I just thought she was so stylish and couldn’t wait to grow up
so I’d be able to dress like her!
YVES Saint Laurent once said: “Isn’t elegance forgetting what one is wearing?”
When I approached Charmaine Seah in March to discuss the possibility of interviewing her for our WoW Closets series (because, have you seen her — or her Instagram feed?), her (surprising) reply was, “I don’t think my wardrobe is all that interesting.” Her current wardrobe situation, she expounds, consists of predominantly basic pieces because she “hardly splurges on fashion anymore”.
And that is the thing about this girl. When it comes to style, she seems to have the Midas Touch, turning basic pieces into her own sartorial pièce de résistance. Does she not realise it? Surely, this charming insouciance is the “elegance” that YSL speaks of.
On the day of our photo shoot, the 33-year-old co-founder of Elementary Co arrives at her mother’s beautiful home* in the east with her daughter in a white, sleeveless, culotte-legged
jumpsuit. Her accoutrements of choice: A cool pair of white Nike Air Force 1 sneakers, a bracelet that spells her daughter’s name, “Charlie Rose”, and barely a soupçon of make-up. The look says “off-duty”, yet it’s totally on-point. How does one pull this off at 9am in the morning and with a child in tow? Confidence has a significant part to play. She exudes it. Best accessory a woman can wear (other than diamonds) am I right?
Charmaine may not splurge on fashion anymore, but it is clear that she takes pride in dressing well (“Being appropriately attired is a form of respect.”) Even though we requested only one outfit from her own collection, she offered us a few options that included Sacai, Acne Studios, Issey Miyaki and Jimmy Choo kicks to go with a few things from Chanel, Dior, Fendi and — 😍 — A LOT of diamonds, pearls and precious gems from The Canary Diamond Co.
*In the end, as we chatted a bit more about the story angle, we decided to drop the idea of WoW Closets. Charmaine suggested something
way better. “My mother is my biggest inspiration when it comes to fashion,” she tells me. “I always thought she’s incredibly glamorous… She’d always leave a faint trail of perfume behind, and I remember how much I used to love exploring her wardrobe when she was out.”
Yes, it’s perfect. We’d interview them both and snag a privileged glimpse into the fashionable world of this fabulous mother-and-daughter duo (“I used to wonder what the parties she attended were like, and if everyone looked as amazing as she did.”)
That day, when we finally met Mummy Seah, I saw Charmaine’s little anecdote come to life. Christine is indeed an elegant woman with discerning taste. It’s as apparent in her home decor as it is in her choice of outfit. She’s also poised, assured and well-mannered. By the end of the shoot, it was amply clear that style is not the only thing Charmaine had inherited from her mama.
Describe your style with the first three words that come to mind?
Charmaine Seah-Ong: (Mostly) monochrome, elegant, uncomplicated.
Christine, how would describe Charmaine’s style?
Christine Seah: Smart, elegant, chic.
What’s your favourite trend at the moment?
CSO: White sneakers with everything, even eveningwear.
What’s your go-to outfit when on mummy duty?
CSO: White sneakers, black high-waist culottes, white shirt/blouse, crossbody bag.
What’s your idea of the perfect power suit?
CSO: A well-tailored, flare-legged jumpsuit in black or neutral tones, red pointy-toe heels and a Celine bag. Always a Celine bag.
What’s your weekend style like these days?
CSO: A bathing suit and denim cutoffs. We’re always at the pool!
Who are your favourite designers at the moment?
CSO: Alessandro Michele, Simon Porte Jacquemus, J W Anderson and Johnny Coca.
When in doubt, what’s your trick for stepping out in style?
CSO: When in doubt, opt for a bright red pout. A bold lip always puts me in a more confident mood.
You say your mother is the biggest influence on your style. Can you remember what you thought of her as a child, whenever she would emerge from her room all dressed up?
CSO: I always thought she’s incredibly glamorous and would be in awe of how beautiful she looks. I used to wonder what the parties she attended were like, and if everyone looked as amazing as she did. She’d always leave a faint trail of perfume behind, and I remember how much I used to love exploring her wardrobe when she was out. I’d go through all her clothes and her shoes, her make-up and especially her jewellery. I just thought she’s so stylish and couldn’t wait to grow up so I’d be able to dress like her!
WHEN IN DOUBT, OPT FOR A BRIGHT RED POUT.
She always left a faint trail of perfume behind, and I remember how much I used to love exploring her wardrobe when she was out.
How has her style changed evolve over the last three decades?
CSO: During the first decade of my life she was pregnant… a lot (I have three younger brothers), so she was always in maternity-wear — stylish maternity wear! When I was in secondary school and polytechnic, I remember her being in a lot of beautiful bodysuits from La Perla, worn with denim jeans or floor-length skirts. In the last decade, she’s worn a lot of Calvin Klein’s — classic cuts and tailoring, structured shirts, and she’s become slightly more adventurous, experimenting with the occasional Comme des Garcons and Junya Watanabe pieces. Thanks to the influence of her children, she has also taken to wearing sneakers and now owns more sneakers than my brothers and I combined, I’m sure. White shirts have remained a staple in her wardrobe throughout though, as have statement jewellery and bright colours.
What was the very first piece of clothing or accessory you ever borrowed from your mother’s wardrobe?
CSO: You mean apart from her wedding gown which I borrowed so my brothers and I could pretend I was the Bride of Frankenstein? 😆 I think it was probably one of her many clip-on earrings.
If you could inherit something from her wardrobe, what would it be?
CSO: The first Cartier watch my father bought her when they were dating, and her cream-coloured Armani pantsuit.
What exactly did you learn from her about style and fashion? What can you tell us about the dos and don’ts you’ve picked up from her?
CSO: I learned that being well groomed and appropriately attired is a form of respect, and that it’s always better to be (slightly) overdressed, than underdressed to an event. DO always iron your clothes, and DON’T ever wear mismatched underwear.
Thanks to the influence of her children, she has also taken to wearing sneakers and now owns more sneakers than my brothers and I combined, I’m sure.
Tell us an interesting story that involves you, mum and a dress?
CSO: Haha, this is a story we laugh about all the time. I was about three or four and going through an impossible phase where I only wanted to wear flouncy, poofy party dresses (think princess dress with tons of chiffon!) — even to school. This frustrated my mother to no end as she had to spend a good part of every morning convincing me that the hand-me-downs from my older cousin were more appropriate for play school.
One morning when I was being particularly trying and crying over having to wear my cousin’s old blouse, she lost her temper and said, “Fine! If you don’t want to wear this, done!” before reaching over and ripping the shirt clean off my body with her bare hands. The blouse tore in two, and I was
so shocked I shut up immediately. In her defence, she had merely wanted to take if off me but the blouse was so old from years of use that the thin fabric ripped! Needless to say, I never kicked up a fuss or asked to wear a party dress ever again!
Do you shop together?
CSO: We used to shop together a lot more, but of late, what with work and everything, I tend to do most of my shopping online. My mother, on the other hand, is extremely distrustful of online shopping, and she shops more when she travels overseas. Our favourite city to shop together in is definitely Hong Kong, especially the Lane Crawford and Joyce outlet stores in Ap Lei Chau. SoHo in NY comes a close second.
BEING WELL GROOMED AND
IS A FORM OF RESPECT.
Fashion doesn’t need to be MATCHY-MATCHY.
It’s OKAY to be contrasting.
Do you hope that your daughter, Charlie Rose, would look up to you as her style icon when she grows up the way you did your mother?
CSO: I would be most honoured if she does. I certainly had big shoes to fill.
Other than fashion, what other valuable lessons on life, love and motherhood have you learned from your mum?
CSO: I’ve learned that love cannot exist without forgiveness, that one ought to live life with humility, and that it costs us nothing to spread kindness and be life giving to everyone we meet. I’ve learned that to be a good mother, I cannot let motherhood consume me entirely, but that I should always remain true to myself, and be a present wife to my husband.
What about you, Christine? What have you learned from Charmaine, in fashion and otherwise?
Christine: Fashion doesn’t need to be matchy-matchy. It’s okay to be contrasting. As the eldest child, she has taught me to let go as she’s very decisive and determined.
Mum jeans — gotta have it, or gotta chuck it? How would you style them?
CSO: Gotta have it! I wear them rolled up, with a white shirt tucked in, and with my trusty sneakers or a pair of fun heels.
Where’s a stylish hangout for a mother-daughter date?
CSO: Spago for sunset drinks or Open Farm Community for a sun-drenched brunch.
MUM JEANS? GOTTA HAVE IT! 👖
What are you most proud of your mum for?
CSO: For maintaining her sanity while keeping four hyper-active children alive for 30 over years! OK in all seriousness, for always soldiering on and maintaining a can-do attitude in the face of any adversity. She never lets anything get her down for too long, and never allows us to wallow in self-pity. She has a million things to do, but she’s never too busy for anyone who needs her, and always seizes the day with grace and positivity.
What do you think your mother is most proud of you for?
CSO: I think she’s most proud of me for always looking out for my younger brothers, and for working hard at being a good wife and mother — just like her.
What is the most precious or special piece of jewellery for both of you?
CSO: Many years ago, my mother gave me a pair of star-shaped earrings made out of tiny kite-shaped diamonds she’d re-fashioned from some of made out of tiny kite-shaped diamonds she’d re-fashioned from some
of her old jewellery. I lost one side of the earrings one night, I was very upset, as was my mum.
I kept the remaining one. When I got engaged and was discussing the design of my wedding ring, I suddenly remembered the lone star earring and asked the designer to incorporate them into my wedding band. She designed an ornate, Peranakan-inspired ring using the kite-shaped diamonds, and now I get to wear them every day.
Christine: It is a Cartier Santos watch which was given to me by my then boyfriend (husband now). It was a Christmas present in 1980. He wasn’t earning much then, but he still bought it for me because I had said that I liked it.
Recently, when I sent it for servicing, the shop assistant told me that my watch is now a collector’s item. She was quite excited about handling the watch — I think that was her first time encountering it.
LOOK #1: Black pullover + skirt ensemble, Chanel // Bag, Chanel // Pearl necklace and diamond bracelets, The Canary Diamond Co // Pearl-and-diamond ring, The Canary Diamond Co // Diamond stud earrings, The Canary Diamond Co // Sunglasses, Fendi //
Sneakers, Nike (Charmaine’s own)
LOOK #2: Dress, Issey Miyaki (Charmaine’s own) // Yellow diamond ring & violet tanzanite ring, The Canary Diamond Co //
Heels, Jimmy Choo (Charmaine’s own)