‘China Rich Girlfriend’ Author Parodies Art World With Outrageous Online Exhibition
How about a fantasy photo shoot by Alexis Rodriguez-Duarte?
Kevin Kwan, the author of Crazy Rich Asians (Doubleday, May 2014), is back with a second book, China Rich Girlfriend (Doubleday, June 2015), another juicy comedy of manners set in a world of characters whose lives are spent darting between private jets, ballrooms at the Ritz Carlton, and buzzy auction house sales. The New York Times has given both books glowing reviews, and described his first novel as having arrived just in time to “rescue a worn-out and useless genre.”
For his sophomore effort, the Singapore-born New York-based Kwan has, again, successfully illustrated a world so ostentatious, obnoxious, and outrageous, its characters need a new adjective to define their level of extravagance: instead of being just “crazy rich,” they are “China rich.”‘
As no depiction of the lives of the filthy rich, it seems, would be complete without involvement with the art world, and Kwan delivers by devoting some of the novel’s earliest pages to a high-drama scene at Christie’s auction house in Hong Kong where several characters vie for a rare ancient silk scroll.
But in Kwan’s version of a “China rich” auction, you need that ridiculous factor. In the US, it could be invoked by the site of a pregnant woman fainting. But in Hong Kong, it comes in the form of Kitty Pong, a gaudy, social-climbing soap opera star and wife of billionaire Bernard Tai, dressed “like a Chinese Dita Von Teese,” with “jet-black hair, powdered white skin, and crimson lips,” who steals the show when she walks into the sale room at the eleventh hour with two snow-white Russian Borzois on diamond leashes and drops a cool $195 million to win the ancient scroll painting. Yes, even the auction numbers in the book exceed the immoderate ones of the real life current market—the record for a painting sold at auction, set this past May at Christie’s, is $179 million for a Picasso.
To celebrate the summer release of his novel, and all of its fun-loving characters Kwan created an “exhibition” of items his extravagant characters would want, including a $1.3 million Patek Philippe watch (Kwan must know that a version owned by Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed Al-Thani sold for $24 million immediately after his death), a $34,000 Marchesa evening gown, or a fantasy photo shoot by Alexis Rodriguez-Duarte (who has been called on by Rachel Feinstein for a project).
But what else would a “China rich” lady possibly need besides an ancient Chinese scroll worth 20 private Bahamian islands? We asked Kwan the hard questions.
Can you tell me about the inspiration for the “Crazy Rich Collection” online shop? How did you choose which products to feature?
The inspiration truly came from the characters in my novels. I started by asking, “What would each of these characters desire?” For instance, what would Astrid Leong—who was born a double heiress to TWO great fortunes and could afford anything her heart desires—be interested in collecting? To me, she would be more taken by a one-of-a-kind artisan piece by an acclaimed jewelry artist like Scott Diffrient rather than flashy baubles. And a character like Kitty Pong, who is the consummate social climber, would want to commission a fantasy portrait by Alexis Rodriguez-Duarte, who has photographed so many of the world’s leading art world figures like Peter Brant, William Lauder, Rachel Feinstein, and Maurizio Cattelan.
Do you think people will actually purchase these items online or was this more of a supplement to your book to help illustrate its characters?
It’s all in the spirit of fun, of course, but I really do hope that each of these exquisite objects or experiences find a great home. From Marchesa’s magnificent ballgown to Erica Tanov’s sublime summer outfit, all the exhibitors involved have put in so much time and effort into creating or sourcing their contributions for this collection.
Will this be an ongoing project or is it just connected with the book release?
It’s timed for the book release, but you never know how this project might continue to evolve. It’s been such a treat and honor for me to curate this collection, I’d love to keep doing more projects like these!
In a 2013 interview with Vanity Fair for Crazy Rich Asians, you said you had to leave out certain stories in the book because your editor said no one would believe it. Can you give us an example of one of those stories?
Ha! There are so many instances, where do I begin? One of the story lines in the new book, China Rich Girlfriend, was inspired by the phenomenon of these young Chinese rich kids who hold illegal drag racing contests all over the world. They buy million-dollar sport cars, ship them to cities like Sydney or London, and engage in dangerous races all over town late at night. My editor wanted me to tone down one of these stories that I wrote in the new book because she thought it was just way too far-fetched. I emailed her dozens of news articles from around the world about these illegal races before she was convinced that I had to write about it in the new book. It’s so unbelievable, but it’s all part of what’s happening with the China Rich!
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