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Fashion

Crazy Rich Asians jewellery: Michelle Yeoh and Lisa Lu wear stunning pieces from Hong Kong-based Carnet in upcoming film

We chat to Michelle Ong, founder of jewellery brand Carnet, about the pieces she selected for actresses Michelle Yeoh and Lisa Lu to represent the peak of Asian high-society elegance in the much-anticipated film

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 July, 2018, 8:16am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 August, 2018, 9:04pm

If you’re a fashion lover, one of the best parts of reading Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan’s novel about Singapore’s jet-setting class, is the name-dropping of high-end labels throughout the book.

Certain sections read like a posh version of a fashion-obsessed rapper’s hip-hop tune, except that instead of Gucci, Balmain or Balenciaga, you’re hearing about jeweller Jar and couturier Alexis Mabille, niche labels that cater to the 1 per cent and not logo-obsessed nouveau riches.

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Just like the fashion, the jewellery featured in the book (which has been turned into a Hollywood film coming out next month) is a highlight. In one chapter, Astrid Leong, one of the novel’s most stylish characters and Singapore’s pre-eminent couture client, goes on a jewellery shopping spree while running morning errands. She treats her long-time jeweller like a trusted hairdresser, confiding in him and hanging out at his exclusive shop hidden in a luxury mall on Singapore’s Orchard road.

Hong Kong-based Carnet, one of the jewellery brands mentioned in the book, is not that different from the fictional jeweller favoured by Astrid Leong, who in the film is played by Gemma Chan from the sci-fi television series Humans.

Founded by Michelle Ong more than 20 years ago, Carnet is based in a jewel box of a shop at one of Hong Kong’s most luxurious retail destinations, Landmark Prince’s. Ong’s creations have adorned the likes of Kate Winslet, Renee Fleming, Glenn Close and Wendi Murdoch.

For Crazy Rich Asians the movie, author Kevin Kwan himself reached out to Ong to ask for some of her pieces to be featured in the film.

“Kevin reached out via email, so when he came to Hong Kong for his book signing, we had dinner and immediately hit it off,” Ong said while in Paris when we contacted her about her work for Crazy Rich Asians.

“I was delighted to have been asked to be involved in the movie. Kevin connected me with Mary Vogt, the costume designer, to select the jewellery. Together, the three of us saw every aspect of the costumes as enhancing the characters – telling something about them. I was briefed on what characters would wear my pieces and their look, their presence.”

This is not the first time that Carnet jewellery has appeared in a big Hollywood production. “I am always happy to collaborate with movie projects,” Ong said. “My first exciting one was The Da Vinci Code, when I specially designed a piece to be featured in the movie. It is always exciting to see my creations on the big screen.”

Ong worked closely with Kwan and Vogt to select the items, saying that discussions took place via Skype. In the end, they chose two unique creations that were worn in a pivotal wedding scene by actresses Michelle Yeoh and Lisa Lu.

Yeoh wore a white and fancy intense yellow diamond brooch backed in platinum and 18k yellow gold, which Ong named “Sunkissed”. Lu, who plays the matriarch of an ultra-wealthy Singaporean family, was clad in the “Sparkling Sunlight” brooch pendant, which features a large yellow sapphire and fancy intense orangey yellow, yellow and white diamonds and is backed in platinum, 18k white gold and titanium with a white and yellow diamond chain in 18k white gold.

“I chose pieces I thought absolutely represented the impression that Lisa and Michelle’s characters would want to make at an Asian wedding event and in keeping with Mary’s vision,” Ong said. “Mary and my team went through many of my existing collections that showcase elegant statement pieces that can portray the characters’ sophistication and background as jewellery collectors.”

While Ong hasn’t had the chance to see the film yet, she found the book “entertaining and well written” and is aware of the importance of a US production with an all-Asian cast.

“It’s another landmark for diversity,” she said. “I’m very happy to be a part of the film, featuring a remarkable cast of internationally recognised talented actors in their own right. I think entertainment is a good way to connect and to also transcend cultural differences.”

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Did Ong recognise any of the quirks of the characters portrayed by Kwan in her rarefied milieu of real-life high-end clients?

“Kevin, like any great writer, combines the real with elements of great storytelling,” she said. “To me this makes his books both accessible and entertaining. So of course, in general he captures the importance of style, perfection and beauty that I see in Carnet clients. I could relate to what the characters would choose and how they would wear these pieces.”