Can the little red dot stand shoulder to shoulder with the little black dress? A native islander and friends look at fashion (and such) in Singapore, and, occasionally, among her neighbours, and a little further afield
In an interview with a Hong Kong paper, Chris Tam attempted to quell some rumours about his family and himself as “crown prince” of his now-sold family restaurant business, but he said little about his wife, her wealth, or her serious penchant for haute couture
Chris Tam with Abby Choi. Photo: wujie/Douyin
“I myself is a 內向 (neixiang) introverted person,” Chris Tam, the grieving husband of murdered and mutilated social media star Abby Choi Tin-fung (蔡天凤), said recently in a 专访 (zhuanfang or special/exclusive interview) with Hong Kong’s 星岛日报 (Sing Tao Daily), “I never know how to express my emotions.” It has been more than three months since the shocking death of his wife, and Mr Tam was finally able to go public with the press, sort of. It is not known if he initiated the interview with the paper or if he was contacted by the editors, but Mr Tam’s opening up came just days after the suspects in his wife’s killing appeared in court and their cases were adjourned to 31 July for to give the police more time to complete their investigation. What was he hoping to elucidate? This time, Mr Tam did not leave the speaking to others. As he explained, he, “in times of extreme pain, left to friends to face the media.” The friends have been mainly a mysterious 豹太 (baotai) or Madam Bao, a former insurance agent and known cat lover—now identified as Joey Wong H.W.—and her husband, Bernard Cheng.
Mr Tam, as we have noted before, is not known by his Chinese name. In the Sing Tao Daily report, he continued to be referred to as “谭仔「太子爷」Chris” or (literally) young Tam crown prince Chris. Even confirmed friends Ms Wong and Mr Cheng, who speaks on his behalf, call him Chris, not even 谭仔. While Hong Kong celebrities and stars do use a Western name, they are mostly refered to, in the local media, by their Chinese moniker (Andy Lau is 刘德华 or Lau Tak-wah, for example). In the rather brief article, there was no description of Mr Tam’s physical self or indication of him speaking to the reporter, face to face, and how he sounded. Despite the repeated association of him with his father’s successful and well-known rice noodle chain restaurant 谭仔云南米线 (Tamjai Yunnan Mixian, which was sold in 2017 to Japan’s largest operator of noodle shops Toridoll Holdings), Mr Tam played down his own social standing and importance, describing his life as “低调 (didiao)” or low-key.
He did not directly address the speculation of his family’s supposed wealth either. Rather, he said that he was born into an uncomplicated family (described by the paper as “简单朴素 [or simple and plain]”), not referring to their financial status and avoiding the common expression used to describe the Tams: 豪门 (haomen or rich/powerful families). His father, Mr Tam said, had the foresight to start a business, and preserved despite several failures. After Tamjai Yunnan Mixian was sold, the elder Tam placed the earnings in a trust fund, as well as invested in properties to let. The family’s income, therefore, comes from these investments, “nothing else”. Referring to being called a “富二代 (fuerdai or children of wealthy business folks)”, he said, he, too, needed a job: “I am presently helping my father with the rental of the properties, and the revenue that comes from this rental company, held by my father, is also my sole income.”
Chris Tam and Abby Choi in a wedding video. Screen shot: Douyin
He did he speak at length about his couture-wearing spouse, or how she became as famous as she was, only that he hasn’t been able to forget his “loving wife”, and promised to be “a good person and a good father”. Has he not been either while she was alive? When asked how he met Abby Choi, he said that he, initially, knew his wife’s first husband Alex Kwong Kong-chi (邝港智) when they were in middle school (he did not name the institution, but online chatter suggested that it was possibly Chan Shu Kui Memorial School that Mr Kwong supposedly attended). However, he did say that Mr Kwong “后来转校认识了Abby” or later changed schools and knew Ms Choi. He stated that subsequently he became acquainted with his wife through Mr Kwong, making no mention if, at that time, Mr Kwong and Ms Choi were already lovers, in school uniforms. There was no comment about the subsequent teenage marriage, or if he attended the couple’s wedding.
Neither did he speak of his relationship with Alex Kwong, especially after he married the latter’s ex-wife (did Mr Kwong know that they were dating after his divorce with Ms Choi?). There was not a squeak about the ex-husband’s alleged criminal past either. Or, the extent of their closeness as “one family” when children—four in total—from both fathers were reported to spend considerable time together. Or, what has been described as a “complicated” familial relationship between the Kwongs, the Chois and the Tams. There was no mention of the shocking actions of the alleged murderer of his wife or how she could have come to such a tragic fate. The fleeting mention of Mr Kwong seemed unstirred by anger or the need for justice to be served. Similarly, he did not address his perceived “closeness” to his mother-in-law, Zhang Yanhua (张燕花), also popularly known as 五姐 (wujie) or fifth sister. Numerous photographs of the two shared online showed he and his wife’s mother in poses that many considered “异常亲密 (yichang qinmi or unusually intimate)”.
One of the tattles he wanted to clarify was the speculation that the Tam family was involved in money laundering. Specifically, he pointed to Paomes Charitable Org (also known as 爱豹仕爱心慈善机构; the Facebook page, renamed as Abby & Paomes Charitable Org in memory of the deceased, was later deleted), to dispel the rumour that it is a cover to 洗黑钱 (xiheiqian) or launder money. Rather, he explained, it is a fund-raising body—supposedly co-founded by Ms Choi last October—that the FB introduction claimed to “donate 10 million yuan every year for the care of stray cats and dogs”. The charity is also linked to Joey Wong. She and Ms Choi reportedly shared a love for Asian leopard cats (and likely included Bengal cats), which may explain Ms Wong’s online handle Madam Bao—the bao (豹) in Chinese refers to the spotted carnivore. Chris Tam was emphatic that “our charity has never received any donations from my family [the Tams]”. And the main aim of the organisation was “to improve society’s treatment of the problems of stray animals”, and “it became our activity outside of the family.”
Pals in happier times. From left, Chris Tam, Abby Choi, Joey Wong, and Bernard Cheng. Photo: SCMP
There seemed to be a conscious effort to make clear the financial status of Paomes Charitable Org. Mr Tam pointed out that the organisation’s bank account was opened only in January this year, and just a month later, they had to pay a fall-below fee due to insufficient funds in the account. He claimed that there had not been expenses incurred and salary payouts were never made with 捐款 (juankuan) or contributions, definitely not from his family. There could, therefore, be no suspicion of money laundering or fraud. The application of charity status for the organisation was eventually halted because, after the “创伤(chuangshang)” or trauma, “some members [of the organisation] had to receive treatment for mental problems, and the decision then was to suspend the application.” He did not say why their Facebook page had to be permanently deleted if it was (re)named to honour his wife or to draw attention to the plight of strays, as was the original mission.
It is interesting that he mentioned Madam Bao, as well as Paomes Charitable Org. Was clearing the air about the organisation his wife co-founded also shedding light on the goodness of Madam Bao? And why did she need approval from the Tam family. The two friends of Abby Choi—Joey Wong and Bernard Cheng—have been described as “close” to the fashion influencer, to the extent that Ms Wong was “authorised” to speak on behalf of Chris Tam and Abby Choi, following the latter’s death last February. In fact, HK$1 million (about S$172,000) for information relating to the case was offered by Ms Wong, then only known as Madam Bao, shortly after the gruesome murder was discovered. She was among two other women who offered the same reward money. Other than what was put up monetarily, Ms Wong also provided significant details to the media regarding Ms Choi’s daily routine—who her drivers were (she had “several”) and who among them was tasked to pick the children of her first marriage from school. She also revealed that Ms Choi’s ex-brother-in-law Anthony Kwong Kong-kit (邝港杰), who was also her driver, was hired only during the Lunar New Year season. Her astonishing familiarity with the deceased’s domestic arrangements led many observing the murder case to think that Ms Wong could be helping the Tams and the Chois to conceal something—what that could be has been mostly speculative.
In the final paragraph of the Sing Tao Daily article, the attention was shifted to Joey Wong. She was quoted saying, in response to the termination of the application of the registration of the charity she co-founded with Ms Choi, that the decision was made after she discussed the matter with her husband, Bernard Cheng, and Mr Tam. She spoke of her relationship with Abby Choi and the latter’s in-laws: “My husband and I met Chris and his wife in 2018, and later became 形影不离 (xingying buli) or inseparable-as-form-and-shadow friends,” she said. “When the unfortunate case happened, everyone was heartbroken beyond words. Before Abby met with that tragedy, we did not know Abby and Chris’s parents. After that, to prevent Chris and his family from being harassed, we stood up to assist them in facing the media.” Even if Joey Wong had initially rose to the task as the mysterious Madam Bao. A false front, but a true friend to the end.
As more information emerges about the slain model/influencer, a web of intrigue is beginning to be apparent. Who was the mysterious, couture-wearing woman, really?
Abby Choi, wearing Georges Hobeika, for a L’Officiel shoot. Photo: xxabbyc/Instagram
With police investigating and Netizens digging deep concurrently, a rather different picture of the murdered and mutilated model has surfaced. Abby Choi Tin-fung (蔡天凤), whose violent death more than three weeks ago aroused the curiosity of the international fashion set, now appears to be a character shrouded in mystery and as layered as the tulle dresses she favoured. There are suggestions that she was somehow connected to the Hong Kong world of organised crime, in particular, money laundering, although how so, it is not immediately clear. This does not, however, say that her brutal and gruesome death is justifiable. But observers of this slaying are beginning to wonder who, in fact, is the real Abby Choi. Even the Hong Kong press are not able—or willing—to clearly delineate this “socialite” with considerable social media presence. It is the same with the people who allegedly know her. The very few who spoke gave conflicting accounts of her back story. More of those following the developments are, therefore, conceding that this case is increasingly “扑朔迷离 (pushuo mili)”, impossible to unravel.
Abby Choi was depicted as a social fixture, but that did not point to an actual job. When her murder was reported, she was mostly referred to as a celebrity. In mainland Chinese media, she is called a mingyuan (名媛) or a young lady of note, even the Chinese version of the debutante. As self-proclaimed to Vogue China last November, she’s a “高级定制收藏家” or collector of haute couture, although on her Instagram page, she did not don that many. The prevalent argument is that a mingyuan, especially one who buys high fashion, usually comes from an extremely wealthy family of stellar reputation. Not much is known about the Chois. Or, if they are indeed immensely rich. The central character in that family so far has been the matriarch Zhang Yanhua (张燕花), also known as 五姐 (wujie) or fifth sister in the mainland, where she reportedly spends part of her time, minding an unknown money-making business. Following the murder, she has spoken about her daughter, but little is revealed. Recently, another character related to that family has emerged. According to what has been circulating online, there was another person at the site where Ms Choi was dismembered: A masked man, whose identity is not confirmed; a lookout at the crime scene. It has been speculated that the person could be Ms Choi’s hitherto unseen brother, even step-brother. If that is true, there is more than meets the eye to this murder mystery. Strangely, the Hong Kong press has been rather silent this past week in their follow-up to the sensational homicide.
From left, Abby Choi, her mother Zhang Yanhua, and two step-sisters. Photo: Weibo
Abby Choi, as it’s currently known, was born in 1994, the child of Zhang Yanhua and another unidentified man from a previous marriage. A Hong Kong Netizen with the handle Poey Cheung shared online that Ms Choi was originally surnamed Wan (云 or Yun in Mandarin). No information is available about her father. Ms Zhang divorced her husband (some reports say because he gambles too much) and later re-married, in Hong Kong, to a local with the family name Choi. With this man, she gave birth to two daughters (and possibly a son?). Ms Cheung also shared that the murdered influencer grew up and lived with her grandparents in To Kwa Wan (土瓜湾), a neighbourhood on the eastern shore of the Kowloon Peninsula, not far from the old Kai Tak Airport. It is not an exceptional area, unlike, say, the swanky Kadoori Hill, where Ms Choi bought an apartment for her ex-husband and his family to live in. Ms Zhang has stated that her “precious daughter” went to an unnamed “international school”. But, according to Ms Cheung, Ms Choi attended the aided, co-ed Oblate Primarily School in To Kwa Wan. A Catholic institution founded in 1975, the school’s medium of instruction was Chinese. She later went to the private 60-year-old Kowloon Tong Secondary School, where teachers used Chinese in classes, too. It is not known if Ms Choi completed her secondary education or furthered her studies. Or, if early marriage, in fact, impeded her academic pursuits.
Initial reports claimed that Abby Choi met her first husband in the same secondary school. Her mother announced that her “daughter and son-in-law were [same-school] childhood sweethearts.” Poey Cheung said that the lovers were acquainted while both were schooling, but not in the same institution. Alex Kwong Kong-chi (邝港智) apparently attended Chan Shu Kui Memorial School. Formerly known by other names until 1974, the 50-year-old CSKMS was situated in Kowloon Tong before they moved to their present location in Sham Shui Po. As Ms Cheung described it, Kowloon Tong Secondary School, Abby Choi’s alma mater, was just opposite CSKMS, divided by a Kowloon-Canton Railway (KCR) track. Beneath this track, was a pedestrian underpass known among the students who used it as “桃花隧道 (taohua suidao)” or lovers’ tunnel. Those aware of this conduit knew that both schools were separated by a distance of a “two-minute walk”. Ms Choi reportedly knew her future first husband when she was 15. It is possible then that both met and fell in love here, beneath the passing of a KCR train. Yet, it is also said that both schools were not in such close proximity. How their romance blossomed to the point that it could lead to teenaged marriage is thus not clear, yet.
Although surrounded by books at a Chanel event last February, Abby Choi was not known to be academically inclined. It is not known if she completed her secondary education. Photo: Abby Choi/Facebook
It was also shared online by self-proclaimed former schoolmates that although Ms Choi was said to be “善良 (shanliang)” or kindhearted, as well as sweet and demure (as proclaimed online by those who had been in her recent clique), she was purportedly not nearly the good girl that she had projected herself to be, at least as seen on social media. The revealer claimed that Ms Choi was prone to “搬弄是非(bannong shifei)” or tell tales, sew discord, even creating mischief. She reportedly got herself into fights with schoolmates, too. With misdemeanors piled up, she eventually had to pulled out of school and register in another, which has not been identified. It was in secondary school that Ms Choi took her step-father’s surname. Concurrently, she began to morph into a wealthy daughter, and was sent to and picked up from school in a chauffeur-driven car. Her step-father initially opened a restaurant called Ying Heung Fan Dim (盈香饭店) in To Kwa Wan, but after undisclosed business dealings in China (reportedly in Hainan), became extremely wealthy. Despite rewarding her with material edge, Ms Choi’s parents apparently paid scant attention to her schooling. Even more inexplicable was how unaffected they were when Ms Choi announced that she wanted to marry Alex Kwong when both were merely 18 years of age.
The Chinese have a common saying: 门当户对 (mendang hudui) or a fitting marital match when both families are of similar social status. Popular understanding in Hong Kong suggests that the aided Kowloon Tong Secondary School that Abby Choi went to was, at that time, a better institution than Chan Shu Kui Memorial School that Alex Kwong attended. Additionally, the Kwongs, in comparison, were not even considered borderline affluent. Patriarch Kwong Kau (邝球) was a disgraced former policeman (an accusation of rape when he was with the force was never resolved). His elder son, Alex Kwong, was not known to be academically successful or gainfully employed (the other son, Anthony Kwong Kong-kit (邝港杰), later served as Ms Choi’s personal driver and, puzzlingly, event companion). Although the Choi family was not in the league of Hong Kong’s 名门望族 (mingmen wangzu) or prestigious families, they were, at least on the surface, economically better off than the Kwongs. Yet the coming together of two disparate families by marriage took place (exactly when is unknown although 2012 is thought to be the year). The unanswered question on so many lips: Why would any parent (the mother Zhang Yanhua, in particular) agree to a teenaged daughter marrying another teen who had no certain future? And not discouraging them from having children so soon after?
Screen shot of Abby Choi with her second husband Chris Tam in an undated video shared on Sina News
The adolescents’ marriage bore them two children, but the union did not last. The divorce came, as did the wedding, at an undisclosed date, but online speculation placed it at around 2015. If that is correct, Ms Choi remarried rather quickly—only a year later. The groom is a man thought to be of considerable wealth—the son of Tam Chuk-kwan (谭泽均), co-founder of the chain eatery TamJai Yunnan Mixian (rice noodles). Tam junior is known only as Chris Tam. He is not addressed by his Chinese name, even in the Chinese media. According to current knowledge and chatter, Chris Tam was acquainted with Abby Choi during their school days, just as Mr Kwong was. Ms Zhang claimed, in fact, that they knew each other when her daughter was ten. When they tied the knot, it was reported that both went through traditional Chinese nuptial rites that included betrothal gifts of immense gold jewellery (one photo showed boxes of chunky gold bangles, another of her wearing them as a necklace). Their wedding dinner was a lavish affair, held in what looked like a luxury hotel ballroom. The event was hosted by renowned TVB variety show host 林盛斌 (Lin Shengbin), popularly known as Bob, who reportedly earns a six-figure sum (HKD) for each appearance, including weddings.
A video of the nuptials, inexplicably shot in a studio in the Philippines, emerged (after the murder, the company removed it from their social media account, but not before it was downloaded by Netizens and shared online). In the video, Chris Tam claimed that he met Ms Choi on some street, where his future wife was with a friend. This contradicted Ms Zhang’s version of the matter. Even more peculiar, the marriage was never registered. There was no certificate to prove that they officially tied the knot, just that shot-in-the-Philipines video and testimonies of whoever attended the ceremony that was reportedly witnessed by“nearly 100 tables” of guests. Was this a more modern arrangement that was a tad better than straight-to-cohabitation? As with her first husband, Ms Choi had two children with her second, and, again this time, a boy and a girl. By most accounts, life with her new man was at least good, if not blissful. Ms Choi had expressed on IG more than once her gratefulness towards an unnamed fellow, presumed to be Chris Tam. In one photo shared online, he was seen with her in Paris last January during Couture Week. A month later, back in Hong Kong, the Tam family reported to the police that Abby Choi was missing.
Screen shot of Abby Choi’s betrothal gifts from the Tam family, shared on Sina News
As the weeks passed, a more vivid picture of Chris Tam emerged. He seems like an extremely understanding—some say outstanding—spouse; he’s on more than friendly terms with Ms Choi’s ex-husband, welcomed the two kids from his wife’s previous marriage to play with his own two, had no objections to the hiring of Ms Choi’s former brother-in-law Anthony Kwong as her personal driver and chaperone to fashion events, and has been extremely/unusually chummy with his mother-in-law, wujie Zhang Yanhua, arousing the curiosity as to what was the true nature of their relationship. Additionally, Chris Tam’s parents and the Kwongs are reported to enjoy mutually amicable rapport. Even Ms Zhang was full of praise of how the two families had been affectionate towards her daughter. At the same time, it isn’t clear why a man known as the 太子爷 (taiziye) or crown prince of his family’s relatively large business would take as a first wife a woman from not a particularly distinguished family and who was a divorcée, with two children in tow. Despite the all-over love fest, dispute and displeasure later surfaced. After the Kwongs were arrested, a family member supposedly contacted the Tams and asked, “你为什么报警不提前告诉我 (why did you not inform me in advance before contacting the police?)”. Kwong Kau, too, allegedly said to Chris Tam before the murder, “如果谭家食言，下场就是一起死 (if the Tam family will not keep to their word, the consequence is death to us all)”.
In several close looks at Ms Choi’s social media pages to better learn about her fashionable past with French luxury houses, what stood out was not the lack of influencer-worthy clothes, but posts of a more personal nature (other than shots of birthday celebrations). There is, for example, not a single photo on Instagram (her username was, as recorded, changed twice) that shows Ms Choi with either of her husbands. Stranger still are nil images of her when she was pregnant, pre-natal or post-natal, or with her children (even just one) as babies or toddlers. There are no photos of her with her immediate family. Or, in-laws, past or present, except—remarkably—those of her with her brother-in-law Anthony Kwong, who shared seven shots (excluding group pictures) on his IG page, with the somewhat careful hashtags, #family and #BroAndSisLove. She joined IG in 2012, which would be the year she married Alex Kwong, yet there are no photos of her wedding or even a bridal gown (perhaps the event was a very simple affair). Ditto her second wedding, which is curious for someone who was by 2017, after she married Chris Tam, lauded as a fashion star. What we did find was the Facebook page Abby and Paomes Charitable Org, which was supposed to be started by the murder victim and a mysterious friend, who goes by the handle 豹太 (baotai) or Madam Bao and had, in the early days of the investigation into the Abby Choi homicide, offered HK$1 million for information relating to the case. Her relationship with Madam Bao is unclear, unlike that with Aaron Kwok’s also-influencer wife Moka Fang (方媛), frequently described as a 闺蜜 (guimi) or bestie.
Abby Choi during a couture fitting at Dior. Screen shot: xxabbyc/Instagram
It is not clear when Ms Choi began enjoying fashion to the extent that she did. Most of her posts on IG (and repeated on Facebook, which she joined only in 2017) featured identifiable, ultra-feminine styles from the usual brands that influencers tend to be drawn to: Louis Vuitton, Valentino and Gucci, with extreme love for Chanel and, especially, Dior. Interestingly, her first show, according to her posts, was Dolce & Gabbana in February 2017, just two months after she married Alex Tam. It was during this time, according to media reports, that she really played the part of the rich fashionista. Was she, perhaps, finally able to be a wealthy daughter-in-law? She was active and traveled through the pandemic years. It is not certain when she became a couture customer. In the beginning, she appeared to be wearing RTW, but in February 2020, she was videotaped at a Dior couture fitting, in a grey-blue silk chiffon gown. It is not known how big a Dior customer she really was (or if that was the first and only couture purchase). A source at a luxury house confirmed that such information is never disclosed. It is not certain either if all those fashion week trips were out-of-pocket expenses or if she enjoyed a fully-paid invitation by the brands—they are known to request the presence of potential or existing couture customers, all on the house. According to a Forbes report in 2020, a Dior couture full-length dress would cost “US$100,000 upwards”. Perhaps, most baffling among the unknowns about Ms Choi was the source of her seemingly immense wealth.
The popular proposition now is that Ms Choi “是被包装出来的伪豪门女”; she was packaged as a rich and powerful woman. This usually indicates that such a person is groomed to be a diversion from a hidden malefaction. Ms Choi is reported to be 1.55m tall and weighed about 40 kg. She was not considered typical of the influencers—in size and stature—that dominate social media, such as “天王嫂 (tianwangsai)” or heavenly king’s wife Moka Fang or the eighth suspect in this case Irene Pun (潘巧贤, Pan Qiaoxian). Some who knew Ms Choi, former schoolmates among them, pointed out that she had had cosmetic enhancement at an unknown time, and before that, she looked “很一般 (henyiban)” or ordinary. Yet, she was able to work towards the status from which to launch herself in the world of not just fashion, but haute couture. Furthermore, Ms Choi had never held a job that could be considered regular employment (while financially supporting her former in-laws). Maintaining the high profile she did required a team, which she had acknowledged to exist. These individuals, from those in hair and makeup to videography, were unlikely to have volunteered their services. The pursuit of influencing is a cost-intensive enterprise. How was she able to finance it all? How did a To Kwa Wan lass of indeterminate means propel herself without apparent connections to the hallowed grounds of the couture salons of Paris? Was there something illegal/illicit involved? Were there more than the rapacious Kwongs behind her brutal downfall and grisly end?
In Chanel, in 2021. Occasion and location unknown. Photo: xxabbyc/Instagram
Interestingly, Vogue China had not put Ms Choi on their cover (nor Vogue Hong Kong) despite her ascent. In an IG post last November, Ms Choi shared that she had a “对话 (duihua)” or dialogue with the fashion bible. Vogue China revealed nothing much except how she appreciated couture. Last month, she did receive a magazine cover—for the digital edition of L’Officiel. Ms Choi shared it on IG, with the comment, “From Hong Kong to the cover of L’Officiel Monaco, my journey as a style icon continues.” Who calls herself a style icon? In the oddly banal editorial that accompanied the cover, the magazine described her as a ”fashion star” who “has taken the world by storm with her impeccable sense of style and her unbridled passion for fashion.” They marveled at her “keen eye for style and her ability to mix and match pieces in unexpected ways” although they showed not evidence of that. “I am a person who keeps absorbing inspiration and always tries new styles. Sometimes I also try to dress up more extravagant, by mixing and combining different looks,” she was quoted saying, and again that innate flair was not seen, even on her IG page. The question was, why L’Officiel Monaco? Who reads it? Why not L’Officiel China?
L’Officiel was first published in France in 1921. Now, it has more than two dozen international editions in the current line-up. Last year, the title was acquired by Hong Kong-based AMTD International, whose founder is Dr Calvin Choi Chi-kin (蔡志堅), dubbed by finews.asia as “Hong Kong’s Most Controversial Banker”. Dr Choi, with links to mainland Chinese banks, chairs AMTD Group whose AMTD Digital, according to Forbes, made a startling turn last August: “Less than a month after the 43-year-old listed his AMTD Digital on the New York Stock Exchange, his stake in the digital financial services firm has skyrocketed 14,000% for reasons his firm can’t explain.” That brief period made him “worth nearly US$37 billion, more than Li Ka-shing (李嘉诚).” Early this year, the “auditing pioneer” and whizz was banned by Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) “over conflicts of interest while he was a UBS banker in 2014 and 2015”, as finews.com informed. Dr Choi’s colourful history in auditing and banking is too long to be described here. While there is no immediately discernible link between the two unrelated Chois, it is interesting that the couture-loving influencer could somehow draw big names into her glittery orbit, whether directly or not. Was the L’Officiel cover of Ms Choi an independent editorial decision? And why did it happen only after AMTD International’s acquisition of the title?
Deeply curious journalists and individuals are playing online detectives and putting out different back stories and details to Ms Choy’s murder. Local names and those across the mainland—from Hong Kong’s “tianwangsao” to Macau’s jailed “Little Gambling King”—were dredged up to effect better brush strokes in creating the still incomplete picture. The speculations oftentimes point to something more nefarious than the familial dispute over a luxury apartment that was initially posited. Why would a whole family kill a girl whose first two kids are their children and grandchildren just over a flat? Was Ms Choi a victim from the start? The police have for weeks not shared with the public developments in their investigation. And things are increasingly not what them seem. A Chinese saying could be the best guide in following the truth behind the homicide of Abby Choi: “眼见不定为真，耳闻不定为是”. What the eyes see may not be real, what the ears hear may not be true.
Update (8 May 2023, 5pm): Six defendants charged with the murder of Abby Choi appeared in court today. The case was adjourned to 31 July as police require more time to look into 30 items related to the crime. Blood found in the vehicle believed to have transported Ms Choi to the site of her hacking is confirmed to be the murder victim’s
A China-born Hong Kong Instagram “goddess” was arrested in connection with the murder of fellow influencer Abby Choi. Who is Irene Pun?
Irene Pun, another arrestee in the murder of Abby Choi. Photo: punhuayin/Instagram
There are more plot twists than a homicide thriller, many following the Abby Choi Tin-fung (蔡天凤) murder/mutilation have said. Even if Miss Moorthy Investigates, she’d be stumped. In the latest development of the brutal slaying of Ms Choi, Hong Kong police have arrested an “influencer”, Irene Pun Hau-yin (潘巧贤 or Pan Qiaoxian ), in connection with the gruesome case. Ms Choi’s torso and hands are reportedly still not found, but more suspects have been apprehended. Earlier in the week, a yacht rental agent, Henry Lam (林舜 or Lin Shun) was arraigned and charged with aiding Ms Choi’s ex-husband Alex Kwong Kong-chi (邝港智) to abscond. Ms Pun (pronounced poon), identified as Mr Kwong’s “friend”, had later tried to flee Hong Kong, but was napped in her tracks across the border in Shenzhen (深圳) on 7 March and handed over to Hong Kong police at the Shenzhen Bay checkpoint. The 29-year-old was charged yesterday and released after HK$50,000 (or about S$8,620) bail was posted. When she was in court to hear her indictment, she was, it was enthusiastically reported, shod in Chanel.
That another influencer was in the news has brought the Hong Kong KOL community to a tizzy. Even the entertainment world was abuzz when Ms Pun—her followers consider her to be an “IG天后 (goddess)”—was linked to some of the SAR’s noted stars, including Louis Koo Tin-lok (古天乐, Gu Tianle), Owen Cheung Chun-long (张振朗, Zhang Zhenlang) and singer Kelvin Kwan Chor-yiu (关楚耀, Guan Chuyao), when she posted wefies of the stars and herself on Instagram. Mr Kwan, appearing on her IG page with considerable regularity, is believed to be an old friend. Raised in Canada, he is the son of record producer William Kwan Wai-leun (关维麟, Guan Weilin), who is a close friend of Alan Tam Wing-lun (谭咏麟, Tan Yonglin), also the younger Kwan’s godfather. In 2009, he was arrested in Tokyo for the possession of marijuana together with his then girlfriend, the Korean/Filipino singer Jill Vidal (衛詩, Weisi). Ironically, both had appeared in Hong Kong’s Say No to Drugs campaign of that year. His career did not recover. Last year, the disgraced singer was reported to be reduced to performing in a food court in the resort island of Hainan. After Ms Pun’s arrest, her younger sister Zoe, also considered an influencer, posted a cryptic handwritten message in Chinese that seemed to suggest that her sibling is innocent or that it might be the company she kept that has led to her downfall. None of her famous friends have stood up for her.
Although it is not known how they met, Irene Pun and Henry Lam do not appear to be mere acquaintances. On her IG page, she shared photos of both of them attending various social events, one of them was her birthday party. It is speculated that she knows Mr Lam well and trusted the forty-one-year-old, at least sufficiently to ask him to arrange for her friend, the murder suspect, to flee to Macau. According to Hong Kong’s Mingbao News (明报新闻), on 24 February, after Ms Pun came to know that Mr Kwang had murdered his former wife, she introduced him to Mr Lam, who, as Mingpao stated, is an employee of Air Yacht (优游海洋), a company in Shueng Wan (上环) that charters luxury yachts. Curiously, in a post on Air Yacht’s IG page, which showed a TVB interview from 2020, Mr Lam was introduced as a “共享游艇船主 (literally, ‘shared yacht owner’)”. Ms Pun had posted images on IG of herself aboard boats, enjoying the sea or sunbathing (one, “boating w my gals” in Posatino, Italy) although it is not known if her marine escapades had anything to do with Air Yacht or if she had even met Mr Lam through the company.
Irene Pun outside BV in Ginza, Tokyo last October. Photo: punhuayin/Instagram
After the meeting between Alex Kwong and Henry Lam, a sum of HK$300,000 (according to The Straits Times, HK$100,000) was paid to the latter. It is not known if this was Mr Kwong’s own money. Mr Lam had, by then, worked out the get-away to Macau. The plan was for the escapee to be brought to open seas by speedboat (some reports say yacht) and then transfer him to another vessel before sailing the fellow to the gambling hub of southern China. Ms Pun herself would then find her way across to the mainland, whether to join Mr Kwong, it is not yet known. As Macau is in the picture, there is now speculation that the involvement of Mr Lam is somehow linked to convicted Macau “小赌王, little gambling king” Alvin Chau (周焯华, Zhou Zhuohua), protégé of the famed gangster (尹国驹, Yin Guoju), who Time magazine called “the last godfather of Macau”. In January, Mr Chau was sentenced to 18 years in jail for over 100 charges, according to the BBC (Chinese media reported more than 280). The founder of Suncity Group (太阳集团), he ran what was described as Macau’s largest operator of junkets—trips for mainland Chinese high rollers to the MSAR’s casinos. Online rumours are rife that although Mr Chau is in jail, his organisation behind many criminal activities has not entirely ceased operations. And, somehow, through it, Mr Kwong’s escape would be possible.
Alvin Chau has links to Hong Kong too, especially in entertainment. In the Fragrant Harbour, he had set up Sun Entertainment Culture (太阳娱乐文化), a record label, film company, and management agency, which was once run by Paco Wong Pak-ko (黃柏高 or Huang Bogau), one of the most renowned artiste managers of Hong Kong, a name behind such major Cantopop successes as the late Danny Chan Pak-keung (陈百强) and Sammi Cheng Sau-man (郑秀文). Henry Lam had reportedly called Mr Wong his “入行恩师 (ruhang enshi or mentor)”. He was, therefore, in the entertainment business and had, apparently, been assistant to the singer Ronald Cheng Chung-kei (郑中基), also managed—unsurprisingly—by Paco Wong. According to the news site Singtao (星岛网), he too was once Kelvin Kwan’s assistant at Universal Music (环球唱片). These connections in the Hong Kong entertainment circle led to the speculation that Mr Lam possibly became acquainted with Alvin Chau through Paco Wong, and that he had kept in contact with the gambling king, and was why he wanted to arrange for Alex Kwong to seek refuge in Macau.
As with Henry Lam, how Irene Pun came to know Alex Kwong is not known. There is suggestion that both of them were dating before the murder, but that is yet to be verified. Some reports refer to her as Mr Kwong’s “女朋友 (nupengyou or girlfriend)”. Hong Kong police offered no insight to the nature of their relationship. She has posted on IG images of her and Mr Lam in Macau, often in the gambling hub’s expensive playgrounds. These photographs suggest that both of them are not unfamiliar with Macau. Her fondness for the MSAR (even hashtagging the city when her IG photos are not obvious) may explain her involvement in sending Mr Kwong there. According to the Hong Kong media, she had “claimed [that] she is unemployed”, but Netizens consider keeping oneself visible through social media “a job” and that Mr Kwong was not likely to date a woman of unimpressive means. This would be the second allegedly wealthy IG star that is linked to Mr Kwong. Like Abby Choi, Ms Pun showed herself to be living it up, attending events with celebrities, wearing expensive luxury labels, often shot in different parts of the world. Curiously, both women’s IG posts do not offer images of either of them with Mr Kwong.
Henry Lam and Irene Pun celebrating the latter’s birthday in 2019. Photo: punhauyin/Instagram
Irene Pun was born on 19 September 1993, supposedly in China—exactly where, it is not known. Virtually no information is available about her family or her childhood. Some Hong Kong media reports describe her as a “new immigrant”. But according to her Facebook page, she went to St Margaret’s Co-educational English Secondary Primary School in Kowloon, one of the few institutions that uses English as medium of instruction. After that, she went to Maryknoll Convent, a girl’s school, also in Kowloon, with both primary and secondary education. It is possible that Ms Pun completed her primary school at St Margaret and secondary at Maryknoll, which would suggest that she had arrived in Hong Kong before she was six. Unlike Abby Choi, Ms Pun furthered her studies. First, at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, a public university in California, but it is not know what she read or if she graduated. Then, she was in the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, the same school that winner of the inaugural Singapore Stories competition, Carol Chen (陈慧敏) went to. It is not ascertained if she received her degree. There is no reference on social media of her graduation show or such, except for a post on April 2015, when she shared a photo of a mood board and three pieces of (presumably) her fashion illustrations, with the comment “做project做死 (doing project till death)”. Whether she took a job in fashion after finishing school is not known either.
Apart from her love of dressing up, Ms Pun enjoys cooking and dining in fancy restaurants. She has a separate IG page to (mostly) show off her culinary skill and the places she dined in. Despite being an active social media user, with two accounts on IG alone, she shared almost nothing about her family: less than a handful of her mother (her sister is a tad better: one indistinct photo of her day, a pair of her parents, and some of her mother), with one, posted in 2013, that was an old snapshot of her mom, an undeniably attractive younger self. (As with Abby Choi, she offered no shots with her father.) But online Hong Kong sleuths linked a key figure of the city’s triad and his wife to the influencer, suggesting that the city’s notorious gangster of the ’90s Pan Luanbin (潘銮彬), twice jailed, and spouse Fang Lixia (方丽雯) are Ms Pun’s parents. This has not been verified by the authorities, but the premise of this connection is based on her surname and, the year of her birth, which reportedly coincided with the year that Ms Fang gave birth to her first child (a daughter, no less): 1993. Moreover, she is one of two daughters. Pan Luanbin has two girls, too. Could this be mere happenstance? If this is true, then Ms Pun was born in Hong Kong. But, more pertinent to this girl’s backstory is the source of her income. As with Abby Choi’s real worth, no one can say for sure.
A week before Abby Choi’s murder, Irene Pun was in Seoul with her younger sister Zoe, having a good time, as reflected in the IG posts of both women. It is not reported when she returned to Hong Kong or when she was in touch with Alex Kwong following that. After she was handed to the Hong Kong police on 8 March, Ms Pun was brought back to the apartment she shares with her sister in West Kowloon for the gathering of evidence. Like Abby Choi, she lived in a swanky residential development: The Cullinan (天玺). Hong Kong media describes it as a “luxury private estate”. Only those with deep pockets would be able to afford the sea-view flats that rise above Kowloon Station, a stop on the Airport Express. Real estate websites showed that units here have been selling between HK$20.6 million and HK$57 million. Early reports claimed that Ms Pun’s father runs a bar. That alone, many expressed, would not be able to sustain his daughter’s lavish expenditure, unless, as it has been pointed out, “the father is money-laundering”. As with Abby Choi, those who know Ms Pun has claimed that the latter “只是太善良 (is just too kind)”. But kindness alone cannot explain her criminal actions, however impulsive, or how a woman, not yet 30, could amass the wealth that had fueled her life of extravagance. Even as more suspects were hauled to court, it seems that the can of worms is only being pried open and just the surface is given a peek.
Update (16 March 2023, 10:30): According to Hong Kong media, there is now an eighth suspect. After the police interviewed residents of the flat in Lung Mei Tsuen, where the mutilation or Abby Choi took place, another man is believed to have been on the look out while the hacking of the model’s body took place. Police have not identified the suspect, but Netizens are speculating that it could be Abby Choi’s step brother (born to Ms Choi’s mother the “Fifth Sister” and her second husband). The plot thickens, again.
Update(17 April 2023, 18:12):
Part of a screen grab of Irene Pun’s Instagram Stories
Two days ago, Irene Pun suddenly shared a fairly lengthy post on Instagram Stories (that has since been removed), declaring her innocence in the case involving the murder and mutilation of Abby Choi. Why now, more than a month after she was arraigned, isn’t clear or explained. In her post, written in Cantonese and addressed to those who “诬蔑” or slandered her and those who “给我写故事” or wrote stories about her (including, presumably, us), Ms Pun proclaimed that she does not know either side of the Kwong family. Curiously, she added that “perhaps even saying this is against the law.” Could not knowing any of the Kwongs mean she is unacquainted with Abby Choi too? She then added another character to the plot; she hoped an unidentified “一哥 (yige, first or one brother)” would come out and speak for her. Is someone else aware of the truth or her situation? But if she is truly innocent and unconnected to the case, why did the authorities bother to arrest her in Shenzhen and hand her over to the Hong Kong police; why did they see that it was necessary to waste public resources?
Ms Pun did not answer those questions or say what she considered “slander” or “stories” in her staccato-like post. She did not address her links with the yacht rental agent Henry Lam, believed to have facilitated Alex Kwong’s escape to Macau. Or, why, as alleged by the Hong Kong media, she put both men in touch. Rather, she wrote about “[how] the wronged [was] unable to speak” and “how terrible she felt [as a result]”. She said “she has cooperated responsibly, shared all content of her phone, and made clear the truth.” As such, “even if the matter has not concluded, it shouldn’t be like this.” Ms Pun, who described herself as “but a small city resident”, continued to suggest that she was victimised: “being misunderstood by the world, [I ] feel you would 还清白 (huan qing bai or return [her] innocence). I am human; I have feelings.” She even compared herself to a “chess piece”, which prompted the question, who has been making the moves? Despite saying how aggrieved she claimed she was, she did not once declare that she was guiltless or totally uninvolved, only that she is “of no help” to the case. She concluded: “网上的流言蜚语，谁顶得住，你可以吗? The online rumours and slanders, who can bear them? Can you?”
Who was the slain, haute couture-wearing HongkongerAbby Choi?
Abby Choi, wearing Elie Saab, in Paris early this month. Photo: xxabbyc/Instagram
Warning: This post contains description that some readers may find disturbing
She is on the news in Hong Kong daily since last Wednesday when her dismembered body was found in Lung Mei Tsuen (龙尾村), Tai Po (大埔), in the New Territories (新界), north of the SAR. “Reality is more gruesome than fiction” was a repeated comment on Weibo when the news broke. Abby Choi Tin-fung (蔡天凤), a model and an influencer who has been constantly referred to as a socialite, was found mutilated in a mysterious village flat. The grisly murder has been very much covered by the local media, including the discovering by police of cooked body parts, as well as a mincer and an electric saw at the crime scene. According to the South China Morning Post, “body parts were discovered in two soup pots police retrieved” and “two female legs were found in a fridge at the house” in a search that stretch to the Chinese Permanent Cemetery in Tseung Kwan O (将军澳), some 27 kilometres away from the Tai Po. In what has been described as 一家落网 (yijialuowang or one family netted), police have arrested four related individuals in connection with the case: first husband Alex Kwong Kong-chi (邝港智), his elder brother, and their father for murder, as well as their mother for perverting the course of justice. In addition, a “lover” of the father was also arrested. Reportedly, Mr Kwong was apprehended by police while waiting for a speedboat to abscond to the mainland at Tung Chung Pier (东涌码头) on Lantai Island. He was found with cash of HK$500,00 (or about S$85,857) and luxury watches, including a Patek Philippe, all estimated to worth a total of HK$4 million (or about S$686,858).
The backstory to the murder that emerged is, given the consistent glamour that Abby Choi projected, inconsistent with a fashion personality who has been a couture week fixture. In Paris, just this past January, she was seen lavishly dressed at Dior and Chanel, two labels she seemingly adored, as well at the shows of Giambattista Valli, Zuhair Murad, Elie Saab, and the Greek designer Celia Kritharioti. She also attended the Dior and Chanel dinners after the respective presentations. At 28, she was considered one of the youngest customers of French high fashion. Ms Choi loved ultra-feminine styles, and her adoration of all those maisons was not surprising. She was also seen on the front row at the Louis Vuitton men’s presentation, shortly before the start of couture spring/summer 2023 season. And just last Wednesday, Ms Choi shared on Instagram an image of her on the (digital) cover of L’Officiel Monaco. The e-mag described her with considerable enthusiasm as “a fashion icon and media personality who has taken the world by storm with her impeccable sense of style and her unbridled passion for fashion” and “a true trendsetter, with fans from all over the world following her every move”. And on that same day, she was reported missing after she was not contactable the day before. Two days later, police made the gruesome, partly-cooked find.
In Chanel at the Grand Palais Éphémère for the Chanel couture spring 2023 show in January
The flat in a quaint, nondescript four-storey block, where the body parts were found, is believed to have been rented by Ms Choi’s former father-in-law Kwong Kau (邝球) just a few weeks ago. The latest reports state that Kwong Kau’s mistress, a mainlander who works as a masseuse in Sham Shui Po (深水埗), Kowloon (九龙) and is known only by her surname Ng (伍 or wu) to media and Yung Yung (容容) to her customers, was the person who facilitated the rental of the flat. Police believes she also harboured Alex Kwong in another flat in Tsim Sha Tsui (尖沙咀). The rented residence where the dismemberment was carried out sits in a beach-side village—half an hour drive’s from the city centre—that tourists do not generally associate with the gleaming metropolis: verdant surroundings of the New Territories and the Pat Sin Leng (八仙岭 or ridge of the Eight Immortals) mountain range for a backdrop. Those who choose to live here generally prefer to get away from the manic heart of the city or to adopt a seriously quiet life. The village, by many accounts, “look(s) like forever holiday”, and it is in this tranquility that a brutal crime could easily be carried out. Tai Po is, ironically, home to the world’s tallest bronze Goddess of Mercy, and just three kilometres to Lung Mei Tsuen is a river that leads to a plunge pool, known locally as 新娘潭 (xinniangtan) or the Bride’s Pool.
According to the HK news site Mingpao (明报), Ms Choi’s petit body was discovered by the police in parts, separately. Two stainless steel pots found in the unfurnished flat contained a skull in one and bits of ribs, hair, and “small amount of human tissue” amid green and red carrot chunks in the other, as well as soup dregs. According to one Reuters report published after the body parts were found, a refrigerator apparently was where her legs were stored. At the time of this post, Ms Choi’s body was not completely found. Her torso and her hands are reportedly still missing. The police have not explained why searches (two, apparently) were required in the Tseung Kwan O cemetery or if clues pointed them there. It was also revealed that a 6.5 cm by 5.5 cm hole was found on the skull, behind the deceased’s right ear. Followers of Ms Choi on social media cannot reconcile the description of the dismembered body with images of the fashionista/influencer frequently seen on social media or society pages of magazines. “Who hacks a beautiful woman like that?” Or any body? Were the slayers so consumed by rage in whatever Ms Choi did or said to want to murder and mutilate?
The Lung Mei Tsuenflat where the gruesome mutilation took place. Photo: EPA/Shutterstock
Hong Kong news reports posit that the murder was set in irreversible motion by squabbles between Ms Choi and her former in-laws that related to a luxury property in Kadoori Hill (加多利山), a historic-enclave-turned-residential-neighbourhood-of-the-wealthy, south of Kowloon Tong (九龙塘). The hill is named after the prosperous Mizrahi-Jewish Iraqi family that is widely linked to Hong Kong’s oldest hotel The Peninsula in Kowloon. Kadoori Hill scores favourably among the rich—Andy Lau (刘德华) is an esteemed resident—for the many good schools in the area (known as the “Prestigious School District), as well as grand mansions and swanky low-rise flats, earning the area the reputation of the “address of the elite”. It is reported that back in 2019, Ms Choi purchased the disputed Kadoori Hill flat for HK$72.8 million (about S$12.5 million). Full payment was completed three months later, purportedly leaving behind no mortgage records. Her former father-in-law was apparently the name in the sales contract, witnessed by lawyers. It is not certain if this was a gift to the old man, but the media speculated that Ms Choi was trying to save on stamp duty that amounted to HK$7 million (about S$1.2 million). Hong Kong real estate portals estimated that the unit could fetch HK$67 million at current prices.
Her long-time unemployed ex-husband and his family lived in the luxury flat located on up-hill Kadoori Avenue. Most accounts claimed that Ms Choi continued to support Mr Kwong and his family financially even when the marriage was over. Even her brother-in-law, Alex Kwong’s older sibling Anthony Kwong Kong-kit (邝港杰) was employed as her personal driver. It is not known when she and the younger Kwong brother were divorced (common guesses place the year in either 2015 or 2016). She apparently met him in school when she was 15 and married him three years later, in 2012, and bore him two children. It is not known why she chose to wed at such a young age, if her parents agreed to it, or even if she was still in school at that time. Little is also known about her married life or why she chose someone “not her economic equal”, as Netizens had said. The Chinese edition of the BBC shared that Alex Kwong has a criminal record, having been charged in the past for seven counts of theft. China’s Sohu News (搜狐) claims it was fraud that involved deceiving four men into investing HK$5 million (about S$859,022) in a non-existent gold business. He disappeared after receiving the money. Financial crunch and trouble plagued the Kwong family. Both brothers were, at various times, hauled to court for credit card debts that included a purported HK$1.576 million (or about S$270,730) that Alex Kwong owed to American Express. Although their mother Jenny Li Ruixiang (李瑞香) was a retiree, she mysteriously filed for bankruptcy in 2016, presumably due to overwhelming debt. Despite this chronic familial financial debility, Abby Choi continued to support the Kwongs, who probably saw in her their chance to rewrite their fate.
In Dior couture with pal Moka Fang (right) at Ms Choi’s 27th birthday party last year. Photo: Photo: xxabbyc/Instagram
Sometime at the end of last year, Ms Choi made an unexpected decision: she wanted to sell the multi-million Kadoori Hill flat. Apparently her lawyers had told her that she could keep the proceeds of the sale if proof that she had paid for the unit could be produced. The possibility of the Kwongs no longer being able to use an “address of the elite” enraged the family. Ms Choi and her ex-husband reportedly were at loggerheads as a result. According to Hong Kong media, the elder Kwong, also known as 球哥 (kao gor in Cantonese), was infuriated too, and so incensed that one day he threatened his former daughter-in-law: “[如果] 你卖楼，不安置我哋，我会杀你 ([if] you sell the flat and do not find a replacement and settle us down, I will kill you)”. It was not expected that he would carry out his threat. Kwong Kau, who was a former police officer, but resigned after “being involved in a rape case” (he was allegedly the perpetrator, but was not known to have been prosecuted), was noted for his foul temper. Police believed that he plotted the murder based on his knowledge of criminal investigations in the Hong Kong police force, although he had left 18 years ago. The plan was to get Ms Choi to pick her daughter, born to her ex-husband, up from school, but that trip would be intercepted and she would end up in a seven-seater car in which she would be bludgeoned before arriving at the Lung Mei Village flat to be butchered. That part went according to plan. The Chinese have a perfect expression: 谋财害命. To plot and kill for the victim’s property/wealth.
Abby Choi was born in 1994 in Hong Kong to a family believed to be wealthy. The extent of their riches is not established, nor the source. Similarly, there is no mention in the media about her childhood, where she grew up, her teenage years, or her academic pursuits (no information about her school either). But it is said that her parents, business people with commercial interest in China, specifically Hainan Island (海南岛), brought up Ms Choi and two other sisters (both are younger, with the youngest only 17 this year) in a “富裕环境 (fuyuhuanjing) or well-to-do environment”. Her mother, Zhang Yanhua (张燕花), known as 五姐 (wujie) or fifth sister in the mainland, where she’s seemingly based, is from 文昌 (wenchang), a city in the northeast of Hainan Island that is famed for being the ancestral home of the Chinese political figures, the Soong sisters (宋氏三姐妹). Little is known about the mother of the deceased except that she maintains a Douyin (抖音) account and have been, according to mainland Netizens, ‘liking’ commentators’ consolatory messages. She has offered to take care of her grand children in the wake of her daughter’s death. Curiously, there has been no mention of Ms Choi’s father; his identity has not been disclosed.
With Pharrell Williams at a 2018 Chanel party in Hong Kong. Photo: xxabbyc/Instagram
In 2016, Abby Choi, reportedly worth HK$100 million (or about S$17.2 million), married her second husband Chris Tam (Chinese media, including those here, in Hong Kong and Taiwan, refer to him only as Chris), whose father 谭泽均 (Tan Zejun) is behind the popular TamJai Yunnan Mixian (谭仔米线) restaurant chain. Little is known of Mr Tam, but as the heir apparent of his father’s company (until it’s sold in 2017 to Japan’s largest operator of noodle shops Toridoll Holdings), is called “谭仔米线太子爷 (crown prince of TamJai Mixian)”. Although the couple’s nuptial celebration was described by local media as a lavish event, their marriage was, in fact, not registered. They are parents to two children, a boy and a girl. Friends consider Mr Tam a good husband, who is not concerned with his wife’s—in hindsight—complicated past, and loves the two kids born to her and Alex Kwong as if his own. As she found stability in wedded bliss, Ms Choi slowly began her social media career as a fashion influencer. For a social media star, however, she was relatively late in joining Instagram and Facebook. Her first IG post on 12 July 2012 was of a green, snake-skin Lady Dior bag, while on FB, it was even later—on 1 January 2017 of herself sunbathing; both posts had no comments. It is not known when she started attending the European fashion weeks, but an IG post in February 2016 showing her at the Dolce & Gabbana show in Milan, which could possibly be her first.
Her social media posts soon showed more expensive fashion (especially in tulle) and, unsurprisingly, celebrities (it isn’t clear if Ms Choi knew them before). In January 2018, there was the pose with Pharrell Williams, who, like Ms Choi, was admirer and guest at a Chanel show (presumably couture, given the date) and the expected after-party. Mr Williams, as well as Ms Choi, probably didn’t know then what laid ahead for the singer. Even Bryan Boy was quick to Tweet that she was “an acquaintance”. One name that was often mentioned this past week is Moka Fang (方媛), Aaron Kwok’s (郭富城) model/influencer wife of six years and mother of his two daughters. Ms Choi, who has been called “温柔 (wenrou)” or gentle by those who know her, has described Ms Fang and her as “情同姐妹 (qingtong jiemei or deeply close sisters)”. Both women do look rather alike, with their straight, long hair; bright almond-shaped eyes; delicate lips; and pointed chins. The two friends were known to attend fashion events in Hong Kong together although, interestingly, there are practically no photos of the duo in Ms Fang’s IG page. In a recent IG post of a black-and-white photo of a white rose, Ms Fang wrote in Chinese: “Feeling extremely sad. For now, still can’t accept this as fact. The sadness in my heart is unspeakable; there are only a thousand whys. The great sorrow still can’t be subdued.” Reality is more gruesome than fiction.
Apparently, Marjorie Taylor Greene was trying to emulate a particular “spy balloon”, but she was looking like a wife of an oligarch. And, unsurprisingly, her manners during the State of the Union were far from pristine
Marjorie Taylor Greene’s behaviour at the State of the Union a day ago was one that Trumpers would admire and applaud, and adopt. During President Joe Biden’s 80-minute speech in the House Chamber, Republican hecklers had a field day, but none more out of line and distracting and singularly audible than Ms Greene. An enthusiastic conspiracy theorist, Ms Green, despite looking immaculate, was far from spotless in the way she conducted herself while the president was speaking. She was agitated and annoyed, and she chose to express her disagreement visibly and passionately (we could see her mouth “lair”, even hear her). The film cameras didn’t miss any of the action, in particular her vigorous arm movements and one eager thumb-down. She was all animated and ready to boo.
According to The Guardian, Ms Greene’s US$500 fur-trimmed (real or fake, unknown), knee-length coat is by Overland, the 50-year-old US label that, according to the brand’s communiqué, is “inspired by the American West”. That would, no doubt, suit the Georgia extremist-congresswoman’s conservative aesthetic sensibility. But her coat, purchased in Wyoming, could easily be mistaken for something bought in a Red Square shopping mall. Why the outer was kept on inside the chamber is not know, but The Guardian quoted Ms Greene’s communications director Nick Dyer saying that the coat was picked to “highlight” the president’s no-mention of a recent Chinese spy balloon in US airspace that was shot down. All-white is the incursive balloon and Ms Greene chose the shade (it was ivory, if we were to be precise) to remind the president that a subject was not broached. So passionate she was about the balloon affair that earlier, she loitered in the halls of Congress, carrying a white 气球 (qiqiu) to state her case, but claiming it was “just an innocent white balloon, everybody”, as US media reported.
It was just an innocent white coat too, then. But, even looking as austere and reliable as a nurse, Marjorie Taylor Greene’s behaviour did not reflect the purity associated with the shade she deliberately chose. Her agitation and displeasure would have called up darker and more intense shades. Her demeanour and her countenance were simply not pallid. She was disgruntled, possibly angry—a politician bloated with disdain, yet delighting in her lively display. What treachery did she see? The white coat seemed to say white woman, churlish and a privileged one too. Conservative! As she worked her arms—both of them—like a bidder at a hungry ghost festival auction, her get-up looked less and less impeccable, even undignified. It was tempting to give her outburst a thumb-down. And, like her, do it gleefully. Of all people, she would know what that really means.
…on the collaboration with Balenciaga. Has recent controversial events pertaining to the latter led to this decision?
They have already cut ties with Kanye West. It took a while, but they did. Now, Adidas has apparently decided to “pause all product launches” with Balenciaga. Like Kim Kardashian, the maker of the Stan Smith has decided to “re-evaluate”their relationship with the creator of the Triple S. In a very recent report by Sneaker Freaker, customer service emails by Adidas were sent out last week in response to pre-orders of the US$800 ‘destroyed’—and, consequently, derided—Balenciaga X Adidas Stan Smith. Adidas wrote: “We have taken the time to re-evaluate our partnership with Balenciaga and we have decided to pause all product launches until further notice.” As such, they added, “we are unable to fulfill your pre-order of the Balenciaga/adidas Stan Smith.” They did not specify why there was a need for this re-evaluation. We have not been able to establish the veracity of the said email.
Could this, if true, be a preemptive move? Balenciaga was, as you remember, embroiled in a scandal involving the injudicious use of questionable objects in their advertising. It led to considerable online outcry, even compelling Ms Kardashian to make a statement—although somewhat vague—about her future commitments to Balenciaga. It didn’t help that Balenciaga wanted to sue the companies that oversaw the production of the ads, and then… withdrew. In the wake of the unceasing Kanye West social media rant that led to the demise of his collaborations with both Adidas and Balenciaga, could Adidas be doing the right thing before they are accused, again, for being slow to act in severing ties with those who are deemed offensive, even incendiary? Can they afford to wait until the situation at Balenciaga gets better or when people, if they do, forget?
The Balenciaga X Adidas collaboration is a full-line affair (including a water bottle!), and now out in Balenciaga stores. Contrary to a vogue.com report in May, it is not “already selling out”. Not even presently. We saw the collection in-store (admittedly not in its entirety) and we went away thinking we won’t suffer without a piece. It wasn’t that hard to come to that conclusion after seeing the advertising campaign, shot in an office. The bagginess for most of the pieces is not exactly the component of an extremely smart turnout. Nor, the embroidery of the Balenciaga logotype on some of the tops. The Stan Smith was not there, but the S$1,650 Triple S with the triple stripes was. We were told by a staffer that they “have not received the stock for the Stan Smith”. In fact, it is no longer listed on the Balenciaga website. That is, as it appears, just one item that Adidas is holding back from the collab. Or, are they saying that they are re-evaluating the two’s future partnership? Are they finally treading cautiously after losing a projected US$246 million by cancelling Yeezy, as they traverse a deeply complex world of fashion?
It isn’t the end of winter in the northern hemisphere, yet Kering’s star brand is prepping for a new spring, according to emerging reports
Graffiti on the walls of a stairway at the Alessandro Michele-conceived Gucci Garden, part of Gucci Museo in the historic Palazzo della Mercanzia, Florence
Has Alessandro Michele gone from the brightest bloom to unwanted wild grass? A very recent WWD report, citing “well-placed sources”, claims that Alessandro Michele “is exiting the brand”. This news was not only shocking, it was sudden, and came rapidly after Raf Simons announced that he is closing the eponymous label he founded and built. It is not clear if Mr Michele was asked to leave. His departure, if true, could mean a major clean-up at Gucci as the long-haired, bearded designer is presently synonymous with the brand he has helmed for seven years, and has almost singularly made Gucci the molten-hot brand it has become, based on his druthers for bringing disparate elements drawn from the past, especially the ’70s. Mishaps as mashups. But are his hippies in overwrought style not becoming really jelak, the unctuousness of a supersized meal?
It could be that Kering is satiated. They had wanted Mr Michele “to initiate a strong design shift”, according to the WWD’s source. But he was not able appease his bosses. Reuters—also drawing from anonymous sources—informed “that there had been tensions between the designer and Kering’s top management”. Both Kering and Gucci have remained silent, as they adhere to the no-comment approach. The suddenness of this impending exit surprised customers too. One Gucci fan told us that “it shows such a lack of loyalty to Alessandro, who did so much for the brand. And it’s not as if they’re not selling.” But the sales is likely not matching the figure Kering is hoping to hit. Media reports are indicating that Gucci’s performance is not keeping abreast of their peers. Limp sales in China is cause for worry too. And it is inevitable that lacklustre results would be pinned on the products.
Alessandro Michele joined Gucci in 2002 upon the invitation of then designer Tom Ford to oversee the accessories division in Gucci’s London office. In 2011, he was appointed associate creative director to Frida Giannini when she succeeded Tom Ford. Ms Giannini was reportedly dismissed in 2015 in what was described as a “messy” reorg of Gucci. Mr Michele was asked to put together a men’s autumn/winter collection and he did it in less than one week. A day after that show, Gucci announced that he would be the brand’s new creative director. From them on, his rise was—a convenient word for now—unstoppable. He revived Gucci by replacing Mr Ford’s amped-up sexiness and Ms Giannini’s jet-set sleek with geekiness drenched in flamboyance. But the wacky, maximalist, anti-fit aesthetic did reach saturation point—thankfully for Gucci, later than sooner. To be sure, Mr Michele did, in recent years, move gingerly away from his early excesses and goofiness, but his steps, even with the recent twinning of offering, were inadequate for Gucci. The brand owners, it seems, want a palpable shift. The overgrown garden needs to be recovered.
Photo: AB Tan
Update(24 November 2022, 08:10): No doubt now: Gucci has confirmed that Alessandro Michele “is stepping down”. In a statement sent to the media yesterday, parent company Kering said that Mr Michele “has played a fundamental part in making the brand what it is today.” It did not say why the Roman designer wishes to leave (or if he was asked to). The statement also included a paragraph quoting Mr Michele: “There are times when path parts ways because of the different perspectives each one of us may have. Today an extraordinary journey ends for me.” No replacement was announced.
Raf Simons has announced the shuttering of his eponymous label, but his work is not going to disappear any time soon. He isn’t retiring. There is still his not-small part at Prada
Twenty seven is too young an age to die. But Raf Simons is seeing that the label that bears his name is killed in its 27th year. Better to depart youthful? Mr Simons has just announced that the beloved and influential brand he founded in 1995 showed its last collection—spring/summer 2023 last October in London—was his final. The fashion world is in shock. So many influential artists and artistes have passed on at that age, sufficient in numbers that there is a 27 Club—it came to existence after Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994. The Club is, of course, not a real one and not necessarily glorious either. Many in the hall of fame died from the excesses of just that—fame. But no one joins it since they would have been dead, but its notional existence shows that many noted creatives departed from this world at that age, leaving behind a veritable legacy. Most are musicians. Apart from Mr Cobain, there is Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and, closer to the present, Amy Winehouse. In art, there is Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose work is especially popular among clothing and footwear brands. But in luxury fashion, designers have longer lives. No one that we can remember died at 27, nor did their corresponding label (Jil Sander did [first] leave her brand in its 27th year, but it was not closed, and she did return to it in 2003, only to leave again a year later). Could Raf Simons the label be the first?
In Mr Simons’s announcement on Instagram, he offered no reason for the closure of his brand, which, as can be imagined, led to speculations. Was it the damned economy, with a recession looming? Was the label also the victim of the havoc COVID caused? We’ll add to those popular two. Was he missing an able sidekick after Pieter Mulier joined Alaia? Was he under too much stress to connect with the Metaverse—he hasn’t—to keep his brand relevant? Was Raf Simons too much of a cult label to enjoy the same success of, say, Ader Error? Or Ambush? It is hard to assert with certainty. Mr Simons does have a strong following, especially among those who have tracked his work from the start (including us!). But not going the logo-heavy route and keeping the cut and construction of his clothing generally simple may have not drawn new customers or win converts rooted in the excess of meretricious brands. The fashion marketplace has changed, and continues to, with staggering speed. Not wanting to stay put is not necessarily a bad thing. It certainly was not when he quit Dior and, later, Calvin Klein. But what about the collaborations, such as the still-desirable pairing with Fred Perry? That could remain to provide those who might be seized with nostalgia a chance to buy merchandise that would still have desirable links to the past.
And there is always Prada. After joining the Italian brand in 2020 to co-design the men’s and women’s collections with Miuccia Prada, Mr Simons seemed to have found his groove. He is poised to stay. The 109-year-old brand is enjoying renewed interest after a lull period. In the five years leading to 2018, the brand posted declining annual sales. Its performance was so dismal that rumours abound at that time that the company may be forced to sell to LVMH or Kering. But the tide turned, and The Washington Post wrote recently that the brand’s “creeping back into popular consciousness”. Part of it being noticed again is the current trend for things ’90s. Conversely, Raf Simons, also essentially a ’90s brand, chooses to bow out rather than take advantage of the zeitgeist. It is not clear what part in the rejuvenated Prada lies Mr Simons’s input, but each season since his first in September 2020, Prada has been steeped in ideas and innovation. Has Mr Simons proven his worth and is now a serious contender to succeed Ms Prada? Is this possibility so questionless that he is confident enough to wind up his own label? Mr Simons, it is reported, has an open-ended contract with Prada, just as Karl Lagerfeld had with Chanel. Miuccia Prada is 73 (he is 54); she could be pondering retirement. Hard to imagine someone else a worthier successor than Raf Simons.
That was in the NBC News headline. Kanye West made an ”uninvited” visit to the Skechers HQ and was “escorted” out of the building. Is this a sign of out-of-control or desperation?
With Adidas out of the way, is Kanye West looking to co-brand his precious Yeezy again? Friends in the US (and a Malaysian reader too!) have been enthusiastically sending us reports all morning of Kanye West’s alleged trespass into the headquarters of the Southern Californian sneaker brand Skechers. The company later released a statement to say that the disgraced rapper “arrived unannounced and without invitation at one of Skechers’ corporate offices in Los Angeles”. According to CNBC News, Mr West was with other unidentified people. They were, according to Skechers, “engaged in unauthorized filming”. What they were filming is not known. “Two Skechers executives escorted him and his party from the building after a brief conversation”. There was no report of unfriendly exchange.
Skechers was also certain to say that it “is not considering and has no intention of working with West”. This is likely in anticipation of the speculation that Mr West is looking for a sneaker brand to replace Adidas. You know by now that he was dropped by the Three Stripes, after a considerable period of “review” (which turned many customers impatient, asking for a boycott of Adidas), for comments considered “anti-Semitic and hateful”. Skechers, too, showed that they are willing to censure what he has repeatedly said. “We condemn his recent divisive remarks and do not tolerate antisemitism or any other form of hate speech.” There clearly would not be Skechers Yeezy!
Mr West has already been called out and dropped by three fashion brands. There are not many corporations he could really turn to now, if they are not the likes of Parler. While his clothing line can possibly wait, his sneakers cannot. With Adidas, they have created what is considered one of the most successful shoe partnerships in modern footwear history, making him a billionaire—he no longer is, as Forbes was quick to declare after the Adidas split with him. It is unsurprising, therefore, that the rapper would need to find another company to continue the Yeezy drops. He has previously announced: “I need a shoe company like how Jaimie Salter bought Reebok. Or I’ll take over some shoe factories.” Was what happened at the Skechers compound an incursion?
Mr West being turned away by Skechers would augment the brand’s corporate standing and show that they are willing to do what’s right, and swiftly. One PR professional told us, “It is PR value that costs Skechers nothing.” The shoe label known for their memory foam technology currently has Korean actor Pak Seo Jun as their regional ambassador (for Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Macau). Cedrick Tan, Skechers SVP, told Marketing Interactive last year that “with the shorter and fragmented attention span of consumers today, it is important that a brand ambassador, besides having a positive, well-liked image, is a role model who is multi-dimensional, driven, and inspiring”. They would not find that person in Kanye West.
The United Kingdom’s latest PM likes the same label as one particular Devil
Rishi Sunak. Photo:rishisunak.com
If The Devil Wears Prada, why not the prime minister? The United Kingdom’s latest PM, the fifth in six years, Rishi Sunak, is not only dominating the headlines for being the first person of colour to be appointed PM (he’s of Indian Punjabi descent); with a religion that’s not Christianity (Hinduism); at 42, the youngest PM to occupy 10 Downing Street or; according to Reuters, the wealthiest occupant, with the estimated net worth of £730 million (about S$1.18 billion), believed to be more that any British royal, even the late Queen; but also a rather stylish politician. His style is even more striking considering the mono-tone and rather frumpish choices of his predecessor Liz Truss, and the frankly shockingly messy turnout of her predecessor Boris Johnson.
Liz Truss, now famous for being the shortest-serving PM in the history of the UK, is, of course, no Theresa May, Britain’s second female PM (2016—2019). Ms Truss’s dress sense is electorate-correct: neither too bland nor too conspicuous, but her tailored single-coloured dresses and suits (her faves are from Karen Millen) could stand out in Instagram posts, even if they lack noticeable élan. Boris Johnson, he is quite another beast altogether. Throughout his shambolic tenure, we’ve never seen him looking neat. The messy clothes—shirts with collars that won’t behave and ill-fitted, crumpled suit—aside, there is that irritating mop of hair that looks like it has never met a comb in their life cycles, except, perhaps, the owner’s fingers. The total package is always unkempt, top to bottom. No one needs a prime minister who consciously preens, but neither one who comes off as frowsy.
Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murthy. Photo: PA Wire
Mr Sunak, in contrast, cuts a sleek, dashing figure. But his critics seem to believe that a well-dressed political leader is out of touch with his voters. They drew attention, for example, to his £3,500 custom-made suit by Henry Herbert (an almost indie brand compared to those on Savile Row) and his £490 Prada shoes when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer (Minister of Finance to the rest of us non-Brit lay people), and equated that with a lifestyle no ordinary folk will appreciate. Or, is it just difficult for them to accept a dapper Asian politician? And, especially one who is well-educated and wealthy? It is not quite comprehensible that, with today’s access to well-made clothes—they don’t have to be expensive—and the importance of looking well-groomed in a professional capacity, we still prefer our politicians to look like they can barely afford to buy anything to wear, even at Uniqlo.
If it shouldn’t be said that Mr Sunak has innate style and the means to express it, is it acceptable to think that his wife Akshata Murthy has something to do with his welcome nattiness? A fashion designer (and a business woman and “software heiress”, whose father, N,R, Narayana Murthy, is the founder of Infosys), Ms Murthy started her own clothing business Akshata Designs in 2010. Vogue India described her designs as “more than just stylish; they’re also vehicles to discovering Indian culture”. It is not known if the line is still in production (the website does not appear to be functional: a click on ‘Collections’ revealed nothing). The pair is noted in British social circles as a stylish couple. No reason to believe that Mr Sunak needs to abandon smart elegance now that he will work and live in 10 Downing Street. Surely he does not need to follow his former boss Boris Johnson? Begrudge him not his style or his Pradas if he can restore order to what appears to us a rather disunited United Kingdom.
Kanye West admits he ”hated” Virgil Abloh’s designs. Intense brotherly affection?
Kanye West (front) and Virgil Abloh (back) hugged and cried at the end of Mr Abloh’s first Louis Vuitton. Screen shot: travisscott/Instagram
In the latest Instagram posts, following his rambling interview with Tucker Carlson of Fox News, Kanye West hit back at Tremaine Emory (of Supreme and Denim Tears), saying that both of them had no love for the work of the late Virgil Abloh. “I hated Virgil’s designs and you do to [sic]”. It is not clear if Mr West was referring to Off-White or Louis Vuitton. Or, if he detested Mr Abloh’s designs because he didn’t think they were as good as the output of his current fave, Demna Gvasalia of Balenciaga (whom he called “THE MOST RELEVANT DESIGNER”) or Riccardo Tisci whose last Burberry show Mr West turned up to support. It is tempting to see his admission concur with the initial thoughts on Mr Abloh’s designs for Off-White (often referred to as an “elevated streetwear brand”, although they did eventually offer “couture”) and later LV. His debut at the French house was met with suspicion—hype aided him, not design. Even after establishing himself as a luxury fashion force to acknowledge, there was still cynicism towards him as an original. In 2020, Walter Van Beirendonck, reacting to designs for the contemporaneous LV show in Shanghai that bore striking similarity to what the Belgian designer put out in 2016, said to the media, “It’s very clear that Virgil Abloh is not a designer. He has no language of his own, no vision. He can’t create something of his own season after season and that is painful.”
Kanye West came to the defence of his friend. He wrote on Twitter, “Virgil can do whatever he wants”, adding “do you know how hard it’s been for us to be recognized?” A struggling or novice creative cannot crib the original work of others, but a recognised designer can, just like a pedestrian can’t ignore the red man at a traffic crossing, but a cyclist can? But now it seems that, while a successful Mr Abloh had the freedom to do as he pleased, what he did was hated. Was Mr West’s support that ardent to begin with? Following the shared-then-deleted flux of IG posts, which Tucker Carlson called “freeform social media posts”, Mr West put out eight screen shots that he referred to as “ABBREVIATED VERSION OF ME AND TREMAINES (sic) CONVERSATION”. Apart from admitting to his intense dislike for Mr Abloh’s designs, he claimed that Mr Emory shared the same sentiment. In previous posts, Mr West had claimed that he hired the latter “because LVMH took Virgil”. Was he saying that he was he left with no one else, but the second best? It is not hard to understand why his followers find his posts gripping stuff.
Designing friends or rivals? From left, Tremaine Emory, Virgil Abloh, Kanye West. Photo: Getty Images
In this fraught triumvirate, Tremaine Emory has worked with both men. He started at Marc Jacobs, where he remained for nine years before being lured by Mr West to serve as the rapper-designer’s creative consultant in 2016 (a position formerly filled by Virgil Abloh) and later became Yeezy’s brand director. He left Yeezy two years after and established his own label Denim Tears, following the formation of the multi-disciplinary creative collective No Vacancy Inn (their T-shirts retailed at Dover Street Market London). Mr Abloh and Mr Emory collaborated on a Levi’s capsule for Denim Tears in 2021. After the LV designer’s death in 2021, Mr Emory was rumoured to be one of those shortlisted to take over at LV (others included A-Cold-Wall*’s Samuel Ross and Pyer Moss’s Kerby Jean-Raymond). He joined Supreme in February this year, where he is the streetwear giant’s first official creative director.
This resume, for the most part, corresponds with what Mr West wrote to Mr Emory in one of the screen shots shared: “We all take jobs at white companies. And wether [sic] we like the fashion or not”, after saying “we as a people have lost the ability to farm ourselves”. Is he suggesting that Black people would not seek employment with the likes of Telfar Clemens? Or is working with White-owned companies, unappealing as it is to Mr West, a Black fate? His current belief is rather ironic, considering that his first fashion job of consequence (certainly for Virgil Abloh) and a choice of his, was that internship with Fendi in Rome. Did he not like the fashion there, even when he reportedly admired Karl Lagerfeld? In an interview with the New York radio station Hot 97 in 2018, Mr West said that it was monotonous: “every day, going to work, walking to work, getting cappuccinos.” Seemingly, there was no work involving design. As he recalled to radio host Charlamagne Tha God, “We couldn’t do anything. We were just happy to have a key card”. Both men were paid US$500 a month, each.
The IG conversations he had with Mr Emory, the designer of the ‘White Lives Matter’ T-shirt wrote: “I was jealous of Virgil.” For many it is hardly surprising that Mr West felt that way. He is the “Louis Vuitton don” and this is old-fashioned resentment against someone else enjoying more success than he. Until Mr Abloh’s death, both were friends for about 14 years. They met some time in the mid-2000s through Mr West’s then manager, the Chicago music bigwig John Monopoly. Mr Abloh was working in a print shop at the time and he could do graphic design, and was able to do it well, digitally too. He was introduced to Mr West, who asked him to collaborate almost immediately. As Mr Abloh told GQ in 2019, “more than any title, I was just his assistant creatively” or, in fancier term, “consigliere”, as the chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago Michael Darling described his position. In 2009, the two men’s fashion adventure began when they managed to secure an internship with Fendi in Rome. In just four years after that, Mr Abloh launched Off-White and in another four, he joined Louis Vuitton. His trajectory would have impressed—or aroused jealousy—in the once-more-famous Mr West.
Happier times: Tremaine Emory and Kanye West in 2018. Photo: BFA
When the new LV designer emerged to take his bow at the end of his debut show for the house in Paris in 2018, Mr West stepped onto the runway, walked towards his friend, and both men hugged, and cried into each other’s shoulder. The rapper was clearly emotional. And possibly burning with jealousy? Once a mere “assistant” and then fellow intern, Virgil Abloh was now basking in the glare of the world’s media and the applause of those whose approval and respect he needed. He had quickly achieved more than what Mr West had desired to, even when both of their design beginnings were largely circumscribed by the ternion of T-shirt, hoodie, and sneakers. Although Yeezy shoes (with Adidas) and the clothing line were already launched in 2015 (and the footwear is hugely successful), Mr West was not quite the lauded designer that his friend with two fashion labels under his watch had managed to become. However hard he tried, fashion folks still did not (won’t) take Kanye West seriously. Unable to score a job with a luxury brand, he took another route—quite the opposite, in fact. In 2020, The Gap announced that they had inked a 10-year deal to create the Yeezy Gap line. Last month, Mr West called off the partnership.
Since then, there were also his troubles with Adidas, which promoted the German brand to “place the partnership under review”. Every Yeezy collaborator seemingly could not understand what their main man desired or what was brewing in his head. This contrasted with Mr Abloh, whose work with LV appeared to have had gone swimmingly well. Even after his death, LV staged repeated, lavish tribute shows. Adidas merely designated a Yeezy Day and apparently without Mr West’s approval, as the guy alleged this year (Yeezy Day has been around since 2019). It is not yet known why Mr West hated Mr Abloh’s designs or—according to Mr Emory—said “Virgil’s designs are a disgrace to the black community infont [sic] of all (his) employees at Yeezy”. Addressing Mr Emory, Mr West wondered why “you and Luka (Sabbat, a model/influencer who walked in Yeezy Season 1) not wearing it head to toe”, as if that is necessary to prove one adores another designer’s work. In a separate IG post, he wrote about Mr Emory, “I took you off the streets… only cause you was the struggle version of Virgil”. Even the folks at The Gap and Adidas knew better than to provoke the wrath of “you can’t manage me” Kanye West. But as he told Tucker Carlson, “If I raise my voice, if I express myself on Instagram, it’s a colonic.”
Update (10 Oct 2023, 13.10):
In his latest broadcast interview—with French media outlet Clique TV—Kanye West revealed that the Louis Vuitton Men’s artistic director position was first proposed to him before Virgil Abloh got the job. “No one knows I’d been offered the deal by Bernard Arnault,” he said. “But three months after that, they dropped the deal”, even after Mr Arnault’s son Alexandre had said that his dad “never goes back on his word”. Mr West also claimed that Mr Abloh only called him to share the good news “two minutes before it hit the Internet”. He reiterated that there was “a lot of pain and jealousy”. It is not known why he chose to reveal this only now. Or, if it’s the self-declared “creative genius”, the “unquestionably, undoubtedly, the greatest human artist of all time” in self-affirmation mode.
Update (10 Oct 2023, 23:00):
Kanye West in a supposed meeting with Adidas execs. Screen shot: Kanye West/Facebook
Temporarily shut out of Instagram and Twitter, Kanye West has taken to Facebook to show a 30-minute docu-promo of sort titled Last Week. One of the clips included was a meeting with executives from Adidas that took place in a blank room. At the start of the clip, Mr West was showing one of the men on his smartphone something that caused the latter to ask, “is that a porn movie?” This meeting appeared to have taken place after his separation from Gap. In the conversation (subtitled!), Mr West made sure, again, that those listening knew exactly who he was: “I’m the king of culture… I have to step up as the king of culture (he called himself that at least four times). You’re face to face, eye to eye with the person who does songs with your father-in-law, with the person who discovered Virgil, with the person who discovered Demna, with the person that placed the creative director at SKIMS”. That’s clearly another predilection: taking credit for everything.
Adidas now ponders what it should do with the Kanye West brand that both have raised with admiral success. Is it time to let go?
That it should come to this really surprises no one. In a statement provided to the press, the Three Stripes said, “After repeated efforts to privately resolve the situation, we have taken the decision to place the partnership under review”. When Kanye West read what Adidas sent out that the media lapped up, he responded on Instagram with “FUUUUUUCK ADIDAS I AM ADIDAS ADIDAS RAPED AND STOLE MY DESIGNS” (the post has since been deleted), including a screen shot of a CNBC report of the Adidas’s reconsideration. He was his usual irascible self, just as he was when he reacted to the widespread disapproval of his “White Lives Matter” T-shirt with the post, “EVERYONE KNOWS THAT BLACK LIVES MATTER WAS A SCAM NOW IT’S OVER YOU’RE WELCOME”.
Mr West has, for as long as we can remember, been an angry man, but is much more so, which does not bode well for his business/brand partnerships. He has a tendency to bring his grouses, including those with the makers of his Yeezy sneakers, to the public sphere, with palpable heat. In contrast, Adidas went about resolving the issues with the rapper “privately”, as they said. Mr West prefers/needs the world to know he is unhappy with whoever he is unhappy with, past or present. In the last few months, he had been especially vocal, his denunciation on social media more bitter and vehement as he called out Adidas’s CEO Kasper Rorsted, even posting photos of the members of the board. Early last month, he shared a Photoshopped image of the front page of The New York Times, falsely announcing that Mr Rorsted had died. How his anger towards Adidas became this vengeful is not easily understood.
But that was not the only death that he brought up with regards to CEOs. In an IG post published after his Yeezy Season 9 show in Paris early this week, he wrote that LVMH’s Bernard Arnaud “KILLED MY BEST FRIEND”, accompanied by a photo of the bust of Virgil, the ancient Roman poet regarded by his countrymen as their greatest, which was taken to refer to Virgil Abloh. Quick to respond was Tremaine Emory, the creative director of Supreme. He wrote on IG, sharing Mr West’s post, “I gotta draw the line at you using Virgil’s death in your ‘ye’ is the victim campaign in front of your sycophant peanut algorithm gallery.” We could sense applause. He went on, accusing Mr West of telling his Yeezy staff that “Virgil’s designs are a disgrace to the black community”. Would you say that of your “best friend”? “Ye tell the ppl why you didn’t get invited to Virgil’s actual funeral,” he continued, “keep Virgil name out your mouth…”.
(When staffers at Balenciaga, offered a heart shape in response to this post, Mr West responded with his own, accompanied by a list of the names and photos of the culpable [the post has been deleted]: ”These are the people at Balenciaga that hearted Tremaine’s post where he threatened me after all I’ve done for Balenciaga…”.)
Now, it is the people at Adidas who wish to keep Kanye West out of their mouths. There is so much vitriolic offensive that one can take. It is amazing that Mr West does not see that his outbursts and ugly public persona would likely hurt Yeezy than Adidas, a brand of 73 years, compared to the Adidas Yeezy partnership of seven. The Adidas and Yeezy divorce, if it comes to that, is going to be messy, like those of so many celebrity couples, in particular the many who led exceptionally public lives. In that statement shared to news media, Adidas also wrote that “successful partnerships are rooted in mutual respect and shared values”. Is that euphemistic talk for irreconcilable differences? According to estimates published by Forbes, Mr West’s deal with the German brand “is worth USD220 million annually and USD1.5 billion total”. Without Adidas, it is likely his net worth will dip below USD1 billion. Anger, Kanye West may not realise, is not bridge-building, nor profit-yielding.