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Fashion

How crazy rich Asians in Vancouver ‘survive’ without allowances – they go into business

When the tap that pours almost unlimited funds gets turned off, changes have to be made. For some second-generation rich kids, that means getting into things such real estate and winemaking

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 September, 2018, 2:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 September, 2018, 7:17pm

Chelsea Jiang is young, Asian and ultra-rich. And she is part of a growing demographic in Vancouver, Canada, that shares a similarly privileged lifestyle punctuated by lavish parties, luxury cars, international travel and designer clothes.

“Crazy rich” Asian Vancouverites are so common they’re almost a cliché. They have money beyond imagination and live a flashy jet-set life that would be largely frowned upon back in China. Vancouver, however, is the perfect backdrop for this new generation of wealthy Asians, eager to flaunt their purchasing prowess.

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For Jiang, 28, this opulent lifestyle landed her a starring role in the YouTube series Ultra Rich Asian Girls, a reality TV web series featuring the daughters of affluent Chinese Canadians living in Vancouver.

For two seasons, Chelsea allowed cameras to follow her while she shopped and travelled around the world, recording phone calls, gossip and a number of altercations. Viewers got a voyeuristic glimpse into this rarefied world of extraordinary spending and the pressures that come from managing such a high-maintenance lifestyle.

Like many second-generation rich kids living in Vancouver, Chelsea and her cast mates fuelled their credit cards via generous family allowances, which have been reported to be as high as C$30,000 (US$23,200) per month. Typically, this money flows into bank accounts while they’re in school and university, single and footloose. The wealth seems infinite.

Until one day, the allowance stops.

For Jiang, after the show ended, she got married, had a baby and got divorced. And she lost her family allowance.

Without a trace of betrayal or entitlement, she said during a recent interview, “Why would I want money to support my own family? I wouldn't feel proud spending my parents’ money.” However, she has since moved back in with her parents, who help raise her young son. She is also considerably more cautious talking about her finances, perhaps a lesson learned from her days of over-sharing during filming of the show.

“I'm a bitch,” she quickly acknowledges when I mention I’d been bingeing on episodes of Ultra Rich Asian Girls in preparation for the interview. She is not wrong. Ultra Rich was deliberately modelled after the US reality TV franchise The Real Housewives, which is infamous for its catfights, salacious storylines and similarly privileged social lives revolving around luxury shopping, tropical holidays and the upkeep of palatial homes. On these shows, “the bitch” is a mandatory fixture and the one audiences love to hate – and it’s always easier to hate those who have it all without seemingly having earned any of it.

Speaking to her, however, Jiang seems grounded and intelligent (she has a bachelor’s degree in maths and economics). It is a curious departure from her edited personality on the show, which often portrayed her as impatient and judgemental, cementing her role as an instigator of drama.

Given her reach on social media now (she has almost 69,000 followers on Instagram alone) and loyal fan bases around the world, her new-found caution is wise. Without the steady flow of cash she once had, she now has a better appreciation not just for the cost of luxury when funds are not limitless, but also for how her shopping sprees looked on the show.

That is not to say this former party girl is suffering in any way. Jiang has since started a new career in one of Vancouver’s hottest commodities, real estate, purchasing pre-sale apartments and flipping them.

  And while she questions the definition of “ultra rich”, inferring that she never was – let alone now – she is certainly living quite comfortably, by any definition. 

For most people, moving back in with their parents is seen as a step back. Chelsea and her son, however, are happily ensconced in her parents’ newly renovated four-bedroom heritage home in the stylish west side neighbourhood of Kerrisdale, where single-family homes start at C$4.5 million. It’s the perfect place to park her Range Rover Sport.

Jiang’s parents are happy to have them, and, luckily, to babysit. That same week, Jiang was getting ready to depart for her annual two-month child-free holiday. Last year she went to France (hated Paris, loved Avignon) and Morocco. This year she is going to China, then Singapore (where she has a massive fan base), and then a week at the Shangri-La hotel in the Maldives.

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When asked if she spoils her son, she quickly says no. While she does have a nanny and plans on enrolling him in private school, she does not want him to grow up a slave to labels and says his wardrobe is full of modest Gap clothing.

“So, no Baby Burberry?” I ask.

“Oh. Well, yes, Baby Burberry, of course. And Fendi. But the rest is all Gap.”

To further show her new “thrifty” shopping ways, she showed me a picture of an Alexander McQueen deconstructed embroidered silver metallic leather jacket that she recently bought.

 Only five of these jackets were available in Canada and she got hers at a large discount despite its straight-from-the-runway status.

Canadian retailer Holt Renfrew offers its top-tier preferred customers a discreet discount and Jiang was able to negotiate an even heavier cut that brought the price down from C$19,000 to less than C$9,000.

We meet again a few days later at her friend’s birthday party in West Vancouver. The house is in possibly one of the most exclusive neighbourhoods in the city, located on an incline with a stunning view of the city, Stanley Park and the jewel-blue waters surrounding it all.

The 6,700-square-foot (622-square-metre) home belongs to 40-year-old birthday girl Amy Zhang. Zhang spent C$1 million renovating this C$4 million property a few years ago to make it an even more spectacular backdrop for the parties she loves to host.

Unlike Jiang, Zhang is effervescently candid and well-established in a very successful career.

She recently sold her China-based education consulting business and is now transitioning into early retirement.

 Like Jiang, Zhang was also getting ready to travel later that week.

Before the party I sat down for an interview with Zhang, who was dressed in a stunning, graphic floral pyjama set by Dolce & Gabbana in accordance with the party’s “sexy pyjamas” dress code. She said that after the party she was travelling to New York as a guest of Fendi to preview a new handbag.

Being courted by luxury brands is nothing new for Zhang, who easily spends C$200,000 a year just on designer clothing (excluding handbags, shoes and jewellery).

 But she was only able to start accepting these invitations last year when she sold her business and finally had the time to travel for pleasure. Last year she went to Paris with Dior, Sicily with Dolce & Gabbana, and Milan with Fendi.

These trips typically include a business class plane ticket, room in a luxury hotel and car service.

Zhang is delightfully open about her wealth and how she enjoys spending it, clearly proud of her self-earned riches.

For the past 18 years her company, ReallyLife, matched Chinese students with Canadian and American secondary schools and universities, and flourished during a time when the new generation of Chinese millionaires were establishing their affluence.

 The conflation of rising socio-economic means with extremely high educational standards in China meant Zhang’s business skyrocketed as parents sought to find educational alternatives abroad for their children.

A quick tour of Zhang’s bedroom and en suite reveals racks of beautiful clothes, stacks of luxury handbags – an endless parade of Birkins next to Kellys next to Peekaboos – and so many shoes that they spill out of her wardrobe, line one wall of her bedroom three rows deep, and continue on into her bathroom.

 There’s everything from Louboutin and Jimmy Choo to Prada and Alexander McQueen – and of course there are her new five-inch sparkling Rene Caovilla stilettos that she is wearing with her pyjamas.

Later that evening, changed into her second outfit – a delicate black lace ensemble by La Perla (shoes by Louboutin) – Zhang introduced me to a number of her guests, a happy, pyjama-clad group made up of clearly very wealthy people. Introductions included a whirlwind of choice professions – a vineyard here, horses there, real estate everywhere.

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This group of second-generation wealthy Chinese could soon evolve from its “crazy rich” label and rebrand itself as the business-savvy generation, set to make their own fortunes. And futures.