For those of you who can’t get enough of Kim Lim, there are three cover stories of her this month. National Day celebration?
By Mao Shan Wang
Great editors think alike. In line with National Day celebrations, three local magazines have Kim Lim (林慧俐 or Lin Huili) graced their covers this month—not quite enough for you to think of 4D numbers, but definitely adequate for many to conclude that Ms Lim is our It girl, if they have not already before. And, as my brother reminded me, yummy mommy. I do not know why we need the three covers—Prestige, Icon (风华), and Her World—and the attended cover features at a go. Many folks of the media/advertising world don’t too, wondering if it’s anything to do with magazine revenue. One media professional WhatsApp-ed me: “I’m looking to see what the magazines got from her stable of companies.” Another, a PR manager, also texted me, after sending a screenshot from Magzter: “Wonder if it’s becoz they’re hoping to get ad $ from her spas.” The suspicions are understandable: an executive from her organisation had reportedly called some members of the media to ask if they would like to feature the beauty mogul-to-be.
Last Thursday, before the burgeoning buzz, I was flipping through magazines at Kinokuniya (curiously both Prestige and Icon are not out, only the latter’s online version). A fortysomething guy asked me, pointing to the Her World in my hands, “Is she so hot?” I could only manage a reluctant “no idea”. But Kim Lim is hot, just not the same hot as some scantily-clad influencers (she is, to he sure, not opposed to the occasional bikini shot for Instagram), but media-friendly hot. From dailies to monthlies, no publication will say no to a Kim Lim story, even if we’ve read them all before. It isn’t, of course, Ms Lim’s first multi-covers-in-one-month exposure. In fact, this August, she graduated from last year’s two (L’Officiel and Icon) to a plus one. It might have been three as well if HW had not published theirs a month earlier then. She was portrayed as an edgy influencer, as well as a loving daughter. This year, she is a sophisticate and a businesswoman. And, in view of National Day, model citizen? Wearing her long bob identically on all three covers, she is dressed differently on each, posing as a society lass in Fendi on Prestige, a wristwatch model in Dior on Icon, and a grand prix racer (or motor technician?) in Burberry on HW.
This month’s issue of what was once known—and marketed—as our island’s best-selling women’s magazine is as thin as the cover girl. Pages 4 and 5 of HW are a double-page advertisement for Illumia Therapeutics, Ms Lim’s one-year-old-plus medispa business which she calls “a beauty powerhouse”. It is an unsurprising industry choice since spa-visiting is increasingly a mass activity. Hers is the only beauty advertisement in the first quarter of the 112-page book, and, in fact, throughout. The Illumia Therapeutics ad, featuring a photo of the profile on the founder, is totally without competition from Estee Lauder or Shiseido, bona fide powerhouses. There are five ads in total, which is shocking to me. Admittedly, I have not read HW for years; I didn’t think they would be this skinny on advertisements. It is not unusual for magazines to feature products of advertisers, or the people behind brands. So, Ms Lim on the cover of HW is not unexpected, and does seem to commensurate with the editorial practice of picking the cover based on obligations to brands. I do not know how many insertions Illumia Therapeutics has committed to HW, but it is unlikely just one, since a single ad—even a double-page spread—is not quite enough to secure a cover story for its owner.
Kim Lim, Kim Lim, Kim Lim. From left, in Her World, Icon, and Prestige
Ms Lim, who turned 30 last month, is known as an influencer since she joined Instagram in late 2012. To date, she has 302K followers on IG, making her the more substantial ‘macro-influencer’. Exactly how influential she has been, no one could say for certain. I think she is able to impact especially those for whom a socialite who dresses fashionably has swaying power. Although oftentimes known as an “heiresses”, like Paris Hilton (now in Netflix’s offbeat series Cooking with Paris), Ms Lim prefers not to be saddled by such tags, even when many of her followers admire her as one who would come into considerable wealth (not that she isn’t already enjoying that, but, as one of her acquaintances said, to me, “her father is the billionaire, not her. Yet.”). She now communicates a more mature version of herself, and, as the reports in the above magazines go, wants to be taken seriously as a serious businesswoman. She told HW, “I want to try and make it by myself. I have a goal in life and somewhere I want to be”, even when she was honest about the initial financial kick-start she received from her tycoon father (whose high-profile business ownerships include Spanish La Liga Club Valencia CF and Thomson Medical Group). “Yes, he gave me a certain amount to start with,” she said. “But he also told me that if I run out, that’s it.”
It is unthinkable that Mr Lim, ranked 17th among SG’s 50 richest by Forbes in 2020, would leave her daughter in a lurch, but some influencers I spoke to think that Ms Lim can always leverage on her social-media fame and reach. One veteran medispa operator I know told me that it is “amazing” that the profile of Illumia Therapeutics (and sibling centre Papilla Haircare) could be raised in such a short period of time. In fact, Ms Lim runs a far bigger business than the two I mentioned earlier. She established the parent company Kelhealth Group, under which another half a dozen companies operate. Many observers think that it is upon the strength of her social-media reach (even when she has a degree in business management from Singapore Institute of Management) that Ms Lim is able to elevate herself and her ventures as successes rather visibly. She has not publicly released figures, so it is not known to what extend her success is. But she seems aware of the limitation of banking on her online fame. Icon quoted her saying, “但只要有更新鲜的面孔出现，随时会被取代。这是一个无可避免的问题 (for as long as fresher faces appear, [social media stars] will be replaced any time. This is inevitable).”
Apart from her online means of communication, Ms Lim is also able to count on the social hive to which she is part of, whose queen bee could well be the celebrity hairdresser David Gan (颜天发), whom Ms Lim calls “我的老娘 (my elderly mother)”—in line with the term of endearment Fann Wong (范文芳) and other Mediacorp artistes use: ah bu (啊母 or mother in Hokkien), as well as pal and fellow influencer, the controversial Xiaxue (下雪 or Wendy Cheng, as she is known to her friends). There are also her media chums, the editors who adore her—including Icon’s Sylvester Ng and Lianhe Zaobao’s Ng King Kang (吴庆康), known to be generous with editorial space when she is featured. Back in 2018, for the December issue, Icon produced a large-scale, multi-city shoot, covering Manchester, London, Paris, and Valencia (are you surprised?), to fill 60 pages of what Lianhe Zaobao, in an editorial to plug the fellow SPH title, called a “林慧俐特辑” (Kim Lim special issue). On Facebook, Sylvester Ng, who refers to Ms Lim as “my dear buddy”, revealed—I sense with great pride—that it was “the biggest (and most expensive) production ever in the 13 years of Icon”. That issue, I remember, had members of the media talking. Close to three years later, on three separate magazine covers, the heiress is similarly encouraging just-as-buzzy talk.
Update (11 August 2021, 18:30):
Elizabeth Leong (left) and Kim Lim in an Instagram post under which is the hashtag #bff. Photo: niawmitz/Instagram
Just four days after my post, and two after National Day, news relating to Kim Lim’s Kelhealth Group has emerged. Medispa veteran Elizabeth Leong, described by the press as Ms Lim’s “business partner”, has shared on IG—about two hours ago—of her “departure and disassociation from Kelhealth, Illumia Therapeutics, Illumia Medical, IllumiaSkin, Papilla Hair, Polaris Plastic, Orion Orthopaedics.” Ms Leong identified herself as a “co-founder” of the above brands on Linkedin. For most of her professional life, she has, in fact, been in the beauty and aesthetics business. Before she joined Ms Lim, she was the general manager of Cambridge Medical Group (CMG) for close to six years. Ms Leong also stated in Linkedin that she was the “co-founder” of Cambridge Therapeutics and other brands under CMG. Prior to establishing Illumia Therapeutics, Ms Lim was the brand ambassador of Cambridge Therapeutics, according to a 2018 Her World editorial.
In Elizabeth Leong’s two-paragraph IG post, she also stated that she is “moving on positively”. In addition, she expanded on what she would be moving on from: “Although it is painful to be pushed out, I am proud of what I have built…” Could this explain what the “departure” is about? She did not say who (or what) pushed her out. Folks in the industry did not hesitate to speculate. Slightly more than two weeks ago, Ms Leong shared on IG a photograph of Kim Lim celebrating her birthday with “30 cakes”. Two days earlier, she posted a nine-shot grid-picture of her and the birthday girl, with the message, “Kim, love you 300”. In her “departure” post (as I write this, there is 79 likes), one of the hashtags she added—among ten that she used (six in Chinese)—was #人要讲义气 (people have to value loyalty). Allegiance, as many of us know, is as fragile as love.
Illustrations: Just So. Profile photos: respective magazines