Icon of the Week: Tina Chow
I find truth in any adage that usurps fashion and trends for style. Tina Chow for example mostly wore little make up and uniformed T-shirts with black Kenzo pants, and still managed to become one of Andy Warhol’s playthings. Pared-down elegance is a skill few have, but an important one nonetheless. Tina Chow went the extra mile and made simplicity her own.
Tina Chow was born Bettina Louise Lutz in Ohio in 1950. While she is widely assumed to be Chinese, she was actually of German and Japanese descent. Chow began her modelling career in her teenage years.
In 1972, Chow married Michael Chow of the Mr. Chow restaurant chain, who was 12 years her senior.
He was also incidentally previously married to Grace Coddington. While their marriage didn’t last, it was fruitful – from it they bore two children; Maximillian and China (who I’m quite certain your boyfriend is a fan of).
Her marriage to Chow also got her foot through the door in fashion. Her modelling jobs were sporadic, so he introduced her to some artist friends. She then managed shoots with the leading photographers of her day, including Steven Meisel, Helmut Newtonand Cecil Beaton…
And in paint, she was captured by Andy Warhol.
While Chow wasn’t commercially mainstream, she became an indelible icon in being an exotic other.
What set her even further apart from the shoulder-padded permed norm of her time, was her penchant for sleek androgyny.
What made her distinctive was her signature cropped and slicked back hairstyle. And her overt obssession with bangles. Since Nancy Cunard, no one had worn them better.
Needless to say, Chow stood out in her time. And she had style – she channeled Katherine Hepburn’s sartorial gamin with Audrey Hepburn’s grace.
But despite having a consistent daytime wardrobe, her eveningwear was utterly archive-worthy. She’d demonstrate exquisite taste in couture by swapping mens vests for Dior, Elsa Schiaparelli, Yves Saint Laurent, Madeleine Vionnet, Mariano Fortuny and Balenciaga (after he had closed his fashion house, thank you very much).
Her accessory collection too (which consisted mostly of bamboo and crystal), was much more refined than the period’s favoured costume jewelry.
In being a sophisticated oddball personality, she swiftly climbed up the social rungs of New York, and counted artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michael Basquiat as her friends.
These friendships influenced her passions to creativity. Chow began designing jewelry.
Her collection was a reflection of her great taste. She employed Shouchikudou Kosuge, a master craftsman to create outer layers of basket woven bamboo for crystal accessories. It was very exquisite; cutting edge modern with very traditional Asian aesthetics.
These friendships also eventually caused a rift between her husband and her. During their estrangement, Chow had brief affairs with Richard Gere and a bisexual fashion arbiter Kim d’Estainville. From him, she contracted HIV and became one of the first heterosexual women to die of AIDS in 1992.
Her style legacy however, continues to live on.
Frida Giannini was inspired by Tina Chow and “a glittering, glamorous time, when going out was a way of life” for Gucci’s RTW Fall 2009 collection.
I didn’t find it terribly refined, so a much better example of a Chow tribute done right was Tao Okamoto’s Vogue Paris September 2009 spread.
There’s something very powerful about graceful androgyny. And while Chow’s style was minimalistic, it was incredible how she much made it her own. 80s fads will revive and fade again; it’s the way Chow executed and instilled her brand of fashion that will live on.
What do you think of Tina Chow?