Fashion and style come naturally to Grace Chng. Born and raised in Hong Kong, she modelled from a young age. Her mentor Grace Yu was one of the first Asian models who worked extensively in Paris for Givenchy and as Dior’s in-house mannequin. Grace transitioned to being a model trainer when she reached her mid-20s.
With much pride, she reveals that she had trained 4,000 modelling students in the past, one of whom was model-turned-actress Kathy Chow.
“Unlike today, models then were not famous, but we were seen everywhere. I might not have been as tall as the international girls, but I did land a lot of jobs for both catwalk and photography. I especially love being on the catwalk, as I turn into a different person; it’s like a spirit has taken over me. With every outfit, I change character. That’s why I love Anita Mui so much – she constantly changed and reinvented herself! Strangely enough, though, I don’t even enjoy being photographed now!” she says with a laugh.
Thrust into the glamorous fashion world at a tender age, Grace learned early on that all is not what it seems; the glitz and glamour are only the veneer to blind the naive. Using her street smarts to navigate the murky modelling world, she worked hard and saved, eventually putting aside enough to open a small fashion boutique in the basement of the New World Hotel in Hong Kong. Although she closed it later when she got married to a Singaporean and relocated, the mother-of-two – her daughter Coco is 19 while her son Marco is 16 – shares that she enjoyed the freedom that setting her own schedule gave her and “had so much fun being my own boss”.
Talking about her daughter brings a radiant smile to her face. Given that Coco has an enviable willowy figure like her mum’s, you would think that she would have done some modelling as well. “She has the potential,” says Grace, “and I had advised her to give it a try. Not as a career but more as an experience, but it doesn’t interest her.”
While Coco is aware of her mother’s glamorous past as one of Hong Kong’s top models during her era, she has no wish to follow in her footsteps, preferring to pursue psychology instead. “I’ve never modelled before and there are times when my mum would ask me if I want to,”she shares. “But I guess I’m just not keen on it. If an opportunity comes along, I wouldn’t mind, but if it doesn’t, then I’m alright too. I’ve been fascinated with human behaviour and interaction since I was a kid. I like to question the way in which people approach things, the words they use and the emotions they feel… so I guess psychology is pretty in line with my interests. It would be at least five or six years before I graduate and become a professional psychologist. I really want to work with kids someday, maybe as a child psychologist or a kindergarten teacher perhaps? I’m not quite sure yet. I’ll see where the Lord leads me.”
Keep the Faith
Both Grace and Coco are firmly entrenched in the teachings of Christ. “I’ve been a Christian since young and have been blessed by Jesus for many years,” Grace shares. “My life revolves around my family and my bible study group.”
The devout Christian was part of a fellowship group in Hong Kong (Home of Artistes) and started her own when she moved to Singapore.
The group in Hong Kong, she explains, comprised members from the entertainment industry. “As public figures, there’s a strong need for privacy and security within the group, and the fellowship allows us to share with a peace of mind, secure in the knowledge that our stories are not sold to the tabloids. That really inspired me to start one of my own when I moved to Singapore. I was not familiar with the industry here, so it started with a few society ladies; there are now over 20 members, though some have left the country. We just celebrated the fellowship’s 12th anniversary.”
While Grace opens up to like-minded ladies in her fellowship, Coco much prefers to communicate with Christ on a more personal level: via a journal to the Lord – a practice that started when she was about six. “It’s my way of communicating with Him,” she says. “I just write my day-to-day experiences and rants and whatever. It’s like keeping a diary, except that I commit every thought to the Lord, because I know that He cares for me even in the littlest things. And comparing my entries from long ago, my current entries are filled with more thankfulness. I think journalling, especially to the Lord, has made me more aware of the little blessings in my life. The Lord gives me strength every day!”
House of Style
Heart-to-heart discussions on their faith can last late into the night, but besides bonding over Christ, the pair also loves to shop together. Coco, it seems, isn’t just a mini-clone of Grace in terms of looks; she has also inherited her mother’s sense of style as well as her love of fashion and jewellery.
With her modelling background, Grace can carry off any style. Sexy, check. Classic, check. Elegant, check. Funky, check. She owns her look and always adds statement jewellery to give her ensemble that pop. “My style always changes; I love change. I love long hair, I love short hair. I love different colours. I just cannot stick to one style,” she admits. “Coco appreciates my style, but she’s more casual – American casual. She’ll occasionally borrow some pieces from my wardrobe.”
Coco adds: “My mum used to design some of her clothes too, which I think is pretty cool because I don’t think I can ever come up with a design from scratch! Our fashion sense is pretty different – she’s more daring than I am – but we can agree on what looks good and what doesn’t. I don’t really have a fixed style per se; I can be obsessed with plaid pants and everything ’70s one day, and monochrome the next. I think my style is still evolving, which is great because I get to play around with everything. Plus, my mum’s wardrobe is always open to me!”
All That Glitters
Jewellery-wise, Grace feels an affinity with Cartier. She shares that her first birthday gift to her then-boyfriend, and now husband, Ben was a Cartier watch. “Subsequently, he gifted me with one for my birthday as well,” she says. “It was kind of like our first ‘dating gift’, so Cartier means something to us. After we got married, Cartier became symbolic in our family. We also love its designs, which are unique and iconic; they become classics. On reflection, my love affair with Cartier dates back more than 22 years!”
Grace and Coco seem content to bask in each other’s company; the latter, especially, seems only too happy to be fussed over by her mum. At the photo shoot with Cartier’s historical pieces, they literally speak by glancing at each other.
Interestingly, Coco tags along when Grace works out with her personal trainer, though she claims she has no discipline when it comes to exercise. Grace, on the other hand, does yoga, pilates or gym work three to four times a week. “I was flying around quite a bit last year, so I didn’t have time to really concentrate on keeping fit,” says Grace.“This year, I hope to cut down on the travelling and work on being fit again.”
When the discussion about her family comes up, Grace beams and says: “My greatest achievement is definitely my children. I’m very proud of my daughter and what she wants to major in in university. And my husband inspires me. My idea of happiness is simple. As long as my children and husband are healthy and happy, I’m happy.”
The Cartier Collection
Fashion Direction: Johnny Khoo
Art Direction: Audrey Chan
Photography: Wee Khim
Fashion Styling: Jacquie Ang
Hair: Dexter Ng using Kevin Murphy
Makeup: Keith Bryant Lee using Giorgio Armani Beauty
Photography assistance: Alwin Oh
Fashion assistance: Jessica Khor
Location: Le Salon Cartier