My “love story” with Dr. Loretta Chen (“Loretta”) started in early 2013 when I was appointed the sole distributor for George Spyrou’s (“George”) Daywear and Eveningwear. We wanted to sponsor the eveningwear for a female celebrity with substance and, of course, with a lovely face and figure. I did some research to find a personality who had both beauty and brains and Loretta fits the criteria perfectly.
An Ambassador for George Eveningwear
I first met Loretta for hi-tea at The Shangri-la. Given Loretta’s larger than life media persona, accomplishments and success in both her career and her life, I had half-expected her to be somewhat distant, cold or maybe even obnoxious. To my pleasant surprise, Loretta was very warm and friendly, exuberant and exceptionally humble. To add to that, she was also highly intelligent and beautiful. Without much persuasion, Loretta enthusiastically agreed to embrace George’s fashion and be its brand ambassador.
After our chichi hi-tea, Loretta kindly offered to give me a lift in her brand new Lexus. We chatted more in the car and I felt even more drawn to and closer to the person whom I will be dressing in George Eveningwear. That evening, with Loretta’s consent, I sent George her photograph and he immediately had a connection with Loretta and paid compliments to my selection, adding that she was a “real woman of substance”.
George Eveningwear fitted Loretta like a glove, both in aesthetic, design, spirit and substance. I was elated to find someone who could bring out the artistry, elegance and style of George’s designs so exquisitely. I started to sponsor George Eveningwear for her Loretta’s appearance at numerous events. On occasion, when I have been unable to provide a gown for Loretta owing to inventory restrictions or scheduling, Loretta was never offended and gamely offers to dress herself in her own collection of designer gowns. Most celebrities of personalities of her stature would have thrown a hissy fit or terminated our collaboration but not Loretta. She indeed has the grace and generosity of spirit to forgive and forget and nothing ever fazes her. Till date, Loretta continues to wear George Eveningwear for some of her most important events, functions and public appearances.
While our friendship began thanks to George Eveningwear, I also got to know Loretta at a deeper level and we have now established a firm friendship. Whenever I ask her for help, she would extend her utmost assistance without hesitation. I recall organizing a small fashion show at Le Noir in Clarke Quay, Singapore. Due to budget constraints, I could not engage a renowned host and Loretta gamely lent her support and helping hand by hosting the event herself ! She did not charge me a single cent even though I believe her typical asking fee would be in the region of five-figures! Through the years, she would also always make it a point to attend my pop-up stores and events to lend me her support.
Loretta is constantly helping to raise the brand awareness of George’s designs. She would gamely post photos of her on social media proudly sporting George’s collections. For all her assistance and help, I indeed feel indebted and do not know how to ever thank her enough. But yet, I know deep down that if I could indeed read her mind, I know her response would be “Well, Karen, what are friends for?”
Not too long ago, I was diagnosed with hyperthyroid and I would tire very easily. I am uncertain if Loretta knew about my condition but I remembered having to cancel on her twice at the last minute on two gala events as I was just too worn out. I never really sought for Loretta’s forgiveness because I knew deep down that Loretta would certainly understand and would never hold it against me. That is the beauty and generosity of Dr Loretta Chen.
As Best-Selling Author, Thought Leader and Cultural Provocateur
Any reader would have been able to fathom by now that Loretta has a very big heart. In addition to her tall stature, she indeed has a huge presence and forms a lasting impression. But sometimes, I think Loretta is too nice, too gracious and much too obliging to a fault and many have thus taken advantage of her kindness and generosity. If you have read her best-selling memoir Woman On Top : The Art of Smashing Stereotypes and Breaking All the Rules, you will know what I mean.
While I must admit it was was nerve-wrecking to interview a good friend, especially someone who does conduct interviews of her own and who writes exceptionally well, my interview with Loretta went without a hitch. She was as one who expect, candid, unpretentious and “un-filtered”.
Below are the few interview questions and brief answers that I thought was imperative to publish as these questions will help readers understand Loretta even better and more.
An Interview with Dr Loretta Chen
1) You wear many hats as a successful theatre director, professor, presenter with Lush 99.5FM, consultant and you are also the group business development and creative director for your family’s business, VMSD. Just how do you balance it all?
Answer: Carefully! (laughs) But in all seriousness, it really is all about having passion and drive. You must also have a good support network and find that “sweet spot” that allows you to lead as well as be a team player. One must have equal parts foresight, leadership and fortitude as well as humility, compassion and faith. As a boss, you must be on the constant look out for talent and be able to allow your staff to excel in their strengths and cultivate their gifts. It is also important to allow your staff to have ownership of their work.
2) Was theatre your calling or were you influenced by your brother, Edmund Chen, an outstanding Mediacorp Actor?
Answer: My eldest brother, Edmund Chen, was certainly a role model. He made me realize that it was possible to purse a viable career in the arts and media. But having said that, he was not the only reason. My family is hugely supportive. My second brother, Eric, has always supported my creativity and artistic pursuits and my parents have always been my pillars of strength. Theatre, to me, is less a calling than a way of viewing the world. It allows me an interesting perspective of looking at life with unfiltered lens. My passion for education and advocacy is a calling.
3) You have recently released your own book Woman On Top which became the Number One best-seller at Books Kinokuniya. Why write a book? Was this what you always wanted to do?
Answer: I wrote the book for my 24 year old self who was once so down and depressed without anyone to turn to or any book to read. I was always a voracious reader. I told myself then that if I ever got better, I would write a book to inspire people who are feeling depressed, desperate and needed that one book that day to make them feel better on a day that they needed it most. When I was doing my doctorate at UCLA, I sank into depression after the suicide of my then partner. I tried to find self-help books from an Asian perspective and found to my dismay that there was none! So I promised myself that if I got better, I would write a book from an Asian perspective on how to deal with depression, crisis and any of life’s curved balls. And I do it all with unflinching honesty, unfiltered commentary and a great dose of humor!
4) If someone aspires to be a creative director or award-winning theatre director, what kind of encouragement would you give?
1) Do it for the right reasons
2) Surround yourself with positive people
3) Be humble yet confident
4) Look after yourself
5) Travel to broaden your horizons
6) Be observant
7) Know thyself and to thyself be true
8) Have a spiritual anchor
9) Smash the stereotypes and
10) Break the rules
(Extracted from Woman On Top)
5) Even in the 21st century today, men and women are still unequal. Many talented and well-educated women have taken a backseat and given up their careers to raise children. In fact, this is almost expected of them in an Asian context. What are your views on this?
Answer: This is an on-going debate. I have a lot to say about this but for purposes of the interview, let’s just summarize it to the following key, salient points:
- We must empower little girls so that they know they can do it as well, if not better, than the boys.
- We must inculcate positive family values where boys and girls are treated equally.
- We must set systems in place to encourage women to pursue higher education and earn their degrees as these women do not just become members of the work force, they also pass on their values in the family so it is key we start revolutionizing the system by first empowering the women.
6) If you are appointed as an NMP, what are the issues you will address?
Answer: In broad brushstrokes, I will look into the following:
- Improve the living conditions, opportunities and livelihood of the less fortunate and under-privileged
- Promote active aging and dying with dignity
- Engage children and the young with disabilities;
- Augment our efforts to continually improve education
- Educate the population on how to work with domestic help and a campaign (since we are campaign city!) to emphasize that domestic help must be treated with respect and dignity.
As you can see, Dr Loretta Chen is my definite pick as an “Extraordinary Woman”. She is who she is today because she has gone through numerous baptisms of fire, trials and tribulations but who remains unfazed by it all. In fact, she willingly shares it all with us to enable us to make wiser decisions and to foster a deeper understanding of depression, the world of business, familial ties and a host of other compelling issues that most are unwilling to discuss. My verdict — the book is a great inspirational and motivational read anyone.
An honest, witty and remarkable writer, Loretta has, in a span of less than 200 pages with copious photographs, bared her soul and her journey through the fire and eventually emerging as a Phoenix and quite rightly so, the Woman on Top.
Woman On Top: The Art of Smashing Stereotypes and Breaking all the Rules is on sale at all major bookstores and Books Kinokuniya.