, where you can be more conversational. “Malay is such a beautiful language that when you write songs in Malay, it has to be poetic.” She’s only written seven Malay songs — one per year she’s been in the business, she jokes.

“Deeper Conversation” was the first song she wrote that garnered public attention. In her last term studying law at university, she started a MySpace page for her music. Soon enough, she started getting requests to perform at jazz bars in Kuala Lumpur, the radio began playing her songs, and she was making a name for herself in the Malaysian independent music scene.

Her father, who worked in law but loved playing the guitar, was especially supportive, as he was the one who used to take his daughter to record stores when she was younger. “He said, ‘Only once in a while is there someone like you who can write music, so you have to pursue it,’” Yuna remembers.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Carlo Fox and Ben Willis from the indie record label and management company Indie-Pop Music had stumbled upon Yuna online. At the time, MySpace had an independent music chart, and Yuna’s Malay music was in the Top 10. If only she sang in English, they thought. When they found she did, they became obsessed with finding her.

Yuna admits she was a little suspicious of these American strangers who wanted to meet her. When she didn’t respond, Willis went on Facebook and started friend-requesting as many of her followers as he could (at the time, she had about 300,000; now, she has almost 2 million).

“She probably thought I was an Internet stalker,” says Willis. “But literally, the first person to hit me back happened to be her mom, who told her, ‘Just get on the phone with this guy. He sounds really nice!’”

“I probably didn’t respond until six months later,” says Yuna. “I was busy, and I didn’t have the courage to think about going to America. But in the end, because I had all this English music that never made it in Malaysia, I knew that I couldn’t discover my own true strength until I gave it a try.”

“I had never been to Malaysia,” says Willis, who ended up flying over by himself to meet Yuna. “But when I got there, she and her cousin picked me up, and she gave me the key to my hotel. She said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you when you’re out here.’ And I was like, ‘Wait, what? I’m the one who’s trying to sign you.’ But I hung out with her, her bandmates and her family members for three days. We really clicked. I said, ‘Look, I want to help bring your music to rest of world,’ and the rest is history.”

Last October, Yuna released her second album, Nocturnal, on the Verve Records label. This work allowed her to experiment further in creating her signature sound — pop with hints of traditional Malay music. “Falling” uses an African thumb piano called the kalimba to make a gamelan sound, heard in a lot of Southeast Asian music. “Mountains” was inspired by what Yuna calls “a Borneo vibe,” whereas “I Wanna Go” makes use of the kompang, a Malay tambourine.

But her hit single “Rescue,” inspired by the Malay music form dikir barat, might be the one song that you can’t get out of your head. A women empowerment ballad inspired by her girlfriends, as well as influential women she had just met at a United Nations event, the chorus is about how even when things in life get a little difficult, the girl’s got light in her face / She don’t need no rescuing, she’s OK.

In 2012, Yuna was recognized with a National Youth Icon Award, awarded by the prime minister of Malaysia for her exceptional achievements in arts. But nowadays, it’s not just Malaysian fans that gush about her influence anymore.

“Once the rest of the world feels the way we feel about her, she’s going to be a game-changer,” says Willis. “And not just from the musical perspective. Whenever she’s ready, I think she’s a massive cultural figure who’s been put here to do important things.”

Want more Yuna? CLICK HERE to hear her alluring, can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head music. 

Cover-12/06_Test

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 3.39.05 PM

 

This story was originally published in our Spring 2014 issue. Get your copy here

Fall ’13 Fashion Extra | Chatting with Stylist Sima Kumar about Kristin Kreuk’s Cover Shoot

BUY THE FALL ’13 ISSUE WITH KRISTIN HERE!

Sima Kumar, on why it’s fun to dress Kristin: We’re both yoga junkies, and that’s part of what makes her fun to dress. She has an organic sense of her body, so she can carry off so many different looks and really be a chameleon.

When she was just about to turn 30, we talked about how interesting it’d be to change up the proportions of her style. She’s so fit and thin, so it’s easy to put her in tight clothes, especially since she comes out of the CW and is so pretty. But people have noticed that I’ve started draping her in looser things with different proportions in a way that’s more interesting and brave.

I always look at [fashion] as an opportunity for other people to see [Kristin] in a way that’s different than the way she’s marketed for her shows. You get so stereotyped when you’re on a series, [for example,] as the girl who’s always crying or heartbroken, so it’s just another opportunity for us to shake it up. It’s a playful way to express parts of her that the public doesn’t usually get to see. And she likes the intellectual process I go through styling, in order to try and create a story.

 

Kristin Kreuk by Dexter Quinto3

Sima Kumar: I’ve styled so many musicians, so this look was inspired by rock ‘n roll. There’s the furry vest with long slip dress underneath, which has kind of an off-duty model/rock star girlfriend vibe. I think she pulled it off really well.

 

Kristin Kreuk by Dexter Quinto4

Sima Kumar: This is more of a fun, bohemian look. I know she’d never wear this in real life, but I pulled it for the shoot because it photographs beautifully. We’re mixing prints, and this outfit shows her love of travel and other cultures.

 

Kristin Kreuk by Dexter Quinto2

Sima Kumar: This look is inspired by Devo. [laughs] It’s almost like one of those ’80s videos.

 

Kristin Kreuk by Dexter Quinto1

Sima Kumar: This look was more about the different textures: the jeans are metallic, the sweater is cashmere, and the blue necklace is handmade by an amazing designer, Elke Hechler. They’re made of Austrian hand-blown glass beads that are woven and knit together.. It’s a very basic outfit — a comfy sweater, jeans, and necklace — but it shows her bumpy side, her soft side, and her shiny side. The multiple layers of her personality.

 

Kristin Kreuk by Dexter Quinto5

Sima Kumar: This was a hot outfit; she had ankle boots, leather shorts, a T-shirt, and a chain nail vest that’s designed by Alana K’akia. So this look is about how we’re always protecting ourselves. Our armor is very complex and intricate, but she’s exposing it. And the dog belongs to Dexter [Quinto, the photographer]!

 

For Sima’s blog post about what it takes to put together a shoot, check out New Culture Revolution.

 

 

 

Fifty Shades of Beauty: Kristin Kreuk of “Beauty and the Beast”

Actress Kristin Kreuk may not have always been comfortable playing the role of starlet, but the Chinese-Dutch Canadian star of The CW’s Beauty and the Beast is finally embracing all sides of herself: leading lady, producer, adventurer, blogger and, yes, even a bit of a fashion plate.

BUY OUR FALL 2013 ISSUE WITH KRISTIN KREUK HERE.

 

KRISTIN KREUK has been in the spotlight for more than a decade, from the time audiences fell for her as Superman’s girl-next-door crush Lana Lang in the popular TV series Smallville to present-day 2013, as star of The CW’s Beauty and the Beast, which is about to start its second season in October. Though she’s become a natural at walking red carpets and posing for photo shoots, it took her a long time to embrace fashion as a vehicle for self-expression.

Sima Kumar, Kreuk’s longtime friend and stylist who acted as the creative director for this issue’s cover spread, remembers meeting Kreuk for the first time in 2002 when she was hired to style a photo shoot for Parade magazine. “I didn’t know who she was, so I was like, ‘Who is this little girl?’” says Kumar. “She was wearing cargo pants, desert boots and a backpack.”

Prior to acting in the Canadian TV productions Edgemont and Snow White, which she did right before landing Smallville, Kreuk was a bookish high school student who competed at the national level in gymnastics. “I was kind of a righteous child,” remembers Kreuk. “I was really anti-shallowness, and in my limited view, I perceived putting effort and caring about what I looked like to be something that was somehow wrong.”

“She comes from a family that didn’t feed into how beautiful she is, and she was taught that your currency isn’t in your looks,” explains Kumar. “So when Kristin first started acting, and there was a need for her to look a certain way, I don’t think she even understood it. It seemed silly and stupid to her, especially as a teenager incubated in the world of a TV set. You understand why you’re getting dressed up to play a character, but it doesn’t translate to why you have to look a certain way when you go out in public.”

It didn’t help that much of her commercial appeal at the time depended on her being the object of desire. “That was definitely something I was also pissed about,” Kreuk says, laughing. “I was like, ‘I don’t want to be seen this way. I want to be seen as a real person. So I’m going to wear the baggiest clothes ever!’”

It took an eye-opening hiking trip to Nepal, where she found herself really sick but surrounded by joyful children, for her to realize she was vehemently resisting something she actually loved.

“I literally got out of the Himalayas and was like, ‘I’m going to put on some freakin’ makeup, earrings and a nice shawl,’” says Kreuk. “‘What am I so afraid of? I love beautiful things, gorgeous textiles, colors and craftsmanship. I want to look good and feel good.’”

“She’s very defiant,” says Kumar. “If you tell her she can’t do something, she’ll say, ‘I’m doing it!’ And she does get stared at a lot, so I think she didn’t want to bring attention to herself. But once she worked through her issues and became more comfortable in her own skin, she realized that the way that you present yourself in an aesthetic sense can actually be a very deep representation of your inner beauty.”

As a biracial Asian actress, Kreuk has had a unique career in some ways, because her mixed ethnic background — her father is Dutch Canadian, her mother is a Chinese Canadian born in Indonesia — has often been a strength rather than a limitation.

“I don’t even know if [the casting director] knew I was part Asian when I went out for Smallville,” says Kreuk. “I don’t know what it is. It might just be the way that my mix turned out. I’m definitely not white, but I can bleed across many different categories, and that’s been beneficial to me in many ways.”

Though she doubts she’d be pursued for Old English roles, she can play characters for which ethnicity is not a defining factor — Lana Lang, Hannah in Chuck, Heather Thompson in Ecstasy, Maria Lucas in Vampire, even Snow White — as well as characters that are specifically Asian, like Edgemont’s Laurel Yeung and Street Fighter’s Chun-li (though she’s quick to point out that not everyone thought she was Chinese enough, nor muscular enough, for that role).

Just the fact that she was asked to put on her best Indian accent and mannerisms to portray a displaced Muslim woman (“Yes, if you go to the north of Pakistan, people do look like me, but not many people know this,” she says), resulting in her landing the acting role that she’s most proud of to date, speaks volumes. During a time when American fans’ investment in her was mostly filtered through the lens of Lana’s relationship with Clark Kent, the 2007 Canadian film Partition allowed Kreuk to be a part of a sweeping 1947 love story amidst the partition of British India that resulted in violent political and religious strife.

In recent years, Kreuk has amassed enough clout in Hollywood that both Chun-li and her current role as Catherine Chandler in Beauty and the Beast were specifically written as biracial Asian in order to accommodate her casting. With Beauty and the Beast, she returns to the world of mythology. Loosely inspired by the 1987 series of the same name, Catherine is the “Beauty,” a NYPD detective who, as a teenager, saw her mother murdered, and Vincent Keller (played by Jay Ryan) is the “Beast,” a former soldier who, as part of a top secret experiment gone awry, was injected with a genetic-mutating serum that causes him to have dangerous strength when provoked. This past May’s cliffhanger ended with one of them captured in a helicopter and the other looking up to the sky in despair.

“Last season, we established their love for each other, that they’d essentially do anything for each other,” says Kreuk. “Now you have to test it. This season, we’re going to see the toll that it takes on them.”

Though she’s proud of the show, it’s important to Kreuk that she not be confined by The CW box. Her main goal is to eventually become a creative producer. An actress who’s been reciting other people’s words for a decade, Kreuk wants to have a hand in telling stories of her own. In 2009, she cofounded the production company Parvati Creative Inc., which focuses on human-centric films that feature women both in front of and behind the camera. Supporting women’s voices is an issue she’s passionate about, and she cites female executive producers Sherri Cooper and Jennifer Levin as one of the main reasons she was excited to sign on for Beauty and the Beast.

In the meantime, she continues to dabble with the unexpected, whether it’s accumulating more international travels (her annual “Wild Women’s Adventure” trip with her three girlfriends has taken them everywhere from Argentina to Ecuador, from Italy to Syria and Turkey, and, this summer, Mongolia), writing personal stories on her new blog called New Culture Revolution (which she and Kumar just started in May while they were basking in Kauai sunshine eating papaya), taking more risks with her off-camera fashion choices (from her “rock-star girlfriend” furry vest look in this spread to showcase her wild side, to her bespectacled 1970s Charlotte Rampling look at Comic-Con 2013 to display her nerdier side), or — Kumar’s personal favorite — throwing out a politically incorrect joke that’s just enough to shock everyone who might think they’ve got her pinned down.

“She’s almost like a little jack-in-the-box,” says Kumar. “People have an idea of her being so prim and proper and innocent, and once in a while, she’ll pop up and be like, ‘I’m not like that!’ If you’re around for it when it happens, it’s jaw-on-the-ground funny.”

Want more Kristin? Check out photos from our cover shoot and behind-the-scenes video here.

 

story Ada Tseng
photos Dexter Quinto, dexterquinto.com
stylist Sima Kumar
makeup & hair Eman
Shot at Kaizen Studios in Toronto, Canada, studiokaizen.com.

Summer ’13 Cover Story: Rinko Kikuchi of Pacific Rim

MAD FOR RINKO

SEVEN YEARS AFTER HER ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATION FOR BABEL,THE GROUNDBREAKING ACTRESS HAS BECOME A STYLE ICON, CHANEL MUSE, AND A NOW A LEADING LADY IN GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S LATEST FILM,PACIFIC RIM. CAN WE JUST TELL YOU — WE’RE IN LOVE WITH RINKO KIKUCHI.

story Kanara Ty
photos Diana King
stylist Conor Graham
hair Koshi Okutsu (Shizen)
makeup Yoko Okutsu (Shizen)
photo assistants Conan Thai, Justin Leveritt
Shot on location in the newly renovated Duplex Penthouse Suite at Gansevoort Meatpacking NYC.

WHEN RINKO KIKUCHI arrives at the penthouse suite of the Gansevoort Hotel in the Meatpacking District of New York City, she’s dressed in an oversized sweater, leggings, a pair of Louis Vuitton sunnies, and Prada “Double Geta-Style” platform sandals in blue and black. On the other side of the room, among the racks of designer clothes and accessories meticulously laid out by the stylist, is a near-identical pair of the Prada sandals, but in red and black.

04_Rinko_296_web

Coincidence? We take it as fate. Seven years after Kikuchi first graced our cover, right after her Oscar nomination for Babel, she’s back in the pages of Audrey, and this time, for our milestone 10th anniversary cover.

In 2006, Kikuchi was the newest ingénue in Hollywood. A relatively unknown actress in Japan at the time, Kikuchi became the first Japanese woman in 50 years to be nominated for an Academy Award, for her role as the troubled deaf-mute Japan- ese teen Chieko Wataya. (In fact, she was only the fifth actress in the award’s history to be nominated for playing a character without saying a word).

Since then, she’s made a number of movies, both Japanese and foreign, including 2008’s The Brothers Bloom, her last english-language film where her character knew only three words of english, and the film festival favorite, Norwegian Wood, directed by Tran Anh Hung. She recently finished shooting universal’s martial arts epic, 47 Ronin, starring Keanu Reeves, due out in December. And Kikuchi is about to make headlines again, starring as the female lead in acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming science fiction monster film, Pacific Rim.

03_Rinko_189_web

When Kikuchi first heard of the role of Mako Mori, a Japanese pilot-in-training, she immediately sent an email to her Babel director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, who she knew was close to del Toro. “[Guillermo del Toro] is a big director. I’m a big fan of his films,” she says. “I first met him when I was nomi- nated [for Babel] and met him through Alejandro in New York. I told him, ‘I really want to work with you.’ [So] getting this role has been a dream come true.”

LuckyStrike_AudreyBanners_0613_720x90

For Kikuchi, playing the very physical character of Mako Mori was refreshing. “I’ve done a lot of serious dramas and roles. [With Chieko], she had a lot of serious problems in her life, so I did a lot of roles like that [afterwards],” she says. “With [Mako Mori], she’s really tough. She’s kind of like a superhero. It’s different from my roles in the past.”

Indeed, Pacific Rim has been likened to a live action version of the widely popular Japanese anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. Both stories involve massive, mind-operated fighting mechas, or robots, that were created to battle against gigantic monsters threatening humanity. Kikuchi’s character operates one of the main mechas. “I wore an armor suit where I was in a cockpit while driving the robot. It was similar to [riding] a rollercoaster; I was so scared,” says the 32-year-old. “It was the most physically demanding shoot, but we [along with co-star Charlie Hunnam, who plays former pilot Raleigh Becket] really felt like pilots during that particular scene.”

01_Rinko_026_web

Like most actors cast in action roles, Kikuchi underwent a rigorous training schedule. For many months, she endured a boot camp of running, swimming, weightlifting and stick-fighting martial arts, the latter of which she enjoyed since she had practiced martial arts growing up in Japan.
Training for the action sequences wasn’t the only challenge Kikuchi faced; this was also the first film where she didn’t have a translator on set. She did have a dialogue coach and an english teacher (in fact, our interview with Kikuchi was sans translator), which helped when del Toro would come up with last-minute changes. “He gave me lines on set that weren’t in the script,” she remembers. “I needed time to [learn] the lines because Mako speaks english fluently.”

Such stressful moments notwithstanding, Kikuchi says del Toro was a jokester on set and, as a huge fan of Japanese ani- mation, would sing songs from the anime film My Neighbor To- toro to bond with her. And despite the challenges, Rinko feels fortunate to have been cast in Pacific Rim, acknowledging the lack of roles for Asians in Hollywood. “Since Babel, I’ve had few roles in international films since there are so few roles for Japanese, [but] I want to continue working in the united States.”

07_Rinko_457_web

That may explain why Kikuchi has delved into other projects in the last six years other than acting. early in her career, she had met Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld at the Cannes Film Festival and became a muse of sorts. Lagerfeld dressed her all through awards season in 2007, and she even modeled for the luxury line in print advertisements. Most recently, she collaborated with Japanese brand ZuCCa on a collection of clothing (she says she was wearing some pieces during the interview), and directed a short film, Memory of an Artist, about a man who searches for memories of a former lover who has passed away.

05_Rinko_353_web

It seems natural that Kikuchi has become such a style icon and fashion darling. Thanks to her stylish mother, she grew up with fashion, wearing designers like Yohji Yamamoto. “My mom always looked really cool,” she says. “She loved the colors black and white. I’ve never seen her wear sneakers; she wore nice high heels. She had really short hair back then, too. Now I have short hair, which I like to think was inspired by her.” Kikuchi even got her first Chanel bag at the age of 20. “I still have vintage clothes from back then. [My mother] gave me great stuff that was timeless.” With that background, it’s no wonder fashion magazines like Vogue, Marie Claire and Nylon have embraced Kikuchi, a natural in front of the camera. “When I shoot for magazines, I really enjoy working with the fashion [on set],” she says.

Good thing Kikuchi is now based in New York, one of the fashion capitals of the world. With Pacific Rim set for release July 12, style watchers everywhere will be keeping a close eye to see what — and who — she wears on the red carpet. If our shoot is any indication, she’s still got a serious penchant for Chanel. We can’t wait to see.

08_Rinko_484_web

Winter 2012-13 Cover Story | Maggie Q

Now in her third season playing the title role in The CW hit series, Nikita, Maggie Q knows what she wants — from the best angle to showcase a gown to how an action scene should be done in Hollywood.

ISSUE: Winter 2012-13

DEPT: Cover Feature

Photographer: Diana King

Stylist: Conor Graham

Makeup: Kayleen McAdams

Hair: Alex Polillo

Photo Assistant: Kevin Burnstein

Stylist Assistant: Morgan Howit

Producer: Olivia Wu

Story: Ada Tseng

 

At the start of our interview, Maggie Q jokes that she might be in a concussed state.

“I was just fighting this guy, and I smashed my head into the camera,” she says, still stunned. “I paused for a second, I had tears coming out of my eyes, and then I was like, ‘OK, I’m ready. Let’s go.’”

For most people, this sounds like a horrific assault, but it’s just another day at work for the 33-year-old actress and action star. In the past two seasons of her CW television show Nikita, Maggie has fallen down a ladder, broken fingers, and even burned her breasts. The latter happened while filming a scene where she was running down a hill, shooting a gun. She was sprinting so quickly that the hot, empty shells fell straight into her bra.

 

Continue reading