Fragility and steeliness is a rare combination. More rarer yet, when such qualities are embodied, personified and made manifest with such sartorial magnificence in an individual as Chiu-Ti Jansen.
Chiu-Ti’s style and sartorial sensibility are by turns chromatically intense, vivacious, dramatic, whimsical, and winningly dainty—occasionally some of her ensembles seem a wink or nod to the avant-garde fashion or bohemian attitude.
Her curatorial approach to the stylized self is personal yet effortlessly arrests attention wherever she is found. As equally important, is the very elegant, collected manner with which she unyieldingly conducts herself—there is never even a whiff of vulgarity or desperate glamor as one increasingly detects in a considerable number of desperately glamorous women out-and-about the party circuits, looking to be flattered. And the way she walks, as if weightless, yet every step of hers is sure-footed, clear sign—I take it—of keen intelligence and self-assuredness.
Chiu-Ti was born and raised by her parents in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. She attended the Kaohsiung Girls’ High School and would later attend the National Taiwan University (B.A.); Yale University (M.Phil.); Columbia University (J.D.)
Chiu-Ti is New York based TV presenter, publisher and writer. She has hosted featured video presentations on the New York Fashion Week and CFDA Awards for China’s SINA Fashion and Phoenix Fashion, interviewing designers and super models such as Vera Wang, Alexander Wang, Jason Wu, Liu Wen, Shu Pei, Phillip Lim and Zang Toi. She was the host of a video presentation on the inaugural Phoenix Fashion Awards, which aired through Fashion TV in more than 100 countries. In January 2013 she was the only guest from overseas invited to walk the red carpet at the SINA’s Annual WEIBO Gala in Beijing.
Chiu-Ti founded CHINA HAPPENINGS™, a multimedia platform, to focus on the lifestyle and cultural industries of contemporary China. She writes a blog titled CHINESE ELEMENTS for international house Sotheby’s and a column titled NEW YORK IN STYLE for Financial Times’ Chinese Edition.
A native speaker and writer of Mandarin Chinese, she regularly contributed to the China Times, the United Daily and The Artist’s Magazine on a wide array of cultural and art-related issues.
Prior to founding CHINA HAPPENINGS™, Chiu-Ti was a New York-based corporate partner of Sidley Austin LLP, an international law firm of approximately 1,700 lawyers.
She is currently an International Honorary Ambassador of the Lang Lang International Music Foundation, a member of the Contemporary Art Advisory Committee of China Institute in America, a Board Member of the Couture Council of Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and a life member of the Elizabethan Club (for Renaissance Studies) of Yale University.
In the next coming two weeks or so, enjoy the variegated sartorial expressiveness of the strong and reed thin, Chiu-Ti Jansen or Madonna of the Glass and Steel, as I fancy her.
December 10th. 2014
interviews/photographs: iké udé
Wall Street Lawyer-turned-Media Entrepreneur
All and none—I work with any color (Would you ask Matisse or Picasso which their favorite color was when they painted)? And I love unexpected color combinations
Favorite Fashion Designer:
Favorite Shoe/Accessories Designers:
Gianmarco Lorenzi footwear
Favorite Parfum: Un Jardin Sur Le Nil by Hermès
Favorite Stylish Films:
How to Steal a Million; The Talented Mr. Ripley; It (with Clara Bow); To Catch a Thief; Dinner at Eight
My loft’s media room and my kitchen
Metropolitan Museum of Art; Book Stores; Paris & Languedoc-Roussillon, France; Dali, China
Bellini (when it has a pungent flavor of freshly squeezed peach purée)
Who is your style icon?
Jackie O and Frida Kahlo (both dressed painterly—in the same way a painter would compose her canvas—one championed uncluttered Classicism; while the other practiced whimsical Maximumism.
What item of clothing would you rather starve for?
An original Cristobal Balenciaga or Charles James gown.
What is your overall impression of how people dress in general?
Too obsessed with brands, celebrities and stylists. We have more stylists than real styles.
One question that I often get asked: Are you in the fashion industry?
Our society tends to draw the following equation: stylish equals love of fashion, equals working in the fashion (or entertainment industry). The saddest part about this stereotype is that it is actually true! Fashion industry people perpetuate their own commerce—driven (not dictated by calendar but by fashion shows) trends practiced by them, which other “non-fashion” people outside this group of inner-circle often find bizarre or out-of-touch. In other words, we are living in two worlds of disparate realities. The fashionable people dictate what we consider to be the predominant trends of the season. Have you noticed how many designers all come out with similar elements around the same time to conform to the “prescribed” leading trends of the moment? Their stylists and trend forecasters have done their homework for them.
And what do you recommend that they do otherwise?
Being one’s own stylist. Reclaiming the sheer joy of dressing
PICTURE: #1 IN FIFTEEN ACTS
SPECIAL GUEST INTERVIEW:
CHIU-TI JANSEN TALKS ABOUT HER 1st OUTFIT:
What items did you use to compose this particular outfit?
-Madeline Gruen navy blue gown with white hand-sewn beads and cascades of tulle from the empire waist
-Pearl studded earrings
-Casadei navy blue satin platform peek-toe sandals with blue/silver crystal embellishments
-Judith Leiber Swarovski silver crystal minaudiere clutch
How did you find the various items that you are wearing?
This gown is Madeline Gruen’s graduation work from Pratt. I contacted her after I saw the runway image in the New York Times, which ushered in a series of commissioned pieces and collaborations between us.
How did you arrive at the decision to compose such an outfit?
This silhouette, resembling that of the traditional Korean hanbok dress, is very difficult to pull off. I love the simplicity of navy/white color contrast, and the generous beading. It kept me warm in the usually over-chilled event halls.
When I wore this garment to the New York City Ballet’s 2013 Spring Gala, at least 200 guests (most of whom I did not know) came up to me to compliment the dress, many of whom told me that it’s simply THE most beautiful dress they had ever seen in their lives. I was overwhelmed by the strong emotional response that this dress elicited.
Where do you normally shop for clothes and accessories?
I often shop when I travel overseas: Paris, Rome, Florence, other European cities, Hong Kong, etc. The stores there are more likely to stock my size (FR 32/34 & IT 34/36/38). And I am more likely to have time to try on things.
I also work with vintage dealers to secure vintage pieces and young design talents for one-of-the-kind custom orders.
I have a very singular view about what would work for me and I waste no time in browsing.
How much of a role does money or the lack thereof play in one’s endeavor to dress very smart or beautifully?
It’s undeniable that money and resources, and increasingly so, do play a role in the access to the finest clothes and accessories. We moved from the world of “bankrolled fashion” to the world of (commercially) “sponsored fashion.” An economist can do a simple math about the economic distribution among the people named to the best-dressed lists since the early 20th century.
That being said, style and taste (if you still believe in them, as I do) are something that cannot be given or taken away.
What special recommendation would you give somebody who admires your style but don’t know where or how to start?
Self-knowledge is the foundation of all great styles. NEVER try to dress like another person. Use your resources sparingly, intelligently and creatively.
Name six or more famous personages—past or present—who you would invite over for dinner/drinks because of their impeccable individualistic elegance?
Diana Vreeland (for her sharp wit); Rainer Maria Rilke (for his biblical poeticism); Franz Kafka (for his unique sense of the absurd); Ralph Fienne (for his natural vulnerability); JFK (for his winning oratorical style); Diane Kruger (for her impeccable sense of the unexpected)
In what order would seat them?
Rilke, Fienne, Kafka, Vreeland, JFK, Kruger
As a result of your style, what is your impression of how you are generally perceived in public?
Mysterious! I guess because I don’t fit into any “cookie cutter mold.”
And how would you rather the public perceive you?
A living specimen of the adage: IT’S NOT WHAT YOU WEAR, BUT HOW YOU WEAR IT. I have a story to tell—I hope people can see the heart and the mind behind my dresses.
Presently, what do you think accounts for the poor appearances in how people generally dress or don’t dress?
Unfitted clothes. No good designs would work without excellent fit—even a baggy design has a size relative to one’s body.
In retrospect have you ever worn something that you now find particularly regrettable?
I wore a 1930s Letty Lynton-inspired gold lame gown with trumpet-shaped short sleeves to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s gala. Despite the taboo against period-matching in accessorizing a vintage outfit, I wore my hair in finger wave style. There was nothing wrong with the splendid gown or the finger wave hair per se, except that I had my hairdresser exaggerate the waves and part my hair in the middle after the inspiration of Madonna’s film W.E. I ended up looking like a minister in Louis XVI’s court!
In the end, do you dress to: (a.) please others, (b.) please yourself or (c.) hopefully be in agreement with everybody?
I think it would be a lie if one dresses only for oneself—then one should simply stay at home and stare at the mirror in the closet. For me, dressing is an act that pre-stages social interactions and, sometimes, interventions. But I do derive more pleasure of dressing creatively, elegantly and selfishly, without worrying about the status symbol that a piece of clothing often communicates to others.
Growing up with Protestant ethos, I am fully aware of the stigma associated with fashion as a frivolous pursuit. As a result, I am deeply fascinated with the (often uneasy) relationship between appearance and reality, between surface and depth, and between style and substance. I think my way of dressing articulates my unique point-of-view: neither my clothes nor I fit into any stereotypes.