Unapologetic. That’s Lynn Ban in a nutshell. The New York-based jewellery designer is a gem in a million. Her style is individualistic and her designs statement pieces. She is also not shy to be a discerning woman who is not concerned if her IQ appears diminished if she says she loves fashion.
Lynn Ban was born in Singapore but left at the age of four, primarily living in New York and Hong Kong, coming back with her parents to finish high school. She went off to New York University, then did French literature and art history at Cornell University, and has stayed in New York ever since. She also spent two years at the Paris-Sorbonne University pursuing art history.
After graduating in the late 1990s, she launched the Genki Sushi franchise in New York (which her father, David Ban, owned and launched in Singapore and Hong Kong) but sold it after the downtown location was devastated during the 9-11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center). “I learnt so much about doing business. I think moving around so much when I was young and travelling extensively really broadened my horizons,” she reflects.
Living abroad and being exposed to various cultures also helped shape her sartorial sensibilities. “My appreciation of and passion for old and new stemmed from these experiences. Vintage for me was a new discovery. It was unexpected and unique because you never know what you will find. It’s the thrill of the hunt — when you score, you also become hooked. I once found a Courrèges couture gown at a thrift store for $20! I love the latest fashion but understanding where we come from gives me insight into where we are heading,” Ban explains.
In 2002, she launched Lynn Ban Vintage at Barneys New York with a curated selection of vintage couture (Chanel, Valentino and Yves Saint Laurent from between 1960s and 1990s). She followed this with the first pop-up of Lynn Ban Vintage at Harvey Nichols in London and Celux in Tokyo. The latter is a private members-only club in the penthouse of the Louis Vuitton flagship in Omotesando.
Living in New York’s upscale Tribeca neighbourhood means she is right smack where fashion and culture take centre stage. It doesn’t mean she has changed nationality, however. Not at all, Ban stresses. “I am still very much Singaporean. I am very proud of my Singapore passport! I’m very close to my parents and always look forward to visiting Singapore every year.”
She misses the local cuisine so every time she is back — with her husband of 19 years, Jett Kain, and their 10-year-old son, Sebastian — she feasts on mee siam, char kway teow, wonton mee, and more. After that, it’s back to shopping and trawling through more stores.
By her own admission, Lynn Ban is “certifiably obsessed when it comes to Fashion, with a capital F! My best buys are definitely the Yves Saint Laurent haute couture pieces from the 1960s to 1980s. My wardrobe is pretty extensive and everything is archived in a database. I have them all stored very carefully in acid-free boxes.”
One reason Ban is so fascinating is because of her fashion choices — her style is characteristically unique. She is no follower of trends, if her Instagram account is anything to go by. For a skiing holiday, instead of the standard puffer coat and salopettes, she was decked out in a purple (and reflective) jumpsuit that she matched with a glittery Gucci netted top and tights circa Autumn/Winter 2017.
For the recent Met Ball, she wore vintage Versace leather with a giant bejewelled cross on the bodice. And don’t get us started on those sculptural 3D Comme des Garçons ensembles that require a van to ferry her about when she’s in them! Nothing is sponsored: Ban owns everything she wears on the red carpet.
Kain deduces his wife inherited her sense of style from her mother Patricia, who studied fashion design and is a Gemological Institute of America-certified gemologist. Ban loves rummaging through the older woman’s closet and appropriates pieces she finds interesting. Mother and daughter also visit department stores and goodwill thrift shops in search of vintage pieces together.
Petite proportions aside, Ban looks strong. Her arms and gams are toned and tanned (she loves the sun), which she doesn’t conceal. She loves to dance and keeps fit with hip-hop and jazz classes — the routines incorporate special choreographed steps that she learns and performs. Indeed, this is one lady who can strut down the cobbled streets of New York City in her 5-inch platforms and still manages to strike a pose, or three, for the paparazzi.
Lynn Ban, who describes herself as quiet, says she loves reading, especially history and literature. Although she has no formal training as a designer, she has managed to create simple but statement jewellery sported and coveted by A-listers the likes of Beyoncé, Cardi B, CL, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Nicki Minaj, SZA and Taylor Swift.
The one most synonymous with Ban’s works remains Rihanna (also her favourite musician), who wore a cuff at an American Idol performance in 2012. Rihanna’s stylist had called Ban to ask if she could wear her pieces and as the designer describes, “It just clicked.” Ban has also produced jewellery for the superstar’s tours, videos and Fenty Puma fashion line.
Lynn Ban hopes her jewellery “will be appreciated 20 years from now”, much similar to the vintage clothing she collects.
She’s come a long way from that 10-piece ensemble she created with the notion that “if nobody else liked them, I get to keep these great pieces of jewellery”. She didn’t get to do so, since the collection was picked up by Barneys, Maxfield and Dover Street Market.
Besides working with London-based Michael Halpern on jewellery to complement his AW 2018 collection, she’s also launched a new capsule collection of evening minaudières. It is available here at the Club 21 boutique at the Four Seasons Hotel. “Now the LB woman can rock my bag designs such as the Gold Bullion block, and the Swarovski crystal-encrusted Ziggy lightning bolt.” she says.
So what inspires her? “Egyptian motifs and talismans. One of my favourites is the ankh, which symbolises life and fertility. It also encapsulates the idea of empowerment, which is a favourite theme in the hip-hop culture,” she lets on.
“The gold and diamond ankh that Beyoncé wore in the [music video] for Don’t Hurt Yourself was inspired by the film The Hunger, whose opening scene has Catherine Deneuve and David Bowie (as vampires) picking up a girl at the club, bringing her home and then stabbing her in the neck with an ankh dagger!”
Five style tips by Lynn Ban: