This week’s interview is with Serena – an incredibly accomplished entrepreneur in the entertainment/tech industry who also just happens to have impeccable style. Serena and I went back and forth on this interview for months, trying to gather her thoughts and photos during breaks in her hectic schedule. Her taste in everything is just wonderful, but I have to especially call out her jewelry….just WOW. Enjoy meeting Serena!
Who are you? What do you do, and where do you live?
I am an Asian American living in SoCal and I am currently the founder and CEO of a technology-based company working within the entertainment industry.
You have a very accomplished background. How did you land in your current career?
I appreciate that words…however, I would say I am far from accomplished. Our company is still very young, growing, and we are facing many challenges as we move on to the next phase. My personal goal is to build a brand which stands for the combination of most cutting edge technology combined with the highest level of quality services that our clients deserve.
However, I did not start from a high-tech background at all. I come from a family with deep roots in art but who later on became successful entrepreneurs in different industries. I was quite well versed in calligraphy and painting at an earlier age but my parents, from their protective nature, wanted me to have an easy and no-stress life. I graduated with a finance degree because of that, and landed a job in one of the biggest banks. Life was easy but boring (at least to me) and I wasn’t enjoying it.
I told my parents I wanted to try for a doctorate. My parents were supportive. However, the tiny little twist was that I had applied for (and was admitted surprisingly) for a Ph.D program in engineering, and not finance! My parents were shocked when I got the letter and horrified that I wouldn’t make it, but they did not intervene.
However, in the beginning, I had a very hard time with barely any knowledge in engineering. That’s when my now husband came in and devoted all of his spare time to help me catch up with the basic courses. He proposed after we knew each other for only two months and I knew that he was the one (another shock to my parents!). During those years, both my husband and I both were students full time, while at the same time worked at quite a few start-ups and traditional companies.
By the time we finally graduated with our Ph.Ds, we faced the option to work for various start-up “unicorns” or high-tech giants. Both would guarantee high salaries plus bonuses, stock options, etc. I know it sounds crazy, but my husband and I decided to let go of these opportunities, take a risk, and start up our own company. During the working/school years, we accumulated a lot of insights and knowledge. We found that the technologies being used currently were very dated and extremely inefficient in our industry. We decided that our expertise and strength in research and technology could help improve the current processes and most importantly, deliver the most amazing results.
This time, we consulted both of our parents for advice. To our surprise, they all supported, and even encourage our choices, no questions asked. For all of this, both my husband and I give our most sincere thanks to our families, friends, partners, clients and anyone else who has been so supportive during these years and who have always been there for us in difficult times. And I am truly blessed to have the most amazing husband in the world.
What’s it like working in your industry? What are the pros and cons?
The best thing about the high-tech industry is that everyone is used to doing research and analytical studies until very very late into the night. 2 or 3 AM is a common case, as it’s easier to concentrate and think without much distraction. The entertainment industry is similar. I’m a typical late night owl.
Another best part of it is getting to meet a lot of new friends from so many different fields. One of my friends is an extremely talented painter from Israel, but we met and knew each from Shanghai. Her works are so vibrant and full of positive energy. Every time I visit her studio and am surrounded by her paintings, I feel so alive and uplifted.
Another good friend of mine studied jewelry making from London. We met through a casual business trip in London. She has an exquisite taste and a collection of rare pieces from vintage Chanel, Miriam Haskell, Ciner, Trifari, Dior, Givenchy, Karl Lagerfeld, etc. Even though we have very different preferences (her favorite vintage designer is Christian Lacroix), I picked up this hobby through her.
Regarding the cons, the nature of this industry is that it has a very dynamic schedule. I’m from engineering and finance. So I prefer setting up a workable schedule and stick to it. The reality though, is that there are many pieces and other parties moving around, and accumulating delays in the schedule is a norm when the work gets us. This makes the planning part extremely difficult.
Now, moving onto some style topics! What’s a typical work outfit for you?
I am mostly business-casual: a jacket with shirt/top and jeans or wide-leg pants, or jacket over a one-piece dress.
On days when I have no client meetings, I can be more casual and relaxed. In fact, this is my favorite way of dressing. Here, I’m wearing a Chanel navy blue long cardigan with tank top and jeans, a vintage Chanel pearl-anchor brooch and vintage multi-strand pearl necklace, and Bvlgari white gold and diamond Diva earrings.
This is another relatively casual look. I’m wearing a Chanel Paris-Rome jacket with a Chanel sleeveless shirt and wide pants, Chaumet Hortensia ring and earrings, and a Patek watch.
The next picture is from a business meeting. I had a black jacket on, but I took it off as it was quite hot that day. I’m wearing a Theory dress, Kelly 28 in Etoupe Togo, a vintage pearl necklace by Karl Lagerfeld from the 80s, and a Patek watch.
I know that you’re frequently on the road. What do you wear when you travel?
Unfortunately due to the nature of my business, I need to travel quite frequently to meet with clients and discuss projects with directors, producers, investors, and etc. Though most of my destinations sounds fun and fancy such as New York, Paris, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Shanghai, Beijing, Singapore, and etc, I probably know the airports better than the cities themselves. Once I was asked where I was going to go, and my answer was “CDG” instead of “Paris”. So it’s not as glamorous as it might sound.
Before I started my business, I had never seen the need for trench coats, as it hardly rains in Southern California, and we all have cars. Now as I travel more and more, I find trench coats are very handy for multiple occasions. This one from Saint Laurent is one of my grab-and-go items. I’m wearing it here with a Issey Miyake plissé jacket, with a Hermes Kelly 28 Etoupe in Togo, and a Bvlgari Astrale necklace.
This is another Chanel jacket that has served as my trench coat for many trips. It’s relatively short, and has a more relaxed body so I can fit different suits underneath. I’ve paired it with an Hermes Vert Veronese 35 Gillies Birkin in Tadelakt, and a Bvlgari Astrale necklace.
And here’s a black Chanel jacket, paired with an Hermes tri-leather Rouge Kelly (in alligator, box and clemence), and South Sea white pearl earrings.
Overall, I try to keep my travel items in neutral color tones. This way I’m able to travel light, pack quickly, and mix and match. Here’s a photo from the airport lounge, with my Loro Piana hat in cream, white and gold South Sea pearl ring and earrings, Kelly 28 in Etoupe Togo, and Constance Elan in matte Mimosa croc.
What are some of your best “cost per wear” pieces?
My old pair of jeans. I bought them from Zara fifteen years ago for maybe twenty bucks, and I am still wearing them. They’re my go-to jeans. The cost per wear must be a cent a month! Next there is my “stealth” ski jacket from Hermes, purchased three or four years ago. The material looks very thin but its very fitted and warm for windy days. I often just fold it and throw it into my bag for emergency temperature drops, or just it wear under a jacket or suit. I wore it so much that my husband was afraid it was going be torn apart soon, so he went ahead and ordered another exactly like it one just in case. He knows me the best!
Even though there are so many ways to tell the time, I am quite traditional and like to wear a watch. My grandma gave me one of her Patek Philippe watches from the 60’s (a manual-wind mechanical watch with a very simple dial, with a diamond bezel and woven white gold bracelet). I don’t wear it much but I love it deeply as every time I see it, it reminds me of her. One day it started to fail to keep time, and I had to send it back to Patek for repair. It became a long and endless wait for the watch to come back from Switzerland (supposedly they needed to re-manufacture some key parts to replace the broken ones). I was sad that I had to keep waiting and waiting.
One weekend we went to our Patek authorized dealer to check on the repair status of my watch yet again, and it still wasn’t done. However, we saw this beautiful yellow gold model. It was simple yet elegant and with the added moon phase. My husband bought it for me, and now I wear it almost everyday while patiently waiting for my other one to come back.
The color of the watch strap just happens to match up with the color of one of my bags (an amethyst Porosus Birkin). I love it!
What are some of your favorite items in your closet?
This is so hard to pick. I have way too many true loves.
This vintage Chanel bag is one of my most treasured pieces. The whole body of the bag, including every ring of the chain is hand-crafted from tortoiseshell and lined with butter soft leather. I found her in a vintage shop in Japan. It is completely impractical (it’s so tiny that I cannot even fit in my iPhone) but breathtakingly beautiful. I treasure her as this rare piece to me represents the pinnacle of Chanel’s design spirit, craftsmanship and extreme attention to detail.
Then there is this matte Porosous croc Birkin 30cm in Fauve, special ordered with brushed palladium hardware and fushcia lining. One of my character flaws is that I am very impatient. Endless waiting is not my thing. So I hardly do special orders at Hermes with my sales assistant. This bag was an exception. Fauve is THE color I absolutely love on matte croc, but I didn’t want any loud bi or tri-color combos. I wanted something classic but with a hidden twist. So my salesperson and I sat down and finalized this combo. Fauve in matte Porosous croc: very neutral color, goes with everything for all seasons; brushed palladium hardware: not easily scratched, low maintenance; fushcia chèvre just for interior, not on cover/side/back panels at all: secret eye candy to myself.
Now comes my lucky clover ring, my superwoman ring, my calm-me-down ring. A 9 carat emerald, with diamonds in white gold. I’ve paired it here with a Van Cleef diamond ring, Bvlgari Diva diamond watch, Hermes bearn wallet in Emerald lisse alligator, an an emerald chinchilla swing coat.
Not an item at all, but I had to share my baby boy: a five pound black and tan Pomeranian. This is the love of my life other than my husband. He loves play fetch. We can do this together all day long. Sometimes I wonder… did I get a Pomeranian or a miniature retriever?
He has a long thick double coat which needs daily grooming. But he hates being brushed. I’ve been extremely gentle, I’ve tried all types of professional brushes, but he just won’t let me go near his head. Now my husband needs to hold him tight, and then go I in and try to brush him in patches. Once I am finished, he has this sad face as if he’s just survived another torture. Other than that he is super sweet and every second (well, except for those grooming sessions) I spend with him melts my heart.
You have an amazing jewelry collection. Can you share some of your favorites and the story behind them?
The first piece I can share is from Bvlgari. My husband secretly bought it on a business trip in Venice. When we were about to leave for an evening party, he pulled it out and whispered to me, “Diva’s dream for my Diva“. Needless to say, I was in tears.
As the necklace is a bit too bling for daily wear, the earrings get much more exposure.
The second set are the wedding gifts my family gave me, a Cartier diamond Panther ring, bracelet and pendant. They know I don’t often wear high end jewelry, but they wanted me to have the pieces for important events. I was so touched because I know how much they love me and want to see me succeed.
Personally, I collect more vintage costume pieces more than contemporary ones, as they usually have a lot of intricate design details, extremely fine craftsmanship that almost rivals high end jewelry, plus interesting histories behind each piece/designer. These two brooches by Ciner from 60’s made me fell in love with this brand.
The gray pin is pinned on a Brunello Cucinelli light cream coat, the multicolored one is paired with a classic Balmain jacket in navy.
The next set is my personal favorite. It’s also from Ciner from the 60′-70’s. During one of my friends’ trip to Europe, she posted some photos while she was doing some window shopping. Then I saw the set, and my heart almost stopped. I basically threatened her that she shouldn’t even think about not coming back without these two items, haha! When she handed me the actual set, it was more breathtaking than it appeared on the picture. They were phenomenal.
If you could go back in time, what would you do differently when building your wardrobe?
I am quite happy with what I have, but I might try more styling options with skirts. I am too comfortable with just jeans, pants, and dresses – I hardly wear skirts at all. I guess I need to learn how to wear skirts and not feel awkward.
I would also shout out to myself, “No Prada heels please!”. I used to be very into Prada shoes because of the styles and designs. But they are such a pain to walk in! None of them has ever fit comfortably. In the last few years, I donated all of my Prada shoes except for one pair of loafers.
What’s the best life advice you’ve ever received?
Stay true to who you are and do what you love to do.
My undergrad major was in finance. My parents wanted me to have an easier life in banking. But that is not what I wanted to do. Then I met my husband, and he encouraged and helped me to pursue the engineering direction at that time which it seemed silly. He was always there for me when I had difficulties in school, and in life. When I got admitted to my grad school, many did not believe I cold make it. Finally I graduated with my masters and Ph.D from in Electrical Engineering and Signal Processing. All of this would not be possible without my husband’s advice, encouragement and support.
Finally…please share something surprising about yourself!
I recently discovered that within the whole Unites States, there are very few no-kill shelters for pets. Limited funding is one main reasons amongst others. Countless stray or abandoned dogs and cats are put down every year.
It might sound naive, but I would like to contribute some of my effort to protect animal rights, and eventually want to establish more no-kill animal shelter/hospitals. The shelters should not only rescue the animals and keep them alive, but also I want to form a cooperation with local senior homes to arrange regular visits or play dates with the residents. This way, the animals can re-experience love and gentle touch. In the meantime, the seniors can companionship and uplifted spirits.
I’m still in my initial thoughts on this. I hope that with time, I can have an executable plan to grow the number of no-kill animal shelters in the United States.