From The Straits Times    |


It’s a Summer Friday afternoon in New York City and my lunch guest, Yu-Chen Shih, is hungry.

Like most people from Singapore who have lived abroad for some time, we instantly bonded over missing Singapore food. And coming in from Los Angeles, she was craving classic Singaporean dishes, which I learned were hard to come by in LA, so we met at Singapura in Gramercy to get a good plate of char kway teow.

She’s in New York from Los Angeles for back-to-back appointments with makeup artists, beauty editors, and content creators, who have come to love her brand Orcé (pronounced or-say). Not surprisingly, her brand of foundation, formulated with Asians in mind, counts Michelle Yeoh, Lana Condor, and Olivia Munn as fans.

I asked her out, curious to learn more and wondering if Orcé could end my hunt for the perfect foundation.

Meals are an opportunity for emotional bonding. And shortly into ours, we found our second connection. As women who grew up in Singapore with deeper skin tones (not light translucent skin), we were told, quite bluntly, that we were ugly. Shih, who was born in Taiwan and raised in Singapore, is of mixed heritage, the daughter of a Taiwanese mother and Malay father.

Shih founded Orcé with a wide range of Asian skin tones in mind. Photo: Courtesy of Orcé

“My mother started applying skin whitening products on me when I was a toddler because being fair-skinned was seen as the standard. Beauty campaigns featuring Asian women back then, even when they were from Asian beauty brands, only featured an East Asian skin tone – fair to light beige, and somehow that became the representation of Asian beauty,” says Shih, who lived in Singapore until she left to attend Pepperdine University in California. 

“I grew up feeling ugly, and I was told that I was ugly. I always felt nervous going back to Taiwan to visit relatives,” adds Shih, who notes that beyond her skin tone, she struggled with comments about her height and weight. 

Despite having some insecurities about her looks, she developed a desire to help others look their best, channelling hurt into action and kickstarting her career in beauty. 

“In primary school, when my friends would say that they didn’t like their frizzy hair, I’d invite them over and I would help straighten their hair. I spent all my pocket money on beauty products and tools without my mother knowing and started a little collection of foundation, eyeshadow, lipstick, and nail polish,” she says. 

Close-ups of Orcé’s product range. Photo: Courtesy of Orcé
Close-ups of Orcé’s product range. Photo: Courtesy of Orcé

Turning her passion for makeup into becoming a makeup artist would have been too predictable, and there were already many good makeup artists in the industry, notes Shih. Post-graduation, she took some time to figure out various career options in beauty and found herself at an advertising agency in Los Angeles working on the account of a major Japanese skincare brand. 

“Their best-selling product was still a whitening product targeted at Asian women. The brand was trying to speak to a consumer like me, and I just didn’t feel any connection, and if I felt that way, I thought there must be so many more women just like me,” she says. “When it comes to foundation and colour cosmetics, a lot of brands, even Asian ones, think that they can just add a yellow pigment to their existing shades to include Asians, but there are so many nuances to our skin tones.” 

The idea for Orcé first started as Shih’s college capstone project, and in 2019, after countless negative experiences with various beauty brands, she decided to bring Orcé to life to show the industry that Asian women were a force (where the brand’s name is derived from) to be reckoned with, and deserving of a beauty brand that catered to all the nuances of the skin colour, skin tone, and skin types. 

She started with what she felt was the most important product – foundation, by consulting a Stanford-trained Chinese-American dermatologist to create a formula targeting common Asian skin concerns like dehydration and excessive sebum production. Since then, she’s launched a setting powder and a makeup sponge that she recommends using to apply foundation. 

Orcé prides itself on carrying a wide spectrum of foundation shades often unseen in foundation brands, even Asian ones. Photo: Courtesy of Orcé
Shades include the darker, deeper skin tones which are hard to come across in many East Asian beauty advertisements. Photo: Courtesy of Orcé

“Foundation unfortunately has such a bad rep. When I first started experimenting with makeup, I was told not to have it on for too long because it would clog my pores, so I thought I’d start there,” she says.

Shih was in New York City to launch Orcé’s Come Closer Serum Foundation, available in 12 shades, an iteration of her original formula which contains star ingredients like Evodia Rutaecarpa to boost radiance and improve texture, clinical levels of hyaluronic acid to firm and plump skin, and Shih’s personal favourite Tahitian Pearl Extract, which targets hyperpigmentation, brightens complexion and stimulates collagen production. In Singapore, the brand is available on Tangs.

So, on one of the hottest summer days, I put Orcé to the test when I would typically use only concealer to cover spots for fear that a full face of foundation would look cakey. Orcé blended perfectly with my yellow and olive undertones, and gave me a glowing, healthy complexion that could pass off for good natural skin. Plus, I still looked fresh at the end of the day. 

While her childhood experience was the motivation for Orcé, it’s Shih’s hunger for change in the beauty industry that has been instrumental in the launch of her mission-driven beauty brand, keeping it afloat through the difficult Covid years and the continuous expansion of shades.

And, she says, she’s only getting started; “let’s say it’s going to be a very colourful next year.” 

This article was originally published in Harper’s Bazaar Singapore.