Gone With The (Digital) Wind

Kim Lim removed photos of her husband on Instagram and the media became really excited

We delete Instagram entries all the time. It’s the thing we do. Sometimes, every single post. But, when Kim Lim (林慧俐), the influencer and beauty entrepreneur, removed a few on her IG page, the media consider that headline news! Ms Lim, as we learned, did not merely edit the contents of her IG, she apparently got rid of all the photos of her husband of barely four months, Leslie Leow. That is a big deal. Such is social progress. Even The Straits Times was into sharing Ms Lim’s daring deletion: “Her Instagram feed has recently been scrubbed of all photos of Mr Leow, including those of his proposal in September 2021 and wedding on Feb 22 this year”, they wrote. A Mothership report stated that “all traces of Kim Lim’s husband have disappeared from her Instagram feed”. Expunged! Was the guy obliterated? Or, were the deletions tantamount to someone’s death?

One of the earliest to report on the missing squares on Ms Lim’s revealing IG grid was the e-mag GirlStyle two days ago, describing her act as “mysterious”. It helps not that IG does not leave deleted posts blank so that we may know what was removed, even how many. Which led many in the media to wonder why she did what she did: Was it petulance, her “borderline personality disorder” that her father had previously identified, or the breakdown of her marriage? Does it matter? Could the deletion be part of what influencers commonly—and cringingly—refer to as “curation” (which, in the world of influencer engagement, is on-going)? The thing is, much of the contents of social media are what the account holders want you to see. Is it possible that Ms Kim now no longer wishes, for whatever reason, her followers to view those photos she presently does not consider viewable, even if, for most, the images cannot be unseen?

As we know, nothing, once posted online, disappears completely. The Leow’s expensive wedding planner, The Wedding Atelier, has not deleted the two IG posts (excluding those of the flashy guodali betrothal ceremony) of the couple in their matrimonial best. Not yet, anyway. Unmistakably ardent Kim Lim supporter, Icon (风华) magazine, too, has not removed the two photos they shared on their IG feed. Neither are those on the hashtags #kimlim and #klstyle—just to name two—taken out. And even on Ms Lim’s own IG page, her connection to her husband (as of now) is not totally ”scrubbed”. We do not know if Kim Lim wants all photos of her wedded to Leslie Leow deleted for good. A marriage is forever: Online, it is. Search and the images shall be found.

Illustration: Just So

OTT Guo Da Li

One betrothal ceremony that is big, bold, and boastful

What does Kim Lim (林慧俐) have that many of us do not, apart from beauty and money? This question was recently posed to us by a friend who admits to an irrational fascination with her social media appeal (on Instagram, she has 324K followers, among them Paris-based Singaporean designer Andrew Gn) and immense popularity among journalists. The answer was not obvious to us until now: she gets to enjoy a wildly lavish guodali (过大礼) betrothal ceremony! Ms Lim and her (still) unnamed fiancé (he’s only known by the handle ‘waleoweh’) are not quite married yet, but the soon-to-be groom did not hold back on the gifts—and their symbolisms—that he presented to her and family yesterday, according to a report on the digital edition of Icon. It was a boon to luxury brands (Rolex and Hermes!) and traders of shanzhen haiwei (山珍海味) luxury foodstuff. Her family needed to know she would be well dressed and fed, and he showed it! The expensive everything, reportedly to the tune of S$2 million, formed a sea of red against an acrylic floral wall, and the couple were happy to pose in the centre of the imposing and orderly array, underscored by more than a dozen boxes of chunky gold jewellery—way more than the sidianjin 四点金, four touches of gold (excluding the reported “15 gold bars”), that are customarily offered to the bride-to-be.

As invitee Xiaxue enthusiastically described the ceremony on IG Stories, “It’s the most bamz (something that’s very good) guo da li I’ve ever seen”. The groom arrived (at presumably the Lim family residence) in one black Rolls Royce, followed by another. He was decked in what Icon described as 上海滩唐装 (shang hai tan tang zhuang or Shanghainese Tang suit), in the colour of the fissures on the pale and expensive huagu (花菇 or flower mushroom) seen in the posted photos. Big-headed dolls and lion dancers came out to greet him, indicating an affair to follow that’s so massive, it would get social media immediately texting and sharing. The many images that appeared showed the impressive tiered set-up that could pass off as a brimming nianhuo (年货 or new year goods) stall on Waterloo Street during CNY. Or even an auspiciously-merchandised kiosk at a bridal show. This, according to Icon, was conceived and put together by The Wedding Atelier, the Singapore-born “luxury wedding planner”, with also an office in Hong Kong, and a client list few can proudly say they belong to.

Guodali (or gor dai lai in Cantonese) this huge and this elaborate is rarely seen these days, although in the distant past, the betrothal ceremony could be immense, lasting a few days and, for those with wealth, just as opulent, and an opportunity to show to those, who consider being informed of such matters essential, the families of the betrotheds’ riches or worth. The Hokkiens and the Peranakans know this as lapchai (纳财 or bringing in wealth), and theirs, especially for the latter, even came with a noisy procession of gift bearers, a band playing traditional instruments, and relatives deemed lucky enough to witness the ceremony. At its most basic, the guodali is a formal meeting between two families to exchange gifts that represent prosperity and—to ensure progeny—fertility too. But, as seen in what Kim Lim and her friends shared on IG, hers was far from basic. It was lavish, adorned, and splashy. Every single item—even the many cans of abalone—was affixed with the shuangxi (双喜) double-happiness character, and, if possible, encased or sheathed in red. For once and a change, the fiancée was upstaged.

One elderly lady brought to our attention that the guodali is normally dispensed with if it’s the second marriage for the woman. Ms Lim had tied the knot before. According to Icon, whose editor Sylvester Ng gets first dibs when it comes to stories of the fushang qianjin 富商千金 (daughter of a wealthy businessman), she registered her marriage in 2016 to Kho Bin Kai, a little-known fellow to the public she had met in Thailand, but the wedding banquet was held in March 2018 (no guodali was mentioned, although it is likely it took place, possibly more modestly), after the couple’s son was born. A year later, man and wife separated, and in 2020, both chose divorce. Soon—last September—she announced on IG that she was engaged. And now this OTT guodali, born of prodigal resources. It was a staggering display of immense attention to detail, rich with symbolism rarely appreciated today, presented by a guy not leaving the minutiae of ritual to his fiancée. It is no wonder that Kim Lim posted on IG when he proposed last year, “YES TO YOU A THOUSAND TIMES OVER AND OVER AGAIN!” We wish her (and fiancé) as much happiness as there were shuangxi cut-outs on every gift presented so dramatically to her, ahead of what is likely to be an even more staggering and extravagant wedding.

Photos: (top) thefloralatelier.co/Instagram and (bottom) kimlimhl/Instagram

Triple The Treat

For those of you who can’t get enough of Kim Lim, there are three cover stories of her this month. National Day celebration?

By Mao Shan Wang

Great editors think alike. In line with National Day celebrations, three local magazines have Kim Lim (林慧俐 or Lin Huili) graced their covers this month—not quite enough for you to think of 4D numbers, but definitely adequate for many to conclude that Ms Lim is our It girl, if they have not already before. And, as my brother reminded me, yummy mommy. I do not know why we need the three covers—Prestige, Icon (风华), and Her World—and the attended cover features at a go. Many folks of the media/advertising world don’t too, wondering if it’s anything to do with magazine revenue. One media professional WhatsApp-ed me: “I’m looking to see what the magazines got from her stable of companies.” Another, a PR manager, also texted me, after sending a screenshot from Magzter: “Wonder if it’s becoz they’re hoping to get ad $ from her spas.” The suspicions are understandable: an executive from her organisation had reportedly called some members of the media to ask if they would like to feature the beauty mogul-to-be.

Last Thursday, before the burgeoning buzz, I was flipping through magazines at Kinokuniya (curiously both Prestige and Icon are not out, only the latter’s online version). A fortysomething guy asked me, pointing to the Her World in my hands, “Is she so hot?” I could only manage a reluctant “no idea”. But Kim Lim is hot, just not the same hot as some scantily-clad influencers (she is, to he sure, not opposed to the occasional bikini shot for Instagram), but media-friendly hot. From dailies to monthlies, no publication will say no to a Kim Lim story, even if we’ve read them all before. It isn’t, of course, Ms Lim’s first multi-covers-in-one-month exposure. In fact, this August, she graduated from last year’s two (L’Officiel and Icon) to a plus one. It might have been three as well if HW had not published theirs a month earlier then. She was portrayed as an edgy influencer, as well as a loving daughter. This year, she is a sophisticate and a businesswoman. And, in view of National Day, model citizen? Wearing her long bob identically on all three covers, she is dressed differently on each, posing as a society lass in Fendi on Prestige, a wristwatch model in Dior on Icon, and a grand prix racer (or motor technician?) in Burberry on HW.

This month’s issue of what was once known—and marketed—as our island’s best-selling women’s magazine is as thin as the cover girl. Pages 4 and 5 of HW are a double-page advertisement for Illumia Therapeutics, Ms Lim’s one-year-old-plus medispa business which she calls “a beauty powerhouse”. It is an unsurprising industry choice since spa-visiting is increasingly a mass activity. Hers is the only beauty advertisement in the first quarter of the 112-page book, and, in fact, throughout. The Illumia Therapeutics ad, featuring a photo of the profile on the founder, is totally without competition from Estee Lauder or Shiseido, bona fide powerhouses. There are five ads in total, which is shocking to me. Admittedly, I have not read HW for years; I didn’t think they would be this skinny on advertisements. It is not unusual for magazines to feature products of advertisers, or the people behind brands. So, Ms Lim on the cover of HW is not unexpected, and does seem to commensurate with the editorial practice of picking the cover based on obligations to brands. I do not know how many insertions Illumia Therapeutics has committed to HW, but it is unlikely just one, since a single ad—even a double-page spread—is not quite enough to secure a cover story for its owner.

Kim Lim, Kim Lim, Kim Lim. From left, in Her World, Icon, and Prestige

Ms Lim, who turned 30 last month, is known as an influencer since she joined Instagram in late 2012. To date, she has 302K followers on IG, making her the more substantial ‘macro-influencer’. Exactly how influential she has been, no one could say for certain. I think she is able to impact especially those for whom a socialite who dresses fashionably has swaying power. Although oftentimes known as an “heiresses”, like Paris Hilton (now in Netflix’s offbeat series Cooking with Paris), Ms Lim prefers not to be saddled by such tags, even when many of her followers admire her as one who would come into considerable wealth (not that she isn’t already enjoying that, but, as one of her acquaintances said, to me, “her father is the billionaire, not her. Yet.”). She now communicates a more mature version of herself, and, as the reports in the above magazines go, wants to be taken seriously as a serious businesswoman. She told HW, “I want to try and make it by myself. I have a goal in life and somewhere I want to be”, even when she was honest about the initial financial kick-start she received from her tycoon father (whose high-profile business ownerships include Spanish La Liga Club Valencia CF and Thomson Medical Group). “Yes, he gave me a certain amount to start with,” she said. “But he also told me that if I run out, that’s it.”

It is unthinkable that Mr Lim, ranked 17th among SG’s 50 richest by Forbes in 2020, would leave her daughter in a lurch, but some influencers I spoke to think that Ms Lim can always leverage on her social-media fame and reach. One veteran medispa operator I know told me that it is “amazing” that the profile of Illumia Therapeutics (and sibling centre Papilla Haircare) could be raised in such a short period of time. In fact, Ms Lim runs a far bigger business than the two I mentioned earlier. She established the parent company Kelhealth Group, under which another half a dozen companies operate. Many observers think that it is upon the strength of her social-media reach (even when she has a degree in business management from Singapore Institute of Management) that Ms Lim is able to elevate herself and her ventures as successes rather visibly. She has not publicly released figures, so it is not known to what extend her success is. But she seems aware of the limitation of banking on her online fame. Icon quoted her saying, “但只要有更新鲜的面孔出现,随时会被取代。这是一个无可避免的问题 (for as long as fresher faces appear, [social media stars] will be replaced any time. This is inevitable).”

Apart from her online means of communication, Ms Lim is also able to count on the social hive to which she is part of, whose queen bee could well be the celebrity hairdresser David Gan (颜天发), whom Ms Lim calls “我的老娘 (my elderly mother)”—in line with the term of endearment Fann Wong (范文芳) and other Mediacorp artistes use: ah bu (啊母 or mother in Hokkien), as well as pal and fellow influencer, the controversial Xiaxue (下雪 or Wendy Cheng, as she is known to her friends). There are also her media chums, the editors who adore her—including Icon’s Sylvester Ng and Lianhe Zaobao’s Ng King Kang (吴庆康), known to be generous with editorial space when she is featured. Back in 2018, for the December issue, Icon produced a large-scale, multi-city shoot, covering Manchester, London, Paris, and Valencia (are you surprised?), to fill 60 pages of what Lianhe Zaobao, in an editorial to plug the fellow SPH title, called a “林慧俐特辑” (Kim Lim special issue). On Facebook, Sylvester Ng, who refers to Ms Lim as “my dear buddy”, revealed—I sense with great pride—that it was “the biggest (and most expensive) production ever in the 13 years of Icon”. That issue, I remember, had members of the media talking. Close to three years later, on three separate magazine covers, the heiress is similarly encouraging just-as-buzzy talk.

Update (11 August 2021, 18:30):

Elizabeth Leong (left) and Kim Lim in an Instagram post under which is the hashtag #bff. Photo: niawmitz/Instagram

Just four days after my post, and two after National Day, news relating to Kim Lim’s Kelhealth Group has emerged. Medispa veteran Elizabeth Leong, described by the press as Ms Lim’s “business partner”, has shared on IG—about two hours ago—of her “departure and disassociation from Kelhealth, Illumia Therapeutics, Illumia Medical, IllumiaSkin, Papilla Hair, Polaris Plastic, Orion Orthopaedics.” Ms Leong identified herself as a “co-founder” of the above brands on Linkedin. For most of her professional life, she has, in fact, been in the beauty and aesthetics business. Before she joined Ms Lim, she was the general manager of Cambridge Medical Group (CMG) for close to six years. Ms Leong also stated in Linkedin that she was the “co-founder” of Cambridge Therapeutics and other brands under CMG. Prior to establishing Illumia Therapeutics, Ms Lim was the brand ambassador of Cambridge Therapeutics, according to a 2018 Her World editorial.

In Elizabeth Leong’s two-paragraph IG post, she also stated that she is “moving on positively”. In addition, she expanded on what she would be moving on from: “Although it is painful to be pushed out, I am proud of what I have built…” Could this explain what the “departure” is about? She did not say who (or what) pushed her out. Folks in the industry did not hesitate to speculate. Slightly more than two weeks ago, Ms Leong shared on IG a photograph of Kim Lim celebrating her birthday with “30 cakes”. Two days earlier, she posted a nine-shot grid-picture of her and the birthday girl, with the message, “Kim, love you 300”. In her “departure” post (as I write this, there is 79 likes), one of the hashtags she added—among ten that she used (six in Chinese)—was #人要讲义气 (people have to value loyalty). Allegiance, as many of us know, is as fragile as love.

Illustrations: Just So. Profile photos: respective magazines