I am very excited to introduce today’s interview subject – the fantastic Lynn Liou, all around extraordinaire and editor of the luxury lifestyle magazine Phoenix International. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to ask Lynn some questions that spanned career, work/family life balance, the future of luxury in Asia, and of course her wonderful style. Plus, can I just mention that she is just so, so beautiful? I’ve included some of my favorite photos of Lynn and her style (as well as her beautiful family!) throughout. Enjoy meeting her!
Who are you? What do you do, and where do you live?
I’m a wife, mom to a toddler boy, travel enthusiast, avid reader, sport shopper (that is, I shop as a form of exercise), food lover, California girl, and founder/editor-in-chief/publisher of a Chinese American luxury lifestyle magazine called Phoenix International. I currently split my time between the suburbs of LA and Taipei, Taiwan.
You have one of the ultimate dream jobs – editor in chief and publisher of a magazine. Can you share some more about how you landed here?
Prior to founding the Phoenix International, I was publisher and editor of Vivid, another Chinese American luxury lifestyle publication originally founded by a well known LA-based Chinese jeweler. Due to the unexpected passing of my boss in 2012, the magazine was shut down after 8 years in existence. After four years at the helm, I had built up a loyal following of readers and advertisers so I felt compelled to continue with my mission of bringing a high quality luxury publication to the Chinese community. So, I partnered with my printer and launched Phoenix; my first issue came out when I was 8 months pregnant with my son!
What have been the most surprisingly positive things that you’ve experienced in your current career? What about some unexpected difficulties?
When I first started out at Vivid, I had little experience and no connections in the publishing industry. Despite having received my graduate degree in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School of Communications, I took a detour in my career early on when I quit my marketing job to help my then-boyfriend (now-husband) build our business in a completely unrelated industry. During that time, I dabbled in blogging (Xanga!) and occasionally on-camera hosting to fulfill my creative side. It wasn’t until many years later that the opportunity to edit Vivid was presented to me, and of course I jumped at the chance.
I learned the magazine business from the ground up with only my instincts guiding me. The previous editor-in-chief had been terminated from the position, so I was essentially given a blank slate and no directions, which was both frightening and exhilarating at the same time. When I look back at my first couple of issues, it’s with a mixture of delight and embarrassment. I made a lot of mistakes, but I’m proud of the fact that, despite my lack of experience, I was able to grow a small regional publication into an industry recognized, internationally circulated magazine.
Today, Phoenix International has an esteemed roster of luxury advertisers such as Van Cleef & Arpels, Omega, Chopard, Rolex, Dior Couture, Versace, and many more. Last year, we were recognized by Media Industry News as one of the fifteen “Hottest Launches of 2012”, alongside titles such as Du Jour and Cosmopolitan for Latinas.
As a little girl growing up, I used to draw, write, and then staple pieces of paper together to create my own “magazine,” so I feel really blessed to be where I am today in my career. To be able to combine my love for luxury and fine living with my passion for media communications is a dream come true. I’ve always been very involved in the Chinese American community as well, so to be able to contribute by creating a product that has been so warmly received is something I’m very grateful for.
You have fantastic style. Can you share what a typical day and night look are for you? What are you typically doing day/night?
Thank you, I’m so flattered! My style has really evolved since becoming a mother. I’m much more relaxed now in my dress, which means that J Crew t-shirts, Rag and Bone boyfriend jeans, baseball caps, and sneakers or flats generally make up my outfit du jour. When I’m heading out and taking my son with me, I’ll wear leggings or skinny jeans with a relaxed, flowy top and pair it with boots (Chanel or YSL) or kitten-heel pointy-toed pumps (I’m obsessed with Valentino Rockstuds). Black, grey, and neutrals are my staple ‘colors,’ though I have an affinity for stripes and the occasional print (mostly leopard). The truth is, I’m pretty conservative when it comes to fashion. I prefer the French attitude towards dressing these days; my style mantra is “easy, timeless, and sophisticated.”
My schedule is quite erratic. Although I work mostly from home, at least a few days a week, I’m out at events or business lunches, which means I’m in a dress or leather leggings and 4-inch stilettos topped off with a leather jacket and a scarf. I rarely wear blazers, although I’ve recently found a few by Reese & Riley that are stylish without feeling stiff. And I’m never without at least one or two of my prized Hermes bracelets on my wrist. I feel naked without them.
What are some of your favorite wardrobe items, and what was the first luxury item you ever bought?
I love the idea of having a tightly edited wardrobe, so I try to abide by that when it comes to luxury goods. The first luxury item I ever purchased was a pre-loved Gucci Jackie hobo that I found on eBay for $150 back in college. I still remember the thrill of score, which is kind of similar to how it feels to shop in Hermes boutiques these days, now that I think about it.
My favorite wardrobe items are hands down my Hermes bags and accessories, because they are so beautifully made and classic in style. I’ll admit, the fact that they are difficult to procure probably contributes to their treasured status. My first Birkin, a 35cm Gris Tourterelle, is still my favorite bag of all time, and I use it heavily and often. I’ve had it for several years now, and it still hasn’t lost its luster to me. When I’m in mommy-mode, I prefer my mini Evelyne in Gris Perle – it’s the perfect cross-body that carries just the essentials (phone, wallet, lip gloss) since I have to lug around a diaper bag as well. I swapped out the itchy cloth strap it came with for a thinner Louis Vuitton leather one, and the color matches perfectly.
I also love my limited edition SO Black 35cm Birkin, because it reminds me of a very special article I published while I was still editor of Vivid. Hermes had granted me a behind-the-scenes article and interview with their resident craftsman in NYC. It was a dream come true for the fangirl in me, and it further cemented my appreciation for the brand. During our meeting, one of the Hermes execs asked me what my dream bag was. I mentioned the SO Black, not even thinking that I could possibly get my hands on one, as sought after as it was. A couple of weeks later, I got a surprise call and soon after, my black beauty arrived. Aside from being a treasured bag, it will forever serve as a proud reminder of that experience and of how far I’ve come in my publishing career.
I must also mention that I adore Chanel boots. The leather quality is top notch and the rubber soles are virtually indestructible…definitely worth the splurge as a pair will last forever (or at least a few years, which is forever in fashion terms).
What are some workhorses in your closet that you wear all the time – and some that you never wear and wish you hadn’t bought?
Two words: Valentino Rockstuds. It took me awhile to warm up to them because they certainly didn’t look very feet friendly at first, but now I’m hooked! I wear my kitten heel versions the most, but even the stiletto heel pumps are extremely comfortable.
Clothing wise, I recently picked up a couple of lightweight puffer pieces from Moncler that I’ve been wearing nonstop. They are classic enough to pull out year after year and just the right amount of sporty without being sloppy.
I don’t like to keep bags that I don’t use on a regular basis. That said, my rotation of workhorse bags include my Hermes pieces, classic Chanels, Louis Vuitton travel bags. I’ve found these brands wear exceptionally well over time. I have bought and sold a few bags that I had buyers’ remorse over, such as a white lambskin Chanel tote that was impossible to keep clean, and a vintage Chanel alligator tote that had pinpricked scales. I also sometimes regret really pricey clothing purchases, because the cost per wear is hard to justify, particularly when it comes to cocktail and evening wear. You can carry the same bag every day but (at least in my line of work) you can’t show up in the same dress over and over, especially if you’re being photographed. I do love a beautiful dress though, so that’s where my self-control sometimes goes out the window.
In terms of jewelry, I keep it very simple with my Cartier Love Ring wedding band and a Maillon Panthere Ring for my right hand. I rotate a small collection of Hermes cuffs and bracelets on a daily basis; my favorites include a CDC in Etain (can you tell I have a thing for greys?), Kelly Extreme in White Epsom, and a gold H Clic Clac in Poudre. I’m always looking to add new pieces, but for me it has to be love at first sight and something that I know I will wear continuously and often. For special events, I always turn to my collection of vintage Chanel and St.John costume jewelry to make a statement, and they’ve never let me down.
Can you share a piece of advice about style/building a perfect wardrobe that you yourself learned the hard way over time?
It’s funny you ask me because I’d say my wardrobe is far from perfect. It’s a constant work in progress and, I think, an impossible goal to achieve if one’s style evolves over time. Although I’m going through a ‘casual mommy’ phase at the moment, I used to be that girl who never wore anything less than a 4-inch heel, so my aesthetic may very well change again once my son gets a little more independent. I do believe that investing in a solid foundation is important for building a quality wardrobe. I like basics from J Crew, Vince, Splendid, and Theory. I do a lot of shopping at Intermix, because their style suits me and I’m a fan of contemporary labels like Helmut Lang, A.L.C., IRO, and the like.
In Taiwan, luxury goods are pricier than in the States, so I prefer shopping at small boutiques that carry stylish, quality, non-branded clothing imported from Korea. I stay away from Forever 21 and other fast fashion chains where the quality is dismal, but I do like Zara! Beyond that I splurge on designer pieces that I feel have permanence, such as a classic Burberry trench or a standout dress from Gucci. The older I’ve gotten, however, the more relaxed my style has become. I remember when I couldn’t wait to grow up and be able to afford designer clothes. Nowadays, I’m happiest in jeans and a (well-cut) t-shirt paired with beautiful shoes and a classic bag.
Speaking of shoes and bags, quality over quantity! That is, save your money to buy the best you can afford. Unless you have an unlimited budget, a closet full of aging “it” bags won’t do you any good as time goes by, whereas a well-constructed classic will always be chic. The same goes for footwear, though you can be much more liberal with the styles. At the end of the day, buy what you love, what suits your lifestyle, and wear it often. The most stylish women aren’t always the most fashion forward, they are simply the ones who are most comfortable with themselves.
I’d be interested to hear your take on the future of Asia and luxury brands. What do you see as some trends emerging…and what will be some major changes we’ll see?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard by now of China’s rising affluence and the rush by luxury brands to capitalize on all this newfound wealth, both domestically and overseas. Not long ago, you could slap a logo on any shoddily manufactured good and command a premium for it, but those days are long gone. Despite their reputation, the nouveau riche in China are becoming more sophisticated by the season, and even those from 2nd and 3rd tier cities have begun demonstrating their fashion savvy, moving away from ubiquitous brands like Louis Vuitton and Coach to more obscure labels and one of a kind items.
Chinese women love Western fashion and luxury, and they’ve quickly risen to become the new front row fixtures and clients of couture. While they’ve always been big purveyors of status handbags and jewelry, I think in the next few years, we’ll begin to see more and more Chinese women becoming interested in fashion. This in turn will likely spur a new generation of creative thinkers and designers, which ultimately should inspire and lead to a rise in the quality of original Chinese design. A couple of years ago, we saw Hermes bet heavily on this when they invested in the Chinese craftsman brand Shang Xia. I believe that one day In the foreseeable future, brands and designers coming out of Asia will be as respected as any of their European and American counterparts. China has already demonstrated the ability to produce quality, as we are all aware. It’s only a matter of time now before they learn how to brand, market, and raise the prestige of the Made in China label.
Can you share a piece of life/career advice?
In my first year of motherhood, I struggled with bouts of postpartum depression and balancing family life with my career. As a work-at-home mom, it was much more difficult than I’d imagined it would be to take conference calls, attend fancy events, and meet deadlines on limited sleep and a round-the-clock nursing schedule, even with help. Even though I knew that fluctuating hormones had everything to do with how I was feeling and that this was many a modern women’s privilege and dilemma, it was no less difficult to endure and really hard to snap out of. I had a beautiful, healthy baby, a doting husband, an exciting career…it seemed completely illogical that I could be unhappy, and yet, there I was, crying again for no reason.
What finally helped me get out from under that cloud of constant darkness was 1) when I stopped breastfeeding (and the estrogen finally returned to my body), and 2) beginning a conscious practice of gratitude. The latter, I think, played the most significant role and is something I would recommend for anyone who wants to be happier (who doesn’t?). It’s very simple, and there are many wonderful books on the subject, but the concept is the same: make it a point, every day, to acknowledge and be thankful for the blessings in your life. No matter how difficult things may seem, there is always something to be grateful for. The more grateful you are, the more you will notice all the wonderful things in your life, and the more good things will seemingly appear out of nowhere. The best side effect of practicing gratitude, however, is that you will inevitably become a happier person. You really can change your life, just by changing your attitude.
What are some of your passions and hobbies?
I don’t have a lot of free time these days, but if I did it would be spent traveling, reading, doing yoga, or expanding my (limited) cooking repertoire. I am a true travel junkie and can spend hours browsing TripAdvisor or frequent flyer forums in preparation for an upcoming trip. I always say that if I weren’t doing what I do, I’d make a damn good travel agent!
I’m also involved in a few charities, and the one I’m most passionate about is UNICEF Chinese Children’s Initiative, of which I’m an Advisory Board member. UNICEF CCI supports the work of UNICEF in China by raising funds that go directly to building child protection centers in rural and poverty-stricken areas. There are so many cross border business opportunities between the two countries now, so this is a wonderful opportunity for us as Americans to give back to Chinese children in need.
And finally – please share something surprising about yourself!
My first job out of high school was at Disneyland, where I was a parade dancer in the Mulan Parade! Best job ever, working at the Happiest Place on Earth. Who knows…if this magazine thing doesn’t work out, maybe they’ll take me back?