Christine Chiu Bling Empire

Bling Empire—the new reality TV obsession for many around the globe—has wasted no time in getting some serious attention. The hit series made it to Netflix‘s Top 10 most-watched shows in countries including the US, Singapore and Hong Kong soon after it aired.

Amidst the extravagant parties, spontaneous shopping sprees and expensive bling in Bling Empire, one cast member stands out: Christine Chiu—wife to prominent plastic surgeon Dr. Gabriel Chiu and mother to 2-year-old “Baby G“. Known for throwing million-dollar parties and her philanthropic efforts, the queen of couture’s playful showdowns with fellow socialite Anna Shay is undeniably one of the key highlights of the show.

Here, Christine opens up about her favourite moments on the show, misconceptions surrounding her and her feud with Anna, as well as her love for couture.

Besides being a key cast member of Bling Empire, you are also a producer on the show. Tell us how it all came to be.

I’ve known Jeff Jenkins, the creator and executive producer of Bling Empire, for over a decade as we had previously worked on other unscripted projects together while he was co-president of Bunim-Murray Productions. When he approached me about the show, there was already a growing interest in and movement for diversity on both the big and small screens and I thought it would be an incredible opportunity to be a part of that movement. I had the unique chance to come on as a producer this first season—to be able to participate in storytelling both in front of and behind the camera was intriguing and exciting to me.

Crazy Rich Asians catapulted Asian faces, voices and perspectives into mainstream media in an unprecedented way. Aside from the insanely beautiful backdrop and cinematography, it was a proud moment for Asian and Asian Americans… for the first time in a long time (since Joy Luck Club?) we saw an all-Asian cast in the motion picture arts, without stereotyped carve-outs like “karate” or “Chinese food take out” etc. We’ve always known art to imitate life to imitate art—but this time, in Crazy Rich Asians, parts of us—our culture, our faces, our stories were reflected authentically and beautifully. The fact that it was so widely accepted and appreciated by all kinds of audiences was the cherry on top.

When our project was being developed, it was poised to be the first ever all-Asian ensemble cast in American television. The original focus was not on wealth, but on the cultural pressures, morals, values, expectations that confront successful Asian Americans of varying ages in Los Angeles. The added bonus of this project is that not only is it one of the first all-Asian casts for reality television, but we’re from different Asian countries and backgrounds (Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean, Singaporean, Vietnamese) all with different ethnic, cultural influences and idiosyncrasies.

Related article: In Conversation With Kevin Kreider, Breakout Star Of Netflix’s ‘Bling Empire’

What did you want to achieve with the show?

I was driven to add to diversity in popular culture and to infuse specifically a greater Asian perspective/presence/voice. It also felt important to share our journey as an Asian American couple navigating westernized expectations in both business and personal life with eastern values and traditions. I knew sharing my story about my pregnancy journey specifically would be difficult but also empowering to so many women who are having or have had similar struggles. Finally, I knew the show would give me a wider and global platform to highlight the incredible charitable organizations we’ve supported over the years. These charities are doing great things for our local, regional, national, and global communities and for the betterment of humanity.

        *       Art of Elysium
        *       The Prince’s Foundation
        *       The Ghetto Film School
        *       Cayton Children’s Museum
        *       Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation
        *       Cystic Fibrous Foundation
        *       AmFAR

What was it like working on Bling Empire? What are some of your favourite moments?

I thoroughly enjoyed the company of the cast mates and production team during the 1.5 years of filming. There was a synergistic partnership and collaboration amongst the cast and production crew, and many laugh-out -loud moments off camera. Work seemed like play and we did not want play time to end!

As a first-time TV producer, I was impressed with the genius and creativity of industry vets like Jeff Jenkins in artfully weaving together so many intriguing and diverse stories. I’d be remiss to not mention the opportunity to have fashion and jewelry moments! Having collected couture since age 26, and being a fashion aficionado likely since birth—it was such a thrill to be able to play ‘dress up’ every chance I could, and involve/give a nod to the fashion houses and brands that have supported me (via donating to charities dear to us) for so many years.

Piaget and Bottega Venetta supported Chinatown 90210 by contributing to charities whose vision and work we stand behind. Armani hosted my baby shower, LVMH brands have generously hosted us on trips and experiences around the world, Tiffany’s and many more have made huge donations to charities we support. We’ve formed such wonderful relationships with the people and designers of fashion and jewelry houses—it was a true pleasure and honor to wear their works of art on the show.

One of my favorite moments in real life and on the show was when Kevin, Kane and I were on the plane to Las Vegas and playing the game of Fashion ABCs. A friend had just recently gifted Baby G with a book called Fashion ABCs for Babies, so I thought it’d be fun to play. Kevin’s response was so hilarious that I choked on my food and had sore abs from laughing so hard at the end of the ride.

Related article: Bling Empire’s Kane Lim On Being Kiasu And What He Misses Most About Singapore

What are some misconceptions about you—including your feud with Anna Shay—that you would like to debunk?

The first clarification is that I never called myself nor do I consider myself to be the queen of Beverly Hills (Kane said it not me!) or queen of anywhere! I am a mom, and that’s the best, hardest, most exciting and gratifying title I can have. While I’m willing to play a friendly game of cat and mouse and have some back and forth silliness, I’m not mean-spirited and I would never want to hurt anyone else’s feelings.

I very much appreciate and am vested in fashion—I appreciate the art and design, the people, the experiences and the creativity. Fashion vocabulary is part of my normal vernacular. Anna and I met through fashion and jewelry —so our conversations, especially in the context of this show, are about fashion and jewelry which is our common interest and passion. I was never trying to show off or impress her. While super fun and entertaining to watch, it was never my intention to hurt, embarrass, or offend Anna, or anyone else. Anna and I have had a dinner or two and a couple of good laughs about the dramas that transpired on the show since filming. I hope everyone was able to laugh along during those scenes and take them for what they are meant to be—a fun, playful back and forth!

Anna Shay Christine Chiu Bling Empire
Anna Shay and Christine Chiu.
Photo: Netflix

With regards to competition: It’s never about competing with the other castmates or friends—the biggest pressures or ‘competition’ I’ve felt in my life have always been within myself. As far as fashion competition goes, it is always a competition for me to try to collect the most special pieces that speak to me and to try to find new emerging designers to support.

Tell us about your philanthropic efforts and why you feel it is important to give back.

My mother was incredibly philanthropic and I grew up with the adage that “To whom much is given, much is expected.” From a very young age, I volunteered in soup kitchens, elderly homes, churches and hospitals. Though most would consider that I was born into wealth, my mother went to great lengths to ensure that I stayed humble and grounded, by having me earn my money. She taught me that we’re not measured by how much we have, but how much we can give to others. Giving back became a core part of who I am, and as I grew older, I was able to utilize my resources in more expansive ways.

You are known to be a fierce couture collector. What do you love about couture?

It’s a bittersweet moment for me with regards to haute couture during this time. What I miss most about couture week in Paris… the people, being backstage, the designers, the fittings, that first moment a collection takes your breath away, the tears of joy that run down your cheeks with a collection so touching and transformative… the once-in-a -lifetime experiences couture houses plan for you.

Some of my most memorable once in a lifetime experiences have been dinner on La Scala stage, dinner and a party at the Palace of Versailles, having family bread pudding at the Louis Vuitton home in Asnieres. I miss seeing all of my friends from around the world, bright skies in Paris at midnight, the exhilaration and exhaustion of 16-18 shows in 4 days. Even the most innovative digital viewings of the couture collection simply cannot compare with the moments you can touch, see, feel, smell, hear the soul of the artistry.

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When I look at a couture piece I’ve purchased, after admiring the intricacies and craftsmanship, after appreciating the embellishments and rare materials used, after gushing over the gloriousness of this piece of art, I see the faces of the seamstresses who have poured their hearts and souls into it, I hear the laughter of my friends during couture week, I smell the divine gastronomic creations in Paris—my heart pounds again in excitement! You can put a price on a dress, but the haute couture experience is absolutely priceless. It’s never about the label of fashion, as the show may have suggested, it is always about the people and artistry that fashion label represents.

Could you share your most memorable show?

My most memorable show was the Dolce and Gabbana Alta Moda Spring Summer 2020, shown in Milan, on the stage of the Teatro de la Scala. It was Baby G’s first couture show with mom and dad, and we sat together in the beautiful, historic boxes at La Scala, awestruck over each piece of art that inspired by the great works of opera. The breathtaking and unbelievable pairing of fashion and theatrical arts was nothing less than magical. I purchased the piece inspired by Madame Butterfly.

What are some of your prized couture pieces?

Fashion to me is not just about the label, it’s about the art, heritage, people, memories created and moments shared. I’ve always appreciated fine clothing and design, but it wasn’t until I started learning about and collecting haute couture that I began to fall in love with the world of fashion. The artistry, vision, craftsmanship, community of people that come together to make each piece of clothing and to bring each collection to life is what I think about when I see a “Chanel” or “Dior” or “Louis Vuitton“—I see beyond that label—I see friendly faces of the amazing people I’ve met along the way and call friends, the stories of the designers and their inspirations/ journeys. I am humbled and feel incredibly blessed to be able to wear their art. When I say a fashion house’s or designer’s name—I have flashes of these wonderful memories, their history and more and am applauding, respecting, paying homage to them with gratitude.

One of my favorite pieces of haute couture is the last ‘interview’ look on the show. It is a Dolce and Gabbana Alta Moda dress that I had actually loaned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York for their Heavenly Bodies exhibition. When I started buying couture in my twenties, I was drawn to beautiful dresses. In my thirties, I am acquiring museum-worthy pieces of art.

Related article: So, Will We Be Getting Another Season Of ‘Bling Empire’?

Has the pandemic changed your approach to shopping?

The method of shopping has not changed for me, but the perception and execution of responsible luxury consumption has. Even before coronavirus, I wasn’t doing much shopping inside the boutiques or department stores. I usually ordered pieces during fashion week, via the brand’s lookbooks/line sheets, or with consignment deliveries made to the house. During quarantine, with the exception of (not) attending fashion shows and ordering at the showrooms, that has not changed.

What has changed is the deepening realization that the value of my luxury shopping dollar can go much further and can do exponentially more good beyond the purchase of the physical item. This was great incentive and a new challenge for me: how can I stretch my fashion dollar for greater good. I gravitated towards fashion houses that were actively investing back in its people, our environment, our future; companies who chose the less financially advantageous route in favor of well-being of others and their communities.

Many fashion companies ‘stepped up’ during the coronavirus crisis. There were companies who made the perhaps less financially desirable, but morally applaudable decision with regards to employee retention, compensation, safety precautions during the pandemic. There were companies that stuck their necks out for the greater cause and betterment of others—these were the companies that caught my attention, gained my respect and dollar.

A practice I had started prior to COVID-19 with regards to purchases of high ticketed items was to request that a percentage of my purchase be donated back to a charity whose vision we (the Brand and myself) could both support. There are amazing global fashion houses who have made significant contributions (pre-COVID-19) towards education, AIDS research, and medicine for impoverished communities in association with purchases I’ve made—and to those brands, I respect you and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

While high jewelry, high watches, and haute couture hold a special place in my heart, I found myself craving luxury in the form of comfort while in quarantine. With the plentitude of time during lockdown, I was able to be more intentional with my purchases and experienced a shift from purchasing decisions based on bold fashion statements or ‘collectability’, but rather on those pieces made in highest quality of materials, sustainably-sourced, and from companies whose actions during COVID-19 I am proud to support. From a practicality standpoint, I purchased a lot of sunglasses, bathing suits, exercise attire and sneaker/sandals.

Can we expect a second season of Bling Empire?

For the first season, I hope viewers were not only entertained by the glitz and glamour, race cars, fancy clothes, and lavish parties but (more importantly) also moved by the intimate stories and journeys the cast has shared. While season 1 only peered into one layer and facet of my life, I hope viewers will be able to see all the other aspects—momhood, friendships, businesses, adventures, special projects, philanthropy and more—should we be fortunate enough to continue to share stories in a season 2. Here’s to a deeper, crazier, blingy-er season 2!