As enduring chroniclers of Hong Kong society for the past decade, we’ve been well-poised to witness the emergence of the “social-media star”, an inexplicable phenomenon that’s managed to surprise and amaze us.
Media darlings of the past were the entertainment stars of film, music and television. They were captains of industry or burdened with power and politics. Red-carpet staples were born (or married) into wealth, if not fame. Socialites with inexhaustible wardrobes mingled with the designers who draped them. Men and women of influence, clout and beauty attained celebrity over a lifetime of achievement, showcasing their respective talents. How it’s all changed. It’s all about “Insta-fame” now.
Modern social-media stars are a bemusing breed – and it’s interesting to ponder how and why people latch on to their every move with such relish. One of the greatest proponents and most charming beneficiaries of “Insta-fame” in Hong Kong is our glowing cover star Eleanor Lam (better known as Elly). Some 129,000 followers scroll through her perfectly presented Instagram snaps, which document her daily dealings as a luxury brand muse, frequent traveller and bon vivant.
That said, Lam was born to fame, of sorts. Her father is tycoon Peter Lam (Chairman of Lai Sun Development and Hong Kong Tourism Board, deputy chair of Lai Fung Holdings and a director of e-Sun Holdings, owner of Media Asia Entertainment Group and Clot Media Division) and her mother is stunning Taiwanese actress and artist Lynn Hsieh. To the manor born, Lam has always been a stylish bud, who slipped into lifestyle magazines over the last few years and has blossomed into a fashionista with flourish.
Lam has done her share of photo shoots and can out-pout and out-pose the best of them. Still, we put limits to the test when we arranged to shoot in Yuen Long on a cold winter’s day.
Though the temperature wasn’t atrophying, the wind chills were bitter, biting our cheeks at every turn. Luckily, Lam was game. “Sure, it’s something new, something challenging and something I’ve never done before. Let’s go!” she said, as we explained our plan to head northwards.
With a rented van filled with designer gear, a make-up station and the various paraphernalia required for a cover shoot, we trudged through traffic early one morning to shoot before the natural light faded. Between shots, an assistant held a wind-blower to Lam’s visage to get her hair to fly like Beyoncé’s. For one take, we threw Lam into a field and promised here there were no snakes – with such authority that she didn’t question our complete lack of investigation to qualify the statement. Thankfully unharmed, we then returned her to her impressive villa where we chatted further.
Apart from the fashion snaps that we regularly find on your Instagram stories, we recently saw a clip of you at a recording studio – is that what’s ahead: Elly Lam the album?
[Laughing]. You know that entire thing was a joke, right? You’re not the first person to assume that I was seriously working on an album – I got a lot of DMs (Direct Messages) – “Wait, what, you’re not coming out with an album?” No! One of my friends is a big-time songwriter. He has worked with Selena Gomez, Marshmello, Justin Bieber, and we’re buddies. I’d never been to a recording studio, and on my last trip to LA, he asked me to see what goes on behind the scenes. You listen to a song [there] – but I know nothing about what it takes for song production, I just went to visit. I wanted to know how it all works. So I played around – sat in front a microphone, pretended to sing. That’s all.
Speaking of friends, were you a popular kid in high school?
It’s kind of different in Hong Kong than it is in America. There’s no popularity contest here. I grew up in an environment where there was no bullying. There were a few cliques but everyone has their own circle of friends. It wasn’t like a bullying or aggressive environment. I had friends; I enjoyed high school. I look back with great memories.
The reason I ask is you have tremendous popularity now. Your fan following is incredibly interactive; people liking your images, leaving comments.
I guess I was one of the first few people in my circle who started on Instagram early on. I’ve been around, I’ve accumulated followers over the years, I have a lot of posts. I try to post as many aspects of my life as possible, not just fashion; I do food, lifestyle, beauty, nature, travel. I give all aspects of life. So people are drawn to that.
Have you noticed which are your most popular posts?
Surprisingly, luxurious things and material things – people are more drawn to that. They like that a lot more than say a mountain shot or landscape. People want to see the newest trends, what I’m wearing, where I’m travelling. Those get a lot of likes.
What was unexpected?
I had this really creative shot of me by a mountain, and I thought it was a majestic shot with a tiny picture of me on the horizon, but no one seemed to like it. Selfies get a lot more likes.
Your following has translated well into the fashion sphere. Brands now approach you to wear their latest collection and hashtag them. You’re seen as an influencer.
I’m very lucky that when brands send me things, I ask if I can mix it up, accessorise, and I ask them to send me a couple of options so I get to pick. I only wear what I’m comfortable with. They are not going to force me to wear anything. I would never wear something I’d regret later, or be photographed in anything I’d rather be caught dead in! Having the option to say no is a great privilege.
You’re dressed in Dior today. What are your thoughts on the latest Dior cruise collection?
I love it a lot – I already have pieces from the collection. Before Hong Kong, I was living in LA and I love Coachella, that’s my fashion vibe. This collection reminds me of that. It’s very easy to wear, I love the whole bohemian vibe and a lot of my friends think I’m a flower child, so when the collection came out, I knew I’d love it. It’s exactly what I’d wear.
How do you define your style?
I’m pretty daring. Well, maybe that’s not the right word. I like to experiment. I don’t have one specific style; I’m not just feminine. I wear according to my mood, so some days I feel edgy, other days I feel girly and soft, and other days, I want to glam out. It all depends on my mood.
Do you dislike any trend or style?
Brands know me, especially if they sponsor me, they know the kind of clothes I’d actually wear, so I’ve never been sent anything I hated. I don’t like to say I hate anything – I just omit it.
Do you get to keep the outfits?
No, there are no freebies, contrary to popular belief! It’s a myth. I don’t keep outfits – I wish. But, in a way, I don’t want to keep them, as once [a piece has] been shot, it’s been seen everywhere. There are pieces I love that I’d end up buying eventually. There are pieces from the shoot today that I’m buying for sure.
You found fame in the new millennium, but fame is inherent in your family. We once interviewed your mother Lynn for an art feature. What do you think of your mother’s art?
My mum’s a very focused person. She’s very talented. She doesn’t get distracted easily. I love her art.
What did you think of her oil painting exhibition Purity, held early last year at the Poly Auction Hong Kong Gallery?
I’m so proud of my mum. The exhibition came to fruition after years of hard work. You can’t just do 20 or 30 paintings on the spot. I tried oil painting myself – and it takes weeks or months to finish a single piece. I gave up on it quite quickly, but my mother was dedicated. At the exhibition, all my siblings came down and, for the first time, we saw the entire collection. There were several pieces we hadn’t seen before, and it was really moving for all of us.
Many people wanted a picture with your mother on that day – are you aware of her fame and that she had this incredible life on film before you and your siblings came along?
I don’t forget that. My mum has a bright star presence. She’s very elegant. Everyone compliments me on my mum. Everyone tells me how beautiful she is. I grew up with it – I remember it always.
Have you seen her movies?
I’ve seen her movies. She’s a very gifted actress too. One of her earlier films is my favourite, from when she was a teen. In the film, she’s a ballerina; she’s on top of her class. She’s performing in recitals and she is the star. But she gets polio, gets really sick and she’s devastated. The movie is about her picking herself up. That was my favourite. Not many people get to see their parents as a child. Not only did I do that, I have also seen her grow up on film. She was so talented. I cried when she cried. It was very emotional. Mum was such a cute kid, and that pouty face! And now she’s a beautiful woman.
You mentioned between shots earlier today that you sent in your audition tape for a film production. Will you follow your mother’s footsteps in cinema?
No. it was just for fun again. I sent in a tape, but it’s a pipe dream. It’s not something I’ve pursued really hard. I did want to be in the spotlight like my mum when I was younger, but I haven’t really pushed myself.
Fame is a tricky thing. If you’re a film star, you get critics and reviews, paparazzi and gossip. With your “Insta-fame”, have there been negative aspects?
I’ve had had some cyber-bullying. I’ve had people message me very negative things. I like the Instagram function where I can read a comment, but the reader does not know I’ve read it – they don’t get the satisfaction of knowing I’ve read their negativity. There is no acknowledgement. In my head, whenever I read something stupid, I’m like, “Don’t look at it, don’t follow me, why bother being so negative?”
Did anything ever go out of hand?
I’ve had to report a few people who steal my images and pretend to be me online. I’ve had to block people too. That doesn’t stress me out; it takes two seconds. There are some crazy people out there.
Recently you posted images of your valuable accessories at an event. Are there certain safety measure you take on social media? The Kim Kardashian robbery comes to mind, when armed thieves targeted her for the diamonds she had earlier posted on Instagram.
People have warned me not to post where I am, especially when I am travelling abroad. Hong Kong is so safe; I take it for granted. I had a girls’ trip to Europe and I was travelling in places that weren’t always safe. I was in Barcelona and Madrid, and my mother said not to post which hotel I was staying in, or which restaurant [I was at] until I had left. I only did “later-grams”.
Do you leave your jewellery here?
When I travel, I only take costume accessories. I’ve lost something very important to me on a trip – I was very sad. I had this ring that my mum gave me for my 21st birthday. And I left it on the plane and I forgot about it when I was disembarking. It was expensive but also had so much sentimental value.
So, what’s your advice to those trying to increase followers?
I would say definitely hashtag, which I think everyone knows about, but it’s also important to follow others and like other people’s pictures, so they are aware of you, too. I also propose that you come up with a variety of different angles and different colour schemes for long series of pics.
Who do you like to follow?
I follow nearly 1,000 people. I like people who do fun and whimsical photos. I like interesting and different aesthetics, or when I see someone’s profile and I see one consistent theme. When you click on a profile, you want to see rows of interesting images. That’s really hard to do. But I appreciate the effort. I also follow a lot of food pages.
Food? Do you eat a lot?
I’m such a fatty! I love to follow Japanese food blogs as they’re so beautifully presented and I follow my friends – we are all food connoisseurs. My “@ellyxbelly” Instagram account is my separate food account. I don’t want to mess up my “@ellyxxbean” account, so I created a separate one that’s just about food. I eat the food too, not just take pictures of it like some people. I’m a dessert person. I love all kinds of dessert.
So you did eat your unicorn birthday cake, not just post about it?
The one from Fly My Pan – yes, it was so pretty and so yummy. Yvette [Yan Li] makes the most delicious cakes. Usually, when cakes have a lot of design, fondant and icing, they look great but taste horrible. Her cakes are amazing – they are so delicious.
The other common theme on your Instagram, apart from fashion and food, is travel.
I have travel plans coming up. I’m planning a little backpacking trip. My friend from LA and her boyfriend are doing an Asia trip; Bangkok, Laos and Vietnam. I’ve never been to Vietnam, so I’m excited to go. Over Chinese New Year I’m going to Vegas. We go there every year. En route, it’s an opportunity to go back to LA and see my friends too. I had a place there, but we sold it. But I have so many friends in LA. I go back often.
What are your favourite LA haunts?
For me, LA is a crazy foodie destination. I know my time [there] is limited, so I go out of my way to discover new places, try all kinds of cuisines, food trucks, pop-up diners. Smorgasbord in Brooklyn is amazing. I try to explore LA via apps, via Yelp. I’m on FoodLA. I’m reading up on food all the time.
Here in Hong Kong, the tabloids and paparazzi know you and your family. Do you have a certain amount of anonymity in the US?
Yes, no one cares who you are. When I was in LA, I really liked doing road trips, national park visits and backpacking. I’m always down to try anything new, something I’ve never done. The private jet trips and ski vacations are one thing, but I am adventurous, too. If someone asked me to go see Egypt, I’d probably say yes. At the moment, I really wanna go to Seychelles. I’ve been looking at dreamy images from there.
What’s been a favourite recent trip?
In Europe, last year, I tried out a few different cities I’d never been to. I went to Belgrade and Serbia. My best friend from LA is Serbian, and we went with his boyfriend. In one day we went to three different countries. We went to Italy, Slovenia and Serbia. I’m pretty brave when it comes to trying out new food, and it wasn’t so difficult. A lot of meats and game. I can survive anywhere.
My favourite Asian food is hotpot. I’m obsessed, especially in this weather. I can do very, very spicy food. I pretty much eat anything. The only thing I don’t like is like bitter melon. I can’t stand that. My mother tells me to eat it as its good for women, good for my skin. And fried eggs. I just can’t.
You mention your family a lot and they are in your pictures often. Tell us about that dynamic being the youngest in the family.
I’ve got two brothers and two sisters, so I’m close to all of them but in different ways. My twin brother Lucas and I are obviously the closest. We have mutual friends; we hang out a lot together as our timelines are exactly the same. We are very, very close. My sister Emily and I are close as she’s very girly, she’s into beauty and fashion like I am. We go on shopping trips. My other sister Evelyn is more sporty. She’s also living at home, so I see her every day and we watch scary movies together. Emily lives with her family, she is married and has two kids. Understandably, she has different priorities. Her in-laws, her children and her husband keep her busy.
My eldest brother Lester, he’s a typical big brother, he’s very protective and he organises everything. He works with my dad so he travels a lot. He’s overseeing a lot of things in Guangzhou at the moment. We don’t always meet, but we try to have a meal together every Sunday.
Is there sibling rivalry?
My twin [brother, Lucas] and I bicker a lot but we also get over it just as quickly. When we’re fighting he’ll say something mean on WhatsApp but he regrets it later – he’ll come and delete the messages in my room as he doesn’t want a permanent record of our silly fights. It’s very sweet.
Do you have the most followers in the family?
Probably, mostly because most of my family is not active on social media. My sister Emily is a bit more, but no one else. They are hardly ever on and I have to force them to take a picture with me. “Slap a smile on your face!”
Where is this Sunday meal together you speak of?
We always go out to our favourite restaurants. The ones our family owns obviously – yes, I’m very biased, but 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana is my favourite Italian food. I just love how delicate their dishes are and I’ve known [Umberto] Bombana all my life. I also love Howard’s Gourmet. And Neighbourhood – they use very fresh produce. Their truffle French toast dish is amazing.
In such a big family, everyone’s bound to have a favourite relative. Who is yours?
I got into trouble for answering that question before, so I’m not answering. I love everyone!
Photography Olivier Yoan
Styling Florent Thiébaut
Styling Assistants Nicoline Aagesen and Curtis Lee
Make-up Alexa See
Hair Toyo Ho
Outfits and Accessories Dior