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. 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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