Saturday, June 07, 2014

Profiles in New York Fashion:

"The Social Graces: Chiu-Ti Jansen"

Chiu-Ti in Oscar de la Renta attending the Museum
of the City of New York Winter Gala at the Pierre
All Photos: Lieba Nesis
(Click on images for full size views)

A frequently asked question by those in New York society is: who is this mystery woman named Chiu-Ti Jansen who frequently shows up on society pages in Manhattan and then runs off to China to spend a quarter of the year in Beijing? Chiu-Ti Jansen is the Publisher and Co-Owner of YUE Magazine - a luxury Chinese-English lifestyle magazine; a writer for a "Chinese Elements" blog for Sotheby's; and a fashion columnist for the Chinese edition of  the Financial Times. Chiu-Ti studied literature and art at Yale University and then went to Columbia Law School. After a brief stint on Wall Street, she ended up as a partner at Sidley and Austin where she left to start a multimedia platform called "China Happenings" - focusing on the lifestyle and cultural industries of contemporary China.


Chiu-Ti wearing Zang Toi at The Metropolitan Opera Gala

However, while she is highly intelligent, it is her chameleon-like fashion persona that drew me to her as a subject for my fashion profile. Years ago, I spotted her in a beautiful Valentino cape at The American Ballet Theatre Gala and then had the opportunity to converse with her at the Michael Kors show. After seeing her dozens of times, what strikes me is her ever changing fashion choices making her at times unrecognizable; sometimes choosing gowns and a prim pulled back hairdo, and others appearing in a super mini dress with thigh high boots and flowing hair. Her personality is equally enigmatic: friendly, yet reserved with an easygoing but professional manner. Viewing all these contradictions, it became increasingly apparent to me she would be a perfect person to study for my relatively new column.


Chiu-Ti with Asian Supermodel Qin Shupei

Choosing a time and date to converse with Chiu-Ti was no easy task, as she was in China from January through March and due to her busy schedule would not be available again until mid-May. While I found myself increasingly frustrated by the numerous delays, the extra time afforded me the opportunity to attend an event which she hosted at Buddakan for a Chinese supermodel and some other Asian VIP's - and to learn how to pronounce her name; which took me about 3 months. One thing that is increasingly clear is that Chiu-Ti is highly perfectionistic and has a lot of well connected Asian and American friends, oftentimes serving as a liaison between these two communities. In fact, she gets around 5 to 6 emails per day from people whom she hardly knows asking her to make introductions for them to some of her "important" friends. The history of Jansen is interesting, as it explains her ease of movement through a diverse social group comprised of business and art tycoons, the Chinese elite, and fashion sophisticates. Yet, I must admit even after spending numerous hours with Jansen, she still remains a relative mystery.


Chiu-Ti at home

Chiu-Ti grew up in Taiwan and after studying at Taiwan University, she came to the United States 20 years ago to pursue a superior education at Yale. Her father, was a senior newspaper executive at "Taiwan Daily" and her mother was a medical consultant at Borden and still resides in China. Her sister, received her MBA from MIT and her brother got his PhD in Math from Harvard, so she is surrounded by a family that puts a tremendous emphasis on intellectualism. When I arrived at her loft in Tribeca, which she has lived in for 5 years, I was astounded by the number of books she possesses with these being only a third of her vast collection. She is a voracious reader, boasting that she reads about 30 magazines at a time and is currently in the middle of 5 to 6 different books. I am not sure how she has time to exercise 6 days a week (without a trainer because they "nag too much"), read 5 to 6 books a day, cook her own "fabulous" meals of vegetables and seafood daily, and attend a minimum of 2 social events a week - sometimes going out every night.


Chiu-Ti's loft

However, she appears calm and composed and both her attire and apartment are fastidiously maintained. The loft in Tribeca has 13.5 foot ceilings and Chinese and German art adorning the walls; apparently, Chiu-Ti is an experienced art collector and often buys pieces whose price increase tenfold within a year. She studies art by continually reading and meeting with dealers and frequently, forgoes expensive fashion purchases to attain a special artwork. The most she has spent on a piece of clothing is 10,000 dollars; so she is not an extravagant purchaser within the circles she travels. In fact, she rarely has time to shop, often buying clothing online or when she goes to Paris, Italy and Asia.


Chiu-Ti in Madeline Gruen at the ABT Spring Gala

Furthermore, she has a problem that every woman wishes she had; she is a size minus zero and consequently, has trouble finding clothing in a size 34 or 36 in the US. Therefore, she has to buy clothing in Europe and Asia where the women are thin and they overstock her size. Her slight frame forces her to spend an inordinate amount of time and money on the services of a tailor because she believes the fit of a garment is a key component of good dressing. More importantly, how does she maintain a size minus zero zero? She loathes sugar and oily foods sticking to a Mediterranean diet of fish and vegetables, with her incentive being a desire to look exceptional in her attire. She enjoys collaborating with young designers such as Madeline Gruen and Victor de Souza on gowns and likes to wear clothing from the 1950's because this is a flattering time period for her body type. She has studied fashion in depth and frequently references certain time periods or works of art when choosing her clothing. Chiu-Ti's 3 fashion icons are Cindy Sherman, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Frida Kahlo because these women used fashion as a form of art, frequently choosing a style highlighted by the paintings of old masters and other artworks, something Chiu-Ti herself enjoys doing.


Chiu-Ti in Rafael Cennamo dress at her apartment

Some of Jansen's dresses are replicas of those worn in "Gone with the Wind," a time period she is especially fond of. Her favorite designers are Charles James, Cristobal Balenciaga, Valentino, Givenchy, Michael Kors and Oscar de la Renta and she never borrows clothing because she cannot alter lent garments. Jansen usually knows what she is going to wear to a big gala about 4-6 weeks in advance and prepares her entire look from head to toe. Jansen's love for vintage has her scouring the internet and antique shows to pick up some of her favorite clothing items, which she revealed to me: a vintage Valentino shirt and a Bill Blass feathered jacket. She however, is always careful not to make her outfit appear too costumey by toning down a flamenco styled dress with accessories and footwear. Jansen is creative in her fashion choices, wearing a Chanel jacket and a Valentino shirt as mini dresses and pairing them with boots. She wears clothing with a little bit of history as a way to adopt other backgrounds and become "knee deep" in their culture. Jansen views her style as classic with a little bit of "intellectual irreverence." A lot of her style is "genre bending" - crossing all different cultures and lifestyles without being too avante garde and harsh. The practice of embracing different societies and tastes without offending the Asian community is something she also employs in her own magazine. Yet, she remains cognizant of those designers who are more popular in China then in the West, like Elie Saab, who speaks more to Chinese sensitivities because they like a lot of "bling bling."


Chiu-Ti at New York City Ballet Spring Gala in Christian Lacroix

Jansen said it was very difficult when she became the first Asian female partner at her law firm because the workplace was a "male aggressive environment" and everything a woman does or says is viewed differently. Moreover, she often feels that there is an invisibility factor - as if you don't exist - associated with being Asian. She acknowledges that she would have gotten much further in her career if she stayed in her own country and choosing America was a humbling and challenging experience. She has found it especially difficult to master the English language but finds it necessary in order for people to think she is smart and invest in her magazine, which she has been publisher of for 2.5 years.  YUE, has a circulation of 60,000 people and mostly caters to the Chinese traveler with the median salary of its readership being 1 million dollars - so it certainly serves the Chinese elite. Most of the advertisers are the producers of luxury goods and Jansen allows "Western brands to have a glimpse of what Chinese are looking for." For instance, while most advertisers practically cease ad placement during the summer months, Jansen is aware that this is the peak season for Asian travelers.

 Moreover, Chiu-Ti is cognizant of the changing tastes in the Chinese community informing me of a trend I found surprising: Chinese consumers are no longer solely interested in big-logo big-name products but now prefer idiosyncratic items that are non-logo embossed indicative of the evolution of Chinese tastes to a more sophisticated level. China's long history of consuming uniform luxury goods has now taken a sharp turn and Asians want to dress in a unique style. When Chiu-Ti travels to China she buys hundreds of soap opera DVDs to keep her pulse on Chinese fashion because she said, "the way you wear a garment is how you tell a story" (or maybe she is a soapphile and is embarrassed to admit it). Her trips to China are done to obtain partners for her magazine and for fashion and art related events.


Chiu-Ti showing her Chanel jacket

Jansen has been divorced for 5 years and she calls herself a Europhile with an ex-husband who is German. She and I commiserated on the dreadful dating scene in NY and she lamented the dearth of men willing to make a simple emotional connection because they feel "they can turn around and see another great person." She has never seriously dated a Chinese man preferring European men who are slightly less superficial. Chiu-Ti says a certain part of contemporary Chinese society with a strong materialistic bent views marriage as a sort of trade, even referring to a marriage without financial backing including a house or car as a "naked marriage," placing little value on a relationship without economic security. Jansen's love of fashion and work keeps her occupied and entertained without her feeling the necessity at this time for a serious relationship.

As the evening came to a close Chiu-Ti changed out of her green Michael Kors shorts outfit into a beautiful blue cocktail dress. Jansen commented that she never envies another woman's physique and would not get surgery to enhance her breasts or any other part of her body - she is satisfied with her shape and will leave it untouched. Later, I received an email from her telling me to change the resolution on my camera and clarifying a designer's name. I realized why Chiu-Ti has achieved great success in a foreign country; she is highly persistent and goal oriented and does not apologize for any of it.



- Lieba Nesis







Past Profiles in New York Fashion: Jean Shafiroff 

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