New York Times best-seller Rich People Problems author Kevin Kwan: “There’s a new generation of Asian women who are elegant and sophisticated, original and powerful.”

How to be Astrid
GLOSS THE RECORD - Marbbie Tagabucba (The Philippine Star) - August 31, 2017 - 4:00pm

Me and every woman and man I’ve spoken to in the heat of Manila’s Kevin Kwan kraze, The New York Times best-seller author on the Philippine leg of his Rich People Problems book tour — we all want to be Astrid.

I’m referring to Astrid Leong, the irreverent style savant with unparalleled avant- garde sensibilities coupled with vintage and heirloom jewel access — and a steaming hot love life to boot, the scene stealer in Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians trilogy — all for different, perfectly valid reasons.

National Book Store managing director Xandra Ramos-Padilla, spotted in the SM Seaside City Cebu book signing last Sunday in a current Dolce & Gabbana runway look with studded Valentino flats, is no exception. “For her style, of course!” she candidly tells me over Kwan’s intimate dinner reception at The Pig and The Palm. “I also like her grandmother Su Yi. They are both women of style, but it’s a reflection of how brave they are and they are ready to fight for their families.”

So is another true Crazy Rich Asian in Kwan’s Manila inner circle, Kris Aquino, wearing a Manolo Blahnik Hangisi with a pop of cheeky color — on top of her precious, quotable witticisms — who graced the book signing as its host. She is also starring in the Jon M. Chu-directed Hollywood feature film adaptation of the first book in the series.

“Astrid is lucky in everything, but unlucky in love, you know?” Kwan trails off.

Only ’cause Aquino couldn’t help but react: “Ouch. I can identify with that.”

But she continues, “You made reading something that every Filipino can identify with because we all love families and we all have in-fighting. My sisters, they read it, and they were like ‘Krissy, aren’t you glad we’re not fighting over inheritance?’ If there’s one thing we can be grateful for, it’s that our mom did a good job in making us feel that we really love each other. And money is something we should never fight about. The book is coated in glitter and glamour but at the end of the day, it’s really about 1. self-love, 2. self-acceptance and 3. following your own path.”

Kwan revealed now that the series and the movie are done, he’s working on a TV show, “completely original, completely different from the Crazy Rich series, and it’s gonna be very globe-trotting. It’s gonna be all over the world.”

YStyle had our own 15 minutes of crazy fashion talk with Kwan himself.

YSTYLE: The lines between Eastern versus Western style are blurred now, especially with the intelligent and well-traveled Asian woman blazing a trail. But looking at the way the Western world has reacted to the Crazy Rich Asian series, it shows there are still big differences between the two. What are they?

Kevin Kwan: Asian women aren’t afraid to be a little more daring with jewelry, for example. I find the jewels on Asian women light years ahead in terms of design and quality. When I go to Hong Kong and meet these women I’m just astounded by how exquisitely put together they are. The style in the West tends to be casual, even with the very wealthy. Casual, slouchy-chic. It’s a different sensibility.

What do you think informs the approach of Asian women in the way they styles themselves?





There is more of an underlying awareness of public image wherever you go that lends itself to that, whereas a lot of American and European women, they feel like they’re in a bubble. They actually don’t care. They’re dressing strictly for themselves, their own comfort, their own luxury. In Asia, a lot of women in that bubble of crazy rich Asians know they’re going to be watched, scrutinized, and photographed. They just wanna bring it whenever they step out. The other thing is you think about how you reflect on your family. I know that very well because my mother constantly criticizes every single thing I wear! And my hair, more so every time I step out in public with her (laughs).

 Astrid and Rachel — even Kitty Pong — epitomize what we’ve just been talking about. Then there’s Araminta, who represents the Rich Kids of Instagram…

There’s a misunderstanding about Rachel. She is not unstylish. You’ll see it in the film. She is very stylish but she doesn’t put herself together in the same way that Astrid does. For Astrid, fashion is an expression of her creativity because it is the only voice she has. Otherwise, she has to be completely perfect and silent about everything in her life. Her only means of creative outlet is how she puts her outfits together, the hair, the accessories, everything, whereas Rachel is an economics professor in NYU. Even if she wants to look stylish, she needs an outfit that will take her from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., from class to a meeting to a reception at night with the dean. It has to be versatile. A New York woman work look. Araminta is a model in the social media age so she dresses to flash. How she looks is part of the commodity of who she is in a commercial way. She has to push boundaries and always be social media-ready for a snap of a fan. The other two women don’t have to be.

The series is pretty much Astrid’s little black book on where to go, where to shop, but what would you say are her references?

She’s really one of a kind. Astrid’s inspiration comes from other stylish women in history, less so than movies and books. They are a reflection of a time. The looks can be sometimes great, but seldom avant-garde as someone like Astrid is. She’s a combination of fabulous women in history who were pioneers. Jacqueline Kennedy is an influence. For her it’s about style icons, people who have challenged the concept of how you dress up.

How about you — we’re all reading or have read your books, but what are you reading now?

The last truly gold book that I read and truly loved was Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope. I recommend it to everybody. It’s such a delightful romp through English society in the mid 19th century.

The books feature some of the best fashion in literature. I love Kitty's Giambattista Valli encounter in Rich People Problems, the Adele Bloch-Bauer I-inspired shimmering gold column, “with a cascading train-length skirt embroidered with thousands of gold chips, lapis lazuli, and precious gemstones, painstakingly scattered into a swirling mosaic pattern,” as you’ve described. Who stands out for you at the moment?

At the moment, I really love what Giambattista Valli has been doing especially his last runway haute couture show. The fantasy, the whimsy he brings to eveningwear is stunning. I also love what [Simon Porte] Jacquemus is doing. Another perennial favorite of mine is Dries Van Noten. You never know what he’s going to do from season to season. His inspirations are always so different from each other, yet when you see his work, you always think “That’s so Dries.” I love that about his work. It’s so distinctive yet so original. It’s very referential. He’s a genius. He is one of the few vanguards in a world where so many major brands have been corporatized. There’s no one auteur at the head of the house. There’s Valentino — God bless him, love his work — is no longer at Valentino. Yves Saint Laurent, gone. Calvin Klein no longer designs for his namesake but Raf Simmons is doing a great job, but it’s not the same. And when you know it’s a revolving door, it’s very different. These major conglomerates have to rethink how they’re hiring people because they are not giving these very creative people enough time in these houses to mature, to soak up the essence of the brand. They’re being given three seasons and they’re out, if they don’t perform, when it takes years to get the vision of how things should be.

Because of this pressure, the designers in turn would try to — not even cater, but pander to where the money is, which is Asia. You talk about it in your second book, China Rich Girlfriend.

All these awful clothing that they think will impress or attract the Asian buyer and customer but the Asian buyer and customer has become much more sophisticated, especially on the high end couture side. They don’t just wanna be dressed like dragons everyday.

Since The Joy Luck Club, the Crazy Rich Asians movie will be one of the few representations of Asian culture in Hollywood, with a full Asian cast. What’s something you want your Western fans to pick up on?

I would hope that they would see there’s a new generation of Asian women who are elegant and sophisticated and original and powerful. The stereotypes of Asian women being submissive, all gold-diggers, all after Western men no longer apply — they never did.

And the hot actors!

That was a very important factor for me in terms of casting the Crazy Rich Asians movie. I have been asked by many Asian actors, “Please make Nick, Colin, Charlie as attractive as possible and show off their sex appeal.” For too long, Hollywood has only shown these very emasculated stereotypes of Asian men. In the movie, we got them shirtless as much as we could (laughs).

We’re dying to know about the fashion and the jewelry — can you reveal any big names?

I really can’t give out details. Sorry! But I assure you, we really scoured the ends of the earth for the best things in the world to feature in the movie. It might be the most fashionable movie ever made.

* * *

Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriend, and Rich People Problems are available in National Book Store, National Book Store Express, and Powerbooks. Shop online at Follow @nbsalert on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Viber, and visit for updates.

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