Bella Hadid visits China with Chrome Hearts to open US label’s new store – and help a childhood friend

The American model and fashion icon was in Hangzhou to open Chrome Hearts’ second store in China with the brand’s co-founders Richard Stark and his wife Laurie Lynn, and daughter Jesse Jo

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 June, 2018, 7:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 June, 2018, 10:32am

“This is the longest time I’ve spent in Asia,” says a fresh-faced Bella Hadid, fashion’s model of the moment, who has been in and out of the region for the past month.

Also sitting with us at the table at the Amanfayun Resort in Hangzhou are Richard Stark and his wife Laurie Lynn – the co-founders of jewellery/fashion label Chrome Hearts – and their daughter Jesse Jo Stark, who is also Hadid’s childhood friend. It’s a veritable collection of Los Angeles fashion royalty.

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Through Chrome Hearts, Richard Stark has been making unique pieces for famed musicians for 30 years. “Ninety-five per cent of the things we sell, we make in our LA factory,” he says, referring to a product catalogue that ranges from home art pieces and furniture to diamond jewellery, leather miniskirts – and a 9,000 yuan (US$1,400) carved silver handle toilet plunger in a glass case I find at one end of their Hangzhou store.

A mention of the plunger puts a mischievous grin on his face. “It’s what you give someone who has everything!”

“We create our own culture at Chrome Hearts,” Laurie says, adding that it is influenced by their powerful musician fan base.

Hadid and the Stark family are in Hangzhou to open Chrome Heart’s second store in China – an impressive 5,500 square foot (511 square metre), three-storey building on a fancy new shopping street along Qiantang River.

The journey the company has made from its start in 1988 to the global brand of today has all been a very organic, family affair, they say. Even Hadid’s capsule line (think sunglasses named “Baby B*tch”, fringed leather jackets and fluffy pink bags) is seen as a sort of natural extension of the friendship she has had with Jesse Jo growing up in LA and hanging out at their house.

“I think the best part about the Stark family is that Richard isn’t about what’s on trend,” Hadid says. “He keeps it with the soul that they started with. Going with the times of course, but always going with the heart.”

This often means that Chrome Hearts isn’t to everyone’s taste – the look is something you either love or hate. Aesthetics aside, the attraction comes from an irreverent and unwavering direction (even Karl Lagerfeld is a big fan) as well as expertly made products using American manufacturing.

The company started in a 400 sq ft space that is now almost five times the size, Richard explains. It still does relatively small productions though, and there’s not much talk of doing anything on a massive scale.

“You know how Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is?” Laurie says. “Our LA factory and HQ is kind of like that. It’s huge and there are different areas to experiment in a safe zone. The kids and Bella have been visiting since a young age. These girls absorbed everything.”

Hadid adds: “Working with your best friend is hard but with that support we’re lucky … We have similar style. We like to throw ideas around and Laurie will come in and give us a reality check. And then the big guns [Richard] comes in and he says either ‘abort mission’ or ‘you’ve got it!’”

They all admit that their way of working is not traditional. But then this isn’t your usual luxury company, despite the high price tags. Richard, for instance, is not a fan of “labels in general” in an age where “everyone uses the word luxury”.

He also has no five-year plan, let alone a 10-year one. Their spontaneity is possible only because the label is family owned and independent.

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Would Richard ever consider selling to a big group? They are all hesitant at the question.

“I’d listen to anybody,” Richard says reluctantly. “But I doubt it. We started with the intention of creating a 150-year-old business. And I think with that attitude you have to give up a lot of opportunity. The soul of Chrome Heart hasn’t changed since the start, it’s still about really well-made stuff … and it’s about quality, attention to details and family values.”