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Dress like a Crazy Rich Asian

The key is classic elegance, with a rare touch of whimsy.
07/09/2018 - 05:50

CRAZY RICH ASIANS has been praised and criticised for its depiction of Singapore. But if there's anything they got completely right, it's the style choices of old money versus the nouveau riche: The nouveau riche can sometimes be guilty of dressing flamboyantly, while old money rarely stray far from classic elegant designs.

In the movie, old money is represented by the regal Eleanor Young (played to perfection by Michelle Yeoh), her imperious mother-in-law (Lisa Lu) and her effortlessly dashing son (Henry Golding). Described as "richer than God", the three are always decked out in well-tailored understated ensembles, made out of light materials that are right for our tropical weather.

In contrast there's the nouveau riche as comically exemplified by loudmouth Peik Lin (played by rapper Awkwafina) and her hysterical parents (Koh Chieng Mun and Ken Jeong). Their house looks like an exaggerated Italian mansion; every square metre is embellished for maximum bling. Their clothes are loud and pompous - though it must be said that they seem to be having more fun than anyone else.

Top stylists who have worked with a variety of "crazy rich Asians" say the stereotype is true. Fashion guru Daniel Boey says: "You'd be surprised to know that most of the ultra-rich Singaporeans don't go to parties and shop only when no one's looking. There's a certain amount of sophistication and restraint in their wardrobe, and every piece is well-fitted and made from the best fabrics. When they do go on a shopping spree, they ask the stores to close the doors so there are no prying eyes."

At Crazy Rich Asians' Hollywood premiere, Boey styled actress and longtime friend Tan Kheng Hua in a classy kimono-inspired silk wrap gown by veteran designer Thomas Wee, juxtaposed with edgy accessories by underground designer Kang. Tan plays the mother of lead actress Constance Wu.  

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Another top stylist Martin Wong, who worked with actor-singer Vanness Wu for his 2016 photobook, says: "The wealthy clients I've worked for know their brands really well. They pick things they can wear frequently without fuss, don't shop specifically for a party, and don't need to buy the most current designs in order to signal their wealth. They're happy to wear clothes from seasons ago if the clothes are timelessly chic."

In one scene of the movie, top socialite Astrid (played by Gemma Chan) gifts her husband Michael (Pierre Png) a rare Paul Newman Rolex Daytona. "That watch is not studded with diamonds or anything; in fact it looks quite simple. But it's the kind of understated luxury the ultra-rich go for," says Wong. "By the way, you can't get the watch in stores. It's only available at auctions, and the original worn by Newman was hammered off for US$17.8 million in 2017."

The movie producers had to borrow the watch from veteran vintage watch dealer Eric Ku to shoot the scene. Ku had recently purchased a version of the original timepiece for US$700,000.

Besides understatement, the other key consideration is fit - many ultra rich individuals opt for made-to-measure services offered by luxury brands. Monograms, hidden or displayed, show personalisation and customisation. Choosing a different fabric from what's available off-the-rack also distinguishes the ultra-rich from the rich.  

That said, some stylists feel the wealthy needn't be so rigid with their fashion choices. Stylist Joshua Cheung says: "The clients that I've worked with are a balance between Eleanor and Astrid - and even a bit of Peik Lin. Some make understated choices, while others opt for the quirky and adventurous.

"If you want to really look like the creme de la creme of Crazy Rich Asians, pick things that are timeless so that five or 10 years from now, you can look back and not regret your decisions. At the same time, I'd also advise you to sometimes bend the rules and let yourself go a little, well, crazy. Have a bit of fun - it can't hurt."


Luxury brands have made it their mission to give you the right fit and personalise your apparel. Here's how four top houses are doing it

Ermenegildo Zegna

According to stylist Martin Wong, ultra-rich men almost always opt for made-to-measure services; they like their clothes to fit to a T and off-the-rack pieces may not necessarily provide that. Ermenegildo Zegna, the leader in custom menswear, offers its personalised service to match every stitch and detail to the tastes and needs of its client.

Zegna's Su Misura (Italian for custom-made) service involves a Zegna tailor spending 90 minutes with the client to take his measurements and select the cut, style and fabrics. Sparkling white wine, coffee or tea, and chocolates are served to complete the experience.

Because Zegna has almost 120 years of experience in tailoring, it is also the global leader of fine fabrics with hundreds of fabrics to choose from. (Zegna even manufactures suits for other labels such as Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent and Dunhill.) The made-to-measure service goes beyond suits and jackets to include looks for informal events and work. Whether you're looking for a high-end denim jacket, cashmere polo shirt or jumper, the Italian stalwart can create the best-fitting garment to suit your body shape, height, posture and lifestyle. For special clients, Zegna even throws made-to-measure cocktail parties where guests can tailor their suits. Made-to-measure suits start from S$5,000.

Louis Vuitton

Louis Vuitton offers made-to-order services for its iconic trunks, which can be customised in varying dimensions for different usage. Whether you want to make a special hat case, a wardrobe trunk, a tiny ring box or even a decorative trunk to display flowers at home, the luxury house that started off as a trunk maker in 1854 would be able to create one according to your specifications.

Most recently, Louis Vuitton introduced the futuristic Monogram Titanium, inspired by the idea of space conquest. The most noteworthy Monogram Titanium trunk so far is the trophy travel case created for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia.

Meanwhile, you can personalise your trunks and other leather goods with your initials, coloured stripes, patches or unique creations of your own design. They can be printed on city bags, handbags, luggage and small leather goods such as passport cases and wallets. All customisation requests are fulfilled at the Louis Vuitton atelier in Asnières, France, where experienced craftsmen create products of the highest quality.

Tom Ford

If it's good enough for James Bond, it's good enough for a crazy rich Asian. Tom Ford has been the designer for 007's bespoke suits for the last few films starring Daniel Craig. Its Singapore boutique started its made-to-measure service in Singapore just a few years ago and remains the only one in Southeast Asia to offer it.

Three times a year, it flies in a specialist from Milan who spends up to 90 minutes on each client, taking precise measurements and helping him choose the fabric. Personalised touches to be had include wedding dates or monograms discreetly embroidered onto inner pockets.

The suits are made in the small artisan factories of Italy and flown back to Singapore within six to eight weeks; if you opt for the express service, it will cost you 50 percent more. The result, however, is always a perfect fit. Since the Singapore boutique introduced the service, it has gained popularity among wealthy Singaporeans and Indonesians who favour the label's sophisticated sheen for event wear.

Christian Dior

Dior provides personalisation and customisation services for its clients and has done so for several years. Specifically for its iconic Lady Dior handbags, one can order its various models in luxurious crocodile skin. Depending on the complexity of the order, Dior takes between six months and a year to source for the skin and make the handbag at its Paris atelier.

Wealthy clients often ask for the bag charm to be encrusted with sapphires or diamonds; these lend a subtly glamorous effect. Typically these requests are made by those who might already have Dior's most coveted models, and want something unique and special.

When new collections arrive, Dior holds soirees and intimate sessions for regular clients to preview the collection. Its staff are well-acquainted with the tastes of its clients and tailors the private viewings accordingly.

Last year Dior invited its top customers to Paris to celebrate its 70th anniversary at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, where it showcased over 300 haute couture designs. It was the largest fashion exhibition ever held in Paris and the party was, in a word, spectacular