Our Asia's most stylish standard bearers gather for a group shot on the rooftop of T Fondaco dei tedeschi by DFS

What makes someone truly stylish? is it confidence? Elegance? That's the question faced each year by the editors of Asia's eight Tatler magazines when they select the most stylish woman in the territory to take part in a glamorous photo shoot in an exotic location.

The eight standard-bearers of our latest Asia’s Most Stylish extravaganza were whisked off to Venice late last year for a weekend of sightseeing, shopping and celebrations marking the launch of DFS Group’s first store in Europe, T Fondaco dei Tedeschi by DFS. The 72,355-square-foot emporium occupies a magnificently restored building dating back to 1228 on the Grand Canal near the Rialto Bridge.

Venice’s fabled Grand Canal

One of Venice’s largest and most recognisable edifices, Fondaco dei Tedeschi was used as a trading post for German merchants, a customs house under Napoleon, and a post office under Mussolini. It is now the home of the city’s first luxury department store, which stocks a curated selection from more than 300 brands. 

Our three-day Asia’s Most Stylish Venetian sojourn kicked off with a private tour of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, followed by a dinner hosted by Edoardo Caovilla of Rene Caovilla at which the eight glamazons each received a pair of Rene Caovilla heels.

The historic building housing the DFS shopping destination was restored by architect Rem Koolhaas and his firm OMA

The climax of the weekend’s activities was a magical gala event hosted by DFS during which the bevvy of beauties—by now all fast friends—assembled for a group shot on the roof of Fondaco dei Tedeschi.

In the twilight, they radiated an elegance befitting their stylish surroundings in a series of black and gold looks from Tom Ford, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Pucci and Hermès—a suitably stylish Venetian finale. Here, the glamorous fashion mavens talk to us about their careers, couture and everything in between.

MELISSA ZUO

Melissa Zuo spent her formative years in Canada, where she graduated from the University of Toronto before returning to Mainland China to join her family’s business, the property conglomerate China Tian Yuan Group. In 2015, combining her passion for art and film, she founded Tian Yuan Culture and Media Communications to produce and distribute films, television content and music.

She is currently working on producing her first film, which is being shot in London. Melissa supports a number of philanthropic causes, including the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation and charities that help children and the underprivileged in remote regions of China.  

Tatler: Who is your favourite designer?

Melissa: Dolce & Gabbana is my favourite brand. They interpret womenswear in a sexy, amazing way. It’s very sunny and unique. My favourite designer, though, has to be my friend Caroline Scheufele, who is artistic director of Chopard. She creates one-of-a-kind masterpieces and her work is very alive.

Tatler: Whose style do you admire?

Melissa: Gisele Bündchen. Her style is elegant and confident, and she looks healthy, natural, optimistic and powerful. That’s impressive to me.

Tatler: What’s your style mantra?

Melissa: Refuse to follow; create by yourself.

VALERIE CHOW

Valerie Chow is the founder of Mama Kid, a store specialising in designer clothes, footwear and accessories for children. She had a successful career as a model and actor before creating the brand, starring in more than 30 film and TV projects, most memorably Wong Kar-wai’s acclaimed Chungking Express, which earned her a nomination for Best Supporting Actress at the Hong Kong Film Awards in 1995.

Valerie left the city in 1997 after gaining a law degree from the University of Hong Kong to pursue her career in Hollywood, where she became the first Chinese spokesmodel for Revlon. She returned home in 2000 to join Lane Crawford, leaving the brand a decade later as vice-president of marketing.

Tatler: What is style to you?

Valerie: You can emote something about your personality through the way you dress. It’s a means, a conduit of expression. Every woman has style.
Tatler: What aspect of fashion do you most enjoy?

Valerie: When it comes to clothes, there’s no better feeling than wearing something new. This power comes over your body. I love that feeling. To me it’s empowering; it gives me a high.

Tatler: Is dressing children different from dressing adults?

Valerie: It’s different because although there are trends in childrenswear, it’s not on the same treadmill as ready-to-wear is for adults. There’s also a freedom of patterns and colour with childrenswear. It’s the only time you can wear a banana print from head to toe. Why deny a child that?
Tatler: Did working in fashion at Lane Crawford change the way you dress?

Valerie: Before I started work with the group I didn’t really pay that much attention to what I was wearing. Working there, I developed a level of knowledge that made me interested, but never to the point that I would spend too much time on it. To me, at the end of the day clothing is just something you have to put on to walk out the door.

CHRISTINA LIM

High-flying Christina Lim, the holder of a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Southern California, has been the head of investor relations at Bumitama Agri, an oil palm plantation company, since 2012 and is the president commissioner of Harita Securities. She was a member of the discipline committee of the Indonesia Stock Exchange from 2004 to 2009.

Tatler: What item of clothing couldn’t you live without?

Christina: The little black dress has long been a staple in my wardrobe. It’s amazingly versatile. A figure-flattering pair of jeans is also indispensable.

Tatler: What would you never wear?

Christina: Reptile skins. I have a phobia. And leopard prints. I can never pull them off.

Tatler: Has anyone in particular influenced the way you dress?

Christina: There have been many influences and my taste has evolved over time, but if I had to name one person, it would be Svida Alisjahbana for her founding of Jakarta Fashion Week. Through this annual event I have met several extremely talented Indonesian designers making an impact on the world stage.

ZAIDA IBRAHIM

The youngest child of former politician and diplomat Ibrahim Saad and his wife Zainab Abdul Kader, Zaida Ibrahim has had two of the busiest years of her life. Last year she married her beau, Arif Zikri Azizi, in a lavish ceremony in Bali, and in April 2015 she launched her own business—a cold-pressed juice brand called Impressed.

Zaida has always been a health and fitness buff and she hopes to encourage more Malaysians to adopt healthier habits. She’s also a director at construction company Citra Gigih and is set to launch a beauty business later in the year.

Tatler: Has your mother influenced your style?

Zaida: Actually, my father is the bigger influence. He has more shoes than I have. For my wedding he wanted to get canes for all the boys. He’s really into fashion.

Tatler: What’s your signature look for daytime?

Zaida: I mostly wear trousers and shirts, very understated and stylish. I’d like to dress the way Amal Clooney does. Power dressing.

Tatler: Have you ever had a fashion disaster?

Zaida: I used to wear matching vests and shorts. I don’t know why.

Tatler: What’s your shopping mantra?

Zaida: I rarely make impulse purchases. If I see and like someone’s collection, I’ll go and buy it. I’m not the browsing type. It’s all part of a plan.

STEPHANIE ZUBIRI CRESPI

Food, lifestyle and travel journalist Stephanie Zubiri-Crespi is the youngest daughter of the vice-governor of Bukidnon Province, Jose Ma Zubiri Jr. She founded catering business Epicurus in 2009 and Mediterranean-Filipino restaurant Atelier 317 in Makati in 2012.

Her column in the Philippine Star, Feast With Me, has been running for more than six years. She hosts two TV shows, one of which, Modern Living TV, is in its 6th season.

A mother of two, Stephanie recently married Jonathan Crespi, president of Europ Continents, the Philippine distributor of French coffee brand Malongo. She has degrees in history and geography from the University of Paris IV—Sorbonne.

Tatler: Who’s your style icon?

Stephanie: My mother has been a big influence on me. She was a fashion designer. When I was small, she would make me these Dynasty-style beaded dresses in miniature—a seven-year-old wearing Dynasty shoulder pads really was something.

Tatler: What would you never wear?

Stephanie: Crocs. I saw a couple of glamourised versions in the recent runway shows and I still think they’re awful.

Tatler: What’s your style mantra?

Stephanie: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Clothing is such a cultural and social emblem that has an instantaneous impact. What you wear can instantly make or break barriers.

HO CHING LIN

Ho Ching Lin is a sought-after ophthalmologist at the Singapore National Eye Centre, where she is a senior consultant and head of glaucoma services. A mother of one, she is also chairwoman of the organising committee for the Eye Ball hosted annually by the Singapore Eye Research Institute.

Ching Lin has received numerous accolades for her achievements, including the Parmigiani Fleurier Woman of Exception award in the science category in 2013. When she’s not restoring sight, she can be found coiled in complicated yoga poses or enjoying a spot of dim sum.

Tatler: Have you always been interested in fashion?

Ching Lin: I’ve loved it ever since I was a little girl. I remember spending hours painting flowers on my shoes just to match those on my clothes. Now in my work life I am very disciplined, rigorous and precise. Fashion is so free and creative—it’s a good outlet.

Tatler: How do you dress for work?

Ching Lin: I make it a point to always dress stylishly for work. I meet so many people every day—colleagues, patients, friends, strangers—and I consider it courteous, respectful and considerate to dress well. It’s a sign that you value other people.

Tatler: Is it possible to look stylish in scrubs?

Ching Lin: It’s hard to be stylish in a shower cap, but I still try. Often I’ll wear nice customised shower caps and crocs during surgery, but other than that it’s tricky.

Tatler: Have you ever had a fashion disaster?

Ching Lin: Not yet. But I’ve had a few wardrobe malfunctions. Five years ago, the shoulder strap of my evening gown snapped and I had to convert it into a rather awkward toga gown.

PATTY TSAI

Patty Tsai is the daughter of Lu Fong Tsai and Jane Tsai, founders of the Red Bean Dining Group, one of the biggest Shanghai restaurant chains in Taiwan. Patty is also the wife of Sean Lien, the eldest son of Lien Chan, a former vice-president of Taiwan.

She moved to Canada when she was 14. After graduating from McGill University she headed to the US to gain a master’s degree in biology and medicine from Brown University.

Patty has been a leading supporter of Estée Lauder’s Breast Cancer Awareness Campaign for several years. She is also a columnist for TVBS Weekly and Taiwan Tatler.

Tatler: How do you stay stylish?

Patty: As a mother, being practical comes first, and you have to make extra time to be stylish. But it’s worth the effort as you start your day feeling good—then you’re better at handling different situations. Most days I aim to be casual but not sloppy.

Tatler: Have you had any fashion disasters?

Patty: I don’t think so but my family would disagree. I once wore black tights under a short denim skirt paired with Converse trainers, inspired by Madonna’s Like a Virgin look. My family members could not stop laughing when they saw me at the airport.

Tatler: What’s your style mantra?

 

Patty: Be comfortable and confident. Be yourself.

VATANIKA PATAMASINGH NA AYUDHYA

Fashion designer Vatanika Patamasingh na Ayudhya graduated from Central Saint Martins and London College of Fashion before launching her eponymous label, Vatanika, in 2011.

She artfully plays with luxurious fabrics and feminine silhouettes, and her label is known for its outstanding prints. The style influencer, who divides her time between the UK and Thailand, has 215,000 followers on her personal Instagram.

Tatler: How did you become interested in fashion?

Vatanika: I was surrounded by fashion as a child because my parents were in the business. However, my main source of inspiration came from my grandmother, who raised me when I was young. Like other women of her generation, she would go to a proper dressmaker for her clothes. She even chose her own buttons and had an amazing knack for selecting pieces to mix and match.

Tatler: Describe your look.

Vatanika: Clean-cut, classy with a touch of punk.

Tatler: What’s the one thing you always carry in your suitcase?

Vatanika: I always have a black blazer. A good black blazer goes with everything. You can wear it to dinner, to lunch, to a proper event or just to cover up.

(Text by Charlene Co)

Tags: Society, Fashion, Christina Lim, Zaida Ibrahim, Stephanie Zubiri-Crespi, Asia's Most Stylish, Patty Tsai, Melissa Zuo, Valerie Chow, Ho Ching Lin, Vatanika Patamasingh Na Ayudhya