Vivian Chow complimenting me on my complexion must surely rank among one of the most memorable – and mortifying – moments of my career.
“Forgive me for saying this, but your skin is so good. I can’t see your pores!” Surrounded by smiling stylists and stony-faced handlers – not to mention my industry peers – the Hong Kong screen legend leans her lean frame forward and peers into my face, as if perusing the very depths of my soul, and this interviewer blushes – hard.
Penchant for praising hapless writers aside, Vivian Chow wasn’t too shabby herself at our meet-and-greet. Sheathed in a slinky floral floor-length gown, the stunning singer-actress’ complexion was blissfully unblemished, with nary an expression line to be seen. How on earth does a 45-year-old look like that?
In Singapore to launch the prestige skincare brand’s Platinum Precious collection, the Suisse Programme ambassador says she pays special attention to the delicate orbital area, massaging them gently as part of her nightly ritual: “My eyes are the windows to my soul.”
And what a kind soul it is, too. By most accounts, Vivian is a caring woman with a particularly soft spot for animals – she has two dogs and eight cats, one of which is the lead protagonist in her debut novel, the amusingly named “My Son is a Bengal Cat”.
The semi-retired thespian, whose breakout 1988 film “Heart to Hearts” skyrocketed her to regional stardom, now devotes most of her time to philanthropy. Besides being the ambassador for Hong Kong’s Society for Abandoned Animals Limited, Vivian made headlines in 2006 for donating all of the proceeds from three sold-out comeback concerts to launch the Non-Profit Making Veterinary Services Society.
Here’s what I learnt from the beautiful woman with the beautiful soul.
Heavy metals in cosmetics are (probably) not all bad.
Having gone through the wringer investigating the perils of contaminants in lipstick and mascara, I’m understandably leery of metals in the gloop we slather on our skin, but Vivian makes a pretty convincing case for hypoallergenic precious metals like platinum.
“Platinum doesn’t seem like it belongs in skincare, but Suisse Programme has discovered that suspending tiny particles in the formula helps sop up free radicals, preventing cellular damage and reviving your skin in general,” Vivian says.
Indeed, a little sleuthing on my part found that drugs derived from the precious metal are some of the most potent anti-cancer compounds on the market today.
Of course, Suisse Programme’s Platinum Precious products feel good, too: “The new Platinum Precious Eyecare Duo is great for soothing, de-puffing and reducing the appearance of fine lines around my eyes,” Vivian says, gesturing towards her glistening peepers. “I’m also in love with the Platinum Precious Luxe Cream, because it feels so nice on my face. It’s a real treat to apply when you’re tired out from a long day.”
Pig skin is prime stuff.
When asked for skin-friendly supplements she would recommend, Vivian jumps in without hesitation: “Oh my goodness, braised pig skin is so delicious and so good for you – all that collagen!”
“I also zero in on foods with lots of Omega 3 fatty acids, such as fish. Antioxidants are important too, so go for red-skinned grapes, carrots and tomatoes.” As for what to avoid, Vivian steers clear of battered food, because the carcinogens spontaneously combusted by deep frying are “horrible for your skin and body”.
She had joy, she had fun, she had seasons in the sun.
Quizzed about the single most important beauty advice she would give someone, Vivian says she regrets her sunscreen-free days: “UV rays are the absolute worst enemies of your skin, I tell you.”
“I can even remember the exact age I stopped sun tanning – 26. Do you remember how voguish it was in the 90s to be all glowy and bronzed?”
When I interject to say I’ve not seen her tanned before, she asks me to go to my neighbourhood DVD rental store and dig into the archives: “Rewatch ‘Fruit Bowl’, a film I did in the 90s with Leon Lai and Edmond So. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was tanned then.”
So yes, unless you’re a plant, please avoid the sun. Your skin will thank you for it.
And now, the real secret to Vivian’s vivacious skin.
If there’s one thing you realise from chatting with Vivian, it’s that the woman has a real sense of the spiritual about her. She emanates New Agey positivity, and I mean that in the best way possible. To wit, she proffers this bon mot of her own volition: “What we should be spreading is love – love towards your fellow man; love towards your family and friends; and love towards the community and society at large.”
“I think maintaining an even-keeled heart and spirit really adds to a woman’s lustre. If you’re a good person, your appearance won’t matter so much, both to yourself and the people around you. I truly believe that.”
Charity begins at home – and in Sri Lanka.
By now, you should have an inkling that Vivian’s charities mean a great deal to her: “My charities are a huge part of my personal life and my public persona. It gives me great joy to make friends from developing countries during the course of my charity work.”
“I was recently in Sri Lanka as part of a charity drive to help orphans and children in need there. I try not to let the differences between my role as a benefactor and the people I help get in the way of knowing them as individuals.”
To be sure – and Vivian uses a Mandarin proverb whose poeticism is lost in translation – volunteering is like “climbing up the mountains and going down to the sea”, but she always returns home “with so much more spiritual acumen.”
Vivian says she’s involved in about 10 charities, from breast cancer to AIDS awareness, but adds that she’s not highlighting them to blow her own horn: “Doing what you can for the causes you’re passionate about is a win-win thing, and I won’t trade it for the world.”
In a ruminative and quite poignant turn of affairs, Vivian tells me that charity work has made her a more giving person: “I’ve learnt how to let go of my pride and self-centredness, which is really freeing and a very beautiful thing.”
The wrinkled elephant in the room isn’t an object of fear.
Vivian says that one of the biggest epiphanies from working with the organisations she works with is realising how transient life is: “Aging and growing old are both natural, natural things, and nothing to be afraid of.”
The following lines are among some of the most beautiful uttered in the course of a beauty-related interview, so here’s Vivian in her own words: “You can rage as much as you like against the dying of the light, but everyone grows old. The only thing we can do, really, is to cultivate a sense of acceptance about the inevitable.”
Who run this world? Not girls.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Vivian is an advocate of aging gracefully and appreciating beauty in all its life stages: “Young ladies may have their coquettish charm, but older women possess a sort of strength and sensuality that you can only gain from truly, truly living.”
“We’re born, we grow old, we fall ill, we die. There’s beauty in the dark and terrible, just as there’s beauty in light and youth. Embrace your womanhood and don’t nip and tuck and stretch yourself into oblivion.”
Her role model is a deaf 66-year-old – not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Vivian says that Hong Kong icon Josephine Xiao Fangfang is a real woman and a real treasure: “She’s aged with so much dignity and grace, and has such an incredible body of work.”
On her idol, Vivian informs us that – like Vivian herself – Xiao Fangfang’s largely retired from the industry, but “has so much love for people”. (Fangfang founded the End Child Sexual Abuse Foundation.)
“She has such a gentle light about her, and I do hope to continue fighting the good fight when I’m her age.” Right back at you, Vivian.
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