Hong Kong actress Carina Lau on her new fashion label Anirac and why passion is more important than age
Star of films such as Infernal Affairs II and Let the Bullets Fly explains how her brand’s designs target ‘sexy and smart’ women and how a love of risk-taking sees her take on everything from new business ventures to extreme sports
Rain is pouring down during the recent Shanghai Fashion Week and everyone looks a little damp. Everyone that is, except for actress Carina Lau Ka-ling who looks flawless as she sits in the green room flanked by her entourage.
Dressed in a wine-coloured velvet tailored suit, hoop earrings and a necklace bearing a large golden “C”, the 51-year-old Lau is positively glowing in that way superstars do. She has starred in films such as Infernal Affairs II, Curiosity Kills the Cat, 2046 and Let the Bullets Fly, but today we are talking about fashion – specifically how norms have changed so much in recent years.
“I think fashion represents a culture at that time,” Lau says. “Soon I’m filming a 1930s movie, and it’s all qipao [cheongsam] for women of that era. The clothes are quite feminine, restrictive and refined – it makes your movements different. Everything is bound tight; your chest and curves are restricted. But then in the ’50s, styles started to accentuate waists, curves and a womanly figure – it’s a reflection of the culture.
“Today, it’s more free, and much better. Men can wear women’s clothing, women can wear men’s clothing – just look at Saint Laurent.”
Lau is putting this attitude into her own fashion line, Anirac (Carina spelt backwards), which launched earlier this year. Like Lau herself, there is little that is fluffy or unsure about these clothes: there is structured suiting and plenty of tailored pieces to fit female forms, along with some slinky dresses and bold evening wear.
“Sexy and smart, this is my type of woman,” Lau says. “Of course, Anirac will have parts of my own style, but I like that today’s women are very independent and self-aware with a lot of character.”
Her spring-summer 2018 collection that showed in Shanghai featured easy-to-wear trench coats, high-waisted trousers and Japanese-inspired rounded collars and graphic floral prints. Some of her black and white, tuxedo-influenced looks had echoes of earlier Lanvin, while off-the-shoulder tops and dramatic, plunging necklines reference her own sexy, red carpet styles. Her actor husband Tony Leung sat front row dressed in a bright sports jacket, alongside a who’s who of Chinese models and celebrities.
“When I was little, I grew up on the mainland in Suzhou … the nature and environment affected my creative sense,” Lau says. “My grandfather was an artist, and I would take note of the traditional florals, the ancient style of girls depicted in the paintings. I became very sensitive to colours and art through this.”
Lau moved to Hong Kong at the age of 14 and developed an eye for fashion, following trends through magazines and travelling to experience different cultures and styles. She graduated from the TVB actors training programme, firstly doing mainly side roles on TV before making a name in film as a powerful leading lady. She has long been a red carpet favourite courted by the likes of Valentino, Ralph & Russo and Saint Laurent, but she also laughs about some suspect fashion choices in her early years of fame.
“In the last 30 years of being in film, I’ve been through stages of not knowing how to dress, to slowly learning how to dress, to really knowing my own style,” she says. “Stylists helped me along the way to dress in a way that had sex appeal and elegance.”
During her long career, Lau has seen China’s rise as world power spill into film and fashion. Today, at global film events and on fashion front rows, she sees many Chinese stars like her. But even just 10 years ago it was a different matter.
“The rest of the world looks at our film industry and actors differently now,” she says, “They see that China is developing fast, and that the market is huge. The Chinese are finally being recognised on the world stage.”
As one of the most famous faces in Hong Kong and Chinese cinema, Lau has won many awards for her acting. But perhaps today we should get more used to the idea of Carina Lau the entrepreneur. Aside from her film career, Anirac is just one of Lau’s many business operations. She has parlayed her fame into jewellery and cosmetics, opened a bevy of nightclubs, and two years ago launched a wine and champagne brand called +0, sold on Tmall (operated by Post owner Alibaba).
Lau yearns for new experiences and is a self-confessed risk taker, evidenced not just by her business ventures but also a love of adventure sports such as skydiving, skiing and snowboarding. “Some people ask me, ‘At this age, why are you still skiing and snowboarding?’ I always say, ‘Why not?’” she laughs.
“I really like my life this way. I’m constantly learning,” she adds. “Recently I went to a [Hubert de] Givenchy exhibition at Christie’s. Givenchy was an artist, a fashion designer, an art collector and into science too. If you have the passion and ability to do lots of things, then why not do them?”