Although we all do it, no two people shop in exactly the same way. It is possible for it to be both a social and a very personal experience; at times it can be spontaneous and enjoyable, while at other times it can be purpose-driven and a nuisance. Where do you typically shop? When is your shopping time? How do you determine what you require, how much money you should spend, and what is uniquely “you”? In our column titled “How I Shop,” we ask well-known people questions like these in an effort to learn more about their shopping habits.
Christine Chiu is one of the stars and producers of the Netflix series “Bling Empire.” She is also the owner of Beverly Hills Plastic Surgery, Inc. (along with her husband, Dr. Gabriel Chiu), a noted collector of haute couture, and a philanthropist. You might be surprised to learn that Christine Chiu probably spends her days dressed in a manner that is similar to yours.
During our conversation on Zoom, she let me in on a little secret: “You’re going to die,” she said, “where I feel the happiest is in sweats.” “I despise having to say this because I feel as though I’m shattering the viewers’ bubbles in some way. Even though I have an unbelievable collection of haute couture that I consider to be extremely personal and that I wish to one day be able to donate to a museum, my favourite thing to wear is just a pair of sweatpants. And I especially prefer to wear sweatshirts that I’ve made, whether they’re from college or an old sorority or even from a Super Bowl party.
Since the show’s release earlier this year, that has helped Chiu maintain her anonymity in Los Angeles, she says. “A lot of times I get questioned like, ‘Oh my my, what is life like after ‘Bling?'” she adds. Are people able to identify you?’ And I’m like, ‘No, actually nobody recognises me ever,’ I say to them. And I believe it’s due to the fact that I constantly wear sweatpants and Uggs.'”
She will sprinkle in some soft Brunello Cucinelli pieces and Loro Piana cashmere, stuff she’s obtained via visits with the brands themselves that hold sentimental importance. That is not to say that Chiu does not have some finer pieces in her cherished sweatpants collection.
Chiu’s purchasing is driven by her need to acquire items with a personal connection, regardless of whether she is looking for at-home loungewear or luxury gowns. She is curious about the history of an article of clothing, the choices that were made during its production, and the point in her own life she was at when she first encountered it. She will show support for the designers who have been there for her in the past, and, more lately, she has become increasingly invested in those who also support the community.
As Chiu has been more immersed in the world of haute couture, her appreciation of fashion has only grown to new heights in this time.
According to her, one gains knowledge regarding “the houses, the people, and the business of fashion.” “I’ve truly developed a crush on the individuals who work in the fashion industry.”
Chiu gave an interview to Fashionista in which she discussed how she became involved in the couture world, why you won’t find her on Rodeo Drive, the process by which she has assembled her legendary haute couture collection, as well as the part that viewers can anticipate fashion to play in upcoming seasons of “Bling Empire.” Keep reading.
“If I were to characterise my style in one word, it would be complete spectrum.
I have a passion for discovering new things about myself and expressing those discoveries through the clothing, accessories, and other tangible objects in my life. I have always been a dork. People have a tendency to be surprised when they learn that I had a really nerdy upbringing. I was never allowed to play with dolls or dress-up outfits since my parents wouldn’t let me have Barbies. It was merely necessary for me to study constantly. When I was finally able to [do those things], it was like a bomb had gone off, releasing all of these pent-up desires for colour, objects, and textures. Therefore, you might say that I am a fashion geek, which is another way of saying that I am a fashion fanatic.
“I find the study of fashion history and education to be quite fascinating. We view fashion not just as an art form but also as an artistic expression, as well as a window into the past, present, and future of a civilization. In addition, I consider fashion to be one of the most accomplished storytellers as well as one of the first forms of storytelling. Because of all of these factors, I find it interesting to investigate a variety of styles, as it helps me learn more about a culture or a designer and his or her vision.
“I believe that fashion makes discussion easier. I get to use whatever I’m wearing as a conversation starter; maybe we discover common ground with others; maybe, in the case of the drama with Anna on the TV show, fashion discourse [is] a sort of disagreement. Either way, I get to use whatever I’m wearing.
“In terms of purchasing fashions, since I consider it to be an art form, and because I am so appreciative and privileged to have the opportunity to visit the shows, to meet the designers, to go backstage and look at their storyboards and see their vision… I mean, even looking at the hair and makeup and the glam component of it, you really get another element of the designer’s vision, where he’s pulling inspiration from or where he’s manifesting that vision. This is because you get an idea of where he’s getting his ideas from. The venues, the integration of the collection with the place, time, and people, as well as the parties and dinners that take place following the shows, are all extremely important aspects of fashion week. After having these in-depth chats with knowledgeable individuals and picking their minds, I get to tour their ateliers and place my orders from the collection.
“Whether it’s ready-to-wear or couture, I order things that are works of art to me or that symbolise something that I might not quite know exactly right then and there, but I simply know that my collection requires, so that I can further expand on this tale. Because I like to collect stuff, my normal buying habits aren’t really practical. I buy items just because. I don’t really have any clothes that are practical to wear. I am known across the community as a scrambler who does things in a very haphazard manner. When I need something to wear to a party or dinner, but my closet is full of beautiful pieces, I send out a mass SOS text — I basically have about 95% of the boutiques on Rodeo Drive on my phone — like, “I have dinner tonight, please send whatever you have.” My closet is full of beautiful pieces, but when I just need something to wear, I send out a mass SOS text. After then, consignments will be sent from all of the stores. And then, in a manner that is best described as chaotic, I grab something from the pile and throw it on.
“Unfortunately, and perhaps to the dismay of a great number of people, I do not spend my weekends going shopping. I don’t like going into boutiques and browsing through shelves and racks of apparel. I recently became a mother, which means that in addition to managing my company, I am responsible for changing diapers and cleaning up poop. When it comes to going shopping, I can be described as odd in this regard.
By the way, you won’t find me competing in any rodeos. It’s become something of a running joke that whenever there are new salespeople in our area, the first thing they say is, “Oh, we want to get Christine in the boutique.” And the more seasoned individuals are saying things like, “Good luck, that will never happen.”
When I travel, my favourite place to shop is in airports. Because I consider my trips abroad to be vacations, during which I want to indulge in activities that bring me joy and become fully immersed in the local culture, I prefer to fly without checked bags. I have no choice but to go out and shop at the various independent boutiques and shops in the area, which presents both a fun and a demanding opportunity for me. Picking out these truly one-of-a-kind objects is the aspect of shopping that gives me the most pleasure, despite the fact that I am not under any kind of obligation because I am on vacation. I have the opportunity to converse with the proprietor of the shop and learn about the background of the items, as well as the chance to piece everything together and solicit the feedback of my husband. That is perhaps the only occasion on which you will find me shopping for a significant amount of time in a store.
“[Available in ready-to-wear sizes] I love Saint Laurent. Even though there are moments when it’s too much for me to take, there are still Gucci touches that I enjoy. Dior is a terrific brand. The word “bottega” is currently enjoying some popularity. My obsession with LaQuan Smith stems from the fact that he is so seductive while still maintaining his edge. I adore the inventive utilisation of materials and the way that it enables every woman to feel both attractive and powerful. And it goes without saying that I adore the fact that the designer is of African-American descent. I prefer Khaite because it is an option that is more laid-back yet is still extremely elegant. Because Mr. Armani and the Armani family held my baby shower, I will always have a particular place in my heart for Armani. Because of this, wherever I can, I try to include a little bit of Armani into what I’m doing. I’m a really sentimental fashionista, I guess.
“I have to give credit to the fashion professionals around me when I was around 25 or 26 years old and I was buying ready-to-wear, and I believe I just asked too many questions,” she said. “I have to say that their advice was invaluable.” I was curious and wanted to know, “And where did you get this? What did the designer intend to accomplish with this piece? What motivated this collection to go in this particular direction? They began to realise, whether it was the management of the boutique or the individuals working in public relations, “This girl is genuinely intrigued.” She is curious about the situation.’ Therefore, when I was 26, I received an invitation to attend the Chanel Haute Couture show because they wanted to be able to address those issues for me in a way that was more concrete, so that I could see it and touch it.
“To gain an understanding of the technique, the history, and the heritage of haute couture was not only enlightening but also extremely satisfying. Then, over the course of the years, to be able to visit their ateliers and to create that relationship with your seamstress — they cry when you put their pieces on, because it is something that they have spent thousands of hours of their lives putting together. Every house does things a little bit differently: in some, I have designated seamstresses who have been with me for over a decade; in others, they break it up so that one person will make this part of the dress and the other person will make that part; this ensures that when you put the whole dress together, you have a team of people who are incredibly proud and grateful for the journey that we’re all sharing together.
“Even in this day and age, it is still quite private and limited to a very exclusive group of couture purchasers. Back then (when I first started), it was even much smaller and skewed older, so here comes this 26-year-old who’s asking all of these questions, who wants to see, touch, smell, and feel everything — just wide-eyed and eager. I believe that level of excitement spread like wildfire among the many residences. Because they are all acquainted with one another, the word quickly spread, and I soon began receiving invitations to other concerts. I began to acquire more knowledge and to inquire more frequently. To bring you up to speed, as of right now, I am still really excited to be constructing my couture collection.
“[Couture] has always struck me as the pinnacle of artistic expression,” she said. In the midst of fast fashion and the Topshops and the H&Ms — which are all fantastic, since I do mix a handful of pieces here and there from haute couture with other clothing — it is important to not forget where fashion really began. Let’s not forget the folks who have been [doing this] for countless decades, as this skill and trade has been passed down from generation to generation. Let us not forget the long and illustrious history of fashion. I like how everything is in check.
“There is a Chanel Haute Couture piece that is one of my faves, if not my very favourite. In fact, it is among my favourites. To begin, my very first purchase of haute couture came from Chanel Haute Couture, and because of this, the brand will always have a particular place in my heart. My weight was going up and down like a roller coaster as I was going through the various rounds of IVF procedures, so the crew had to make that particular item for me four times. They showed such incredible patience with me. This establishment is known as the “grand dame” of the haute couture industry, and the staff helped guide me through the process in a very French manner. In terms of both time and resources, it is unquestionably highly expensive. Because I did, in the end, become pregnant with Baby G, I can say that the situation did have a happy ending. Consequently, the reason why I hold that piece in such a high regard is due to the fact that it was created by individuals whose artistry and the rich history of Chanel Haute Couture stood by my side during its creation. I mean, I would start crying in the fittings because it was such a challenging process. I just couldn’t take it. It’s memories like that, when I look at that or when I look at another item, and I remember that was Baby G’s first fashion show with mama, and he was so into it. Those are the kinds of memories that stick with you. There is a tale associated with each individual component.
“As in the art world, there are counsellors and brokers, which is something I was not aware of [about haute couture]. I happened upon it by accident and navigated my way through it, but later I learned that the position in question actually does exist. Collectors can accomplish their goals in the world of haute couture with the assistance of these professionals, who steer them toward the creation of collections that are more comprehensive and significant. If you’re going to spend six figures on a piece of art and are serious about building a collection, you don’t want to waste your money on an inferior or mismatched addition to your collection. And sometimes there is inside information on the movement within the industry of designers, such as the possibility that the designer is about to leave the industry, or the possibility that there is something that is going to come to light about a designer, and you might not want to invest in that piece right now.
When I first started collecting couture, I did so somewhat aimlessly for the first half or maybe the first two thirds of the time. Recent years have helped me become more strategic, but I have a long way to go before I reach my full potential. When I answered the phone, a really famous photographer said, “I’m going to shoot a stunning coffee table book of your haute couture line.” It will be like though you left a legacy behind, a namesake for future generations. I responded to him by saying, “I’m still in my 30s.” I intend to continue to amass things right up to the day I pass away. So give me a call a year before I pass away.’ I still have a very long way to go, and both the history and the life of haute couture are in the process of being written. Along the road, I want to assemble a collection of bits and pieces of that. I’m not done yet. There’s a lot more to collect, and there’s a lot more that’s still to come.
“When people see the really high price tag, it’s easy for those who aren’t in the know to think that [couture] is a vanity item, that it’s a piece to demonstrate money, and it’s not. I’m pretty sure I’ve been known to wear high couture to places like the supermarket and the park. It’s a personal journey, a personal relationship, and a personal education all rolled into one. The moment and the feeling of wearing couture are uniquely your own and very significant. And it is not about the money: What you are paying for is literally the time that it is taking someone who has learned this craft and trade from her mother and her grandmother and the generations before that; you are paying for the materials that they are sourcing and they are using; and you are paying for the most ultimate, extreme, unfiltered vision of a very talented designer. Your homage to this work of art is shown by the price tag. I show people fashion because I have such a strong interest in it, and I wish that they could see that it is more than just a piece of fabric or a dress. There is a great deal more to be found under the surface bling.
“Right now, rather than concentrating so much on the individual items, I’ve been paying more attention to the houses and the brands and what they’re producing.” Perhaps the item from this past season that I am about to purchase will be illustrative of a time when I cared less about the specific piece and more about the designer who was responsible for it, or when I cared more about what the house as a whole was doing and how they were negotiating their way through the epidemic. I mean, I bought the gold House of Dior even though I have no intention of ever wearing it, but I did so because I recalled that the House of Dior on Avenue Montaigne was undergoing construction and that it would never be the same again. As a result, I wanted to preserve a piece of that history by purchasing the gold House of Dior. My dressing room has been upgraded to include the House of Dior.
“Because of the pandemic, I was unable to attend the displays or make any purchases from the ateliers. Things did change, and naturally, just like everyone else, I found myself with a significant amount of more time on my hands. Because of this, I believe that I have become a much more responsible and conscious shopper as a result of the fact that I had the opportunity — and it was the ideal time in our lives — to truly think about where our money is going. I like to think that this is the case. Before the pandemic, I had a passion for collecting art; however, during the epidemic, I had the impression that my passion was transforming into an investment into our community on all levels: local, regional, national, and worldwide. And if I spent my money on the right products at the right retailers, I might be able to make a difference. That was the moment when it finally dawned on me that we ought to shop in a more responsible manner, be more targeted and focused with our consumerism and our shopping money, and that we ought to purchase in a more responsible manner. This will also help shift the direction that these corporations are heading in, which is important because they have such a large scale and platform to do good.
“There were a lot of large firms that really came up and gave to emergency services in hospitals or transformed facilities to build personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline employees, developed masks, and created sanitizer. ” And then, of course, [there was] the treatment of their own employees. There were a lot of large organisations that, despite the fact that they were still profitable, made the decision to keep all of their staff employed and ensured that they were cared for during the pandemic. Chanel, Valentino, Balmain, Burberry, Gucci, and LVMH are all very significant organisations that are, of course, financially able to do so, but they also had the option of taking a back seat. Chanel, Valentino, Balmain, Burberry, and Gucci are all owned by LVMH. They earned more of my respect as time went on. That is something that, if you have a dollar to spend and you get to select between a company that isn’t doing anything or a firm that is standing up for the community for its people, I mean, you’re investing your money into the community when you choose the latter. It shouldn’t even be a question.
“Before the epidemic, I had already been doing this in a haphazard manner, but after the pandemic, I made it much more of a cemented habit: I ask that a percentage of my purchase be contributed back to an organisation that we support or is in need. Therefore, for some of the higher-priced things, I would make it a point to insist that the company give me a percentage of 10, 15, or whatever else it is able to do. When products are on sale, I may occasionally ask the company to sell it to me at full price so that I can give the money saved to a charitable organisation. I’m trying to build up this shameless approach in which, if you value me as a customer and a loyal customer, I’m asking that you also support these organisations that are in need right now or that we firmly stand behind. If you value me as a customer and a loyal customer, I’m asking that you also support these organisations that are in need right now. And the groups that we normally back are ones that work in early childhood education, as well as one called Stop AAPI Hate at the moment. If everyone of us contributed just a little bit here and there, our neighbourhood and the world that our children and grandchildren will inherit will unquestionably be a lot better place.
“Also during the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, I felt the need to bring notice to talent that, for whatever reason, wasn’t getting the exposure that they deserved,” she said. Because I believe that early education is extremely essential, I have made it a point, in every facet of my life, to support African-American businesses and designers and to [purchase] every single book that features a diverse cast of characters for Baby G. And now, here we are with the effort to Stop AAPI Hate; this is yet another opportunity for us consumers to take a stand and act in our own unique ways.
“The fittings are without a doubt the most thrilling part of the couture shopping experience. The atelier is the next stop for it. It consists of spending time with the designer, getting his comments, and letting him touch the materials on your body so that he may make alterations according on his vision for you. When all of that is taken away, I don’t feel like you’ve had the complete experience… I, for one, have selected all of the items that I would like to have in advance. In the past, it was quite competitive; as a result, I have definitely put friendships at risk and missed out on big pieces because I just wasn’t able to move quickly enough, such as when I chose to go to lunch after a show rather than going straight to the atelier. However, you did not have that during the previous two seasons, which is very pleasant for me because the competitive atmosphere around haute couture had a significant negative impact on the romanticism I associated with it. A significant portion of what I cherished was the courting that was involved with haute couture. When you text the atelier and say, “Dibs on Look 5,” that makes the whole thing seem less important. We are able to take a step back and really let it sink since there isn’t a great deal of rush, and a lot of people can’t fly worldwide to fit. I’m really appreciating the fact that we are able to do this, as it is a blessing in disguise. I shall begin the fitting process for all of my pieces as soon as the borders are opened and we are given permission to travel. I made a large purchase of items that are currently held up in international customs.
“I have a lot of [favourite haute couture looks],” she said. My husband and I got the opportunity to spend quality time together while we were in Cannes for the film festival. It was a truly magical experience. It was a very lovely gesture. The show ‘Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood’ was what we watched. We went to that premiere and strolled down the carpet; it was like a more exciting version of date night on the red carpet in Cannes. In addition, the film itself served as an intriguing homage to Hollywood as it was during that era. To this day, I can still picture myself wearing the outfit with my spouse and feeling quite fortunate. Whenever I think of wearing the outfit, it always makes me happy.
“Of course, the more controversial ones right now — which I’m like kicking myself for even mentioning — but I have beautiful pieces from Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda, and we have had amazing memories with them because they do haute couture in a way that no other house does.” [Case in point:] “Of course, the more controversial ones right now — which I’m like kicking myself for even mentioning — but I have beautiful pieces from Dol Attending their Alta Moda weekends was something we’d been doing almost from the very beginning with them… However, in light of the current crisis that they are having with Asians and Asian Americans, it is simply not the appropriate moment to showcase them at this point in time. Because of my tight relationship with the team and the fact that I am unsure of what to do, this puts me in a very tough position…. This is something that I really need to work out because I want to channel my consumerism in the right direction, but at the same time, I need to do it in a way that is sensitive and politically correct.
“I’m currently in the midst of constructing up the new haute couture [closet] separately from the rest of the apparel, only because high couture, of course, requires specific handling in terms of humidity, lighting, and space. And because I am such a dork, I prefer to save the show’s description as well as the programme with the pieces that I collect. I have each and every invitation; some of them are stained, which I still adore and treasure because it’s evidence that we had a fun night. I like to maintain the original hangers. I prefer to retain everything, including the tissue paper and the specialised garment bags that may be used for travelling. Each home has its own unique method of packaging, and I like to keep it all. Others will add a personalised drawing of you in their submissions. The majority of homes come with either a portfolio or a booklet that has swatches of a variety of fabric options as well as decorative alternatives. I store all of it in one location designated just for it.
“I adore high jewellery for the same reason that I love haute couture: You get the opportunity to delve into the history and the people who are behind it. The same reason why my husband collects high watches is also because he is a super nerd and he really gets in there and participates in the watchmaking. My husband enjoys the process of manufacturing watches.
My mother died away last year, and when I was growing up, she actually had a gorgeous custom-made collection. What I didn’t know at the time was that throughout the years, she had this affinity for the colour purple. This is something that is incredibly precious to me right now. I suppose that over the course of the years, Mom had accumulated a fantastic collection of purple accessories, but I was completely unaware of it. After she passed away, it was transported to me, and as I open each box and reveal each piece, it is certainly bringing back a lot of beautiful memories from the past. I have a lot of gratitude for the fact that I can now remember my mother through the things I wear and the accessories I wear.
“In my opinion, being fashionable ought to be enjoyable, and it ought to be discussed. I didn’t particularly enjoy the way fashion was portrayed in the first season of ‘Bling Empire’ because it does not accurately reflect either my point of view or my experiences. I’m definitely looking forward to being able to figure that out in later seasons of the show. My relationship with fashion may best be described as a love affair, and it’s also a journey. Through fashion, I’m gaining knowledge and developing as a person, and there are so many life lessons to be acquired through fashion.”