You could say that Ella Yam won the genetic lottery. But spend any amount of time with her and you’ll quickly realise that she got more than looks and talent from her parents, Shanghai-born supermodel Qi Qi and Hong Kong film legend Simon Yam. Though she has those in spades, the best qualities she inherited are a deep sense of gratitude and a steadfast dedication to hard work.
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For many young stars with a claim to celebrity pedigree, there is a desire to carve out a path and identity separate from their lineage. Perhaps that comes with age, but for now, the 16-year-old delights in her parents’ company. The Yams are a tight-knit family and it shows: When she isn’t using her Instagram for work, the teenager uses the platform to express her love for her parents, sharing sweet family shots with her 17,400-strong following. And with no hesitation, Yam says her mum is her biggest professional inspiration: “Her work ethic is just so amazing and I always try to learn from her in every aspect.”
During Yam’s photo shoot for Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore in Hong Kong, there is no mistaking the traces of Qi Qi in the natural ease and grace she exudes in front of the camera; the charisma and charm that reaches all the way to the lens, meanwhile, is a mirror of her dad’s. Her quirky and goofy personality shines through, though, and this balance is why Yam, who was taught by her mother to be herself “no matter what”, looks as amazing in high fashion as she does in the casual gear she prefers for everyday life.
“My style is comfortable and chill,” she says, but reveals that she feels “really empowered” in the looks she models. Brands at the top of her list include CELINE, Dior, Balmain and Off-White. She also loves Miss Sixty, which is doubly sweet because she cites Bella Hadid as one of her fashion influences and they’ve both been faces for the brand.
Whether it’s Miu Miu for an editorial or comfy Loro Piana for a day out, Yam exudes effortless confidence—a quality that enables her to thrive in all areas of her life. In fact, her shoot and interview are squeezed into an intense school, studying and exams schedule. You’d think that juggling student life with model life might be a struggle, but Yam has the act down pat.
“I got all nines for my 10 subjects for IGCSE, so I’m really happy about that,” she shares. (By the way, her favourite subject at school is mathematics.) She is careful to take time for her physical and mental health too.
“I run, do yoga and just vibe to music to de-stress and declutter my mind,” says the Drake and Travis Scott fan. “But I really enjoy modelling, so I don’t get tired from pursuing my passion.” Indeed, along with her enviable height, her ability to take things in stride is fast becoming the leggy 1.76m-tall teen’s signature trait. Which is a good thing, considering how emotionally taxing 2020 was for all of us. “My biggest challenge was probably not being able to see my friends and reunite with family members outside of Hong Kong,” Yam says of the difficult year. It’s not surprising then that the app she spends the most time on is Snapchat to stay connect with her friends.
Nevertheless, she was able to find a silver lining. “I learned more about myself,” she explains, “and I really started to appreciate the little things in life. I’m so grateful for everything that I have.” Also, like many of us, social distancing allowed her more time for her hobbies, which includes exercising and meditating. “It felt really good being able to do these things,” she says.
Another thing you can’t help but notice is that Yam has a true love for reading, which she sees as a form of escape. “Sometimes, I get so absorbed in a book, I forget about everything. There aren’t any burdens when I read and the main reason I love it so much is that it gives me so much knowledge. I love learning and growing as a person,” she enthuses.
But surely she must miss having adventures in the great wide somewhere? You bet. Like the rest of the world, she’s looking forward to when we can travel internationally again. She goes on to say that whenever she’s on vacation, her favourite activity is just to walk around and spend time bonding with her family.
While Vienna, London and Amsterdam are among her favourite long-haul destinations, for somewhere closer to home, Yam lets on that she can’t wait for the Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble to open. “I’d love to go to Singapore!” she shares. “The culture and especially the food there are amazing!” But for now, she’s happy in Hong Kong, a city that is full of history and character, and one she wishes more people would cherish.
“There are so many places in Hong Kong that are worth preserving,” she says. (One can’t help but think of the Jumbo Floating Restaurant that serves as one of the backdrops for her shoot, which closed “until further notice” last March.) “[This city] has a very unique and beautiful culture that I think everyone should appreciate.”
Unique and beautiful are words that could also be used to describe Yam. She’s a kaleidoscope of a human being: complex and captivating, and ever-changing. Modelling and fashion will always be part of her DNA, but she tells us that right now, she’s thinking about studying business and economics at a university in London. While there’s no telling what the future might hold for our cover girl who’s brimming with talent, curiosity and drive, one thing is for certain: Ella Yam is only just stepping into her power.
Special thanks to Seayou Explorer Travel Limited – Bavaria