As if a following numbering millions across various social media channels was not enough, fashion influencer Chriselle Lim sealed her icon status when toy company Mattel created two Barbies styled by her. If you’re one of her 1.4 million followers on Instagram, you will know that she was in town last month to reacquaint herself with audiences in Asia. The region is an important market for Los Angeles-based Chriselle, with Singapore comprising her biggest social media following after that of the United States.
I am speaking to Chriselle as she’s having make-up applied for this Her World photoshoot. It’s a chance to see one of the world’s leading fashion influencers up close, bare faced, simply dressed, unedited and devoid of the usual glamorous trappings of her work. Not that I don’t have a sense of who she is. Prior to our meeting, I binged on Chriselle’s TikTok videos, for research, but more so because she is eminently entertaining.
The 37-year-old lip syncs, reveals behind-the-scenes shenanigans, models designer goods, and dishes out girl-power nuggets with sass and chutzpah that cut through the thick fog of any Covid-induced ennui. It’s little wonder that she blew up on Tiktok during the pandemic and currently has 2.8 million fans, easily double that of most of her influencer peers.
It’s an indication of Chriselle’s confidence and years in the industry – she is one of the pioneers in fashion blogging, having started her website in 2011 – that she can afford to let down the glitz gauze to be silly on a platform aimed at teenagers, and break out of the straitjacket of perfection that permeates fashion images on Instagram. So while she was reminded of her early days when she recently watched content creators taking photos for hours at a “very Instagrammy” cafe in Kuala Lumpur, she notes that “it’s not the life I want to live anymore”.
Her photography style now is shoot and go, or whatever that feels organic and raw. She believes she is creating content in a healthier way. “That’s what the audience wants from me now,” she says. “It’s not super posed, not super perfect, it’s more about my real life, what I am doing every day. It’s been very nice.”
Embracing her superpower
She hasn’t arrived at her fashion phenom status unplagued by insecurities. Growing up in a predominantly white neighbourhood in Texas, Chriselle felt like the ugly duckling of her community because of her Asian looks and gangly height. To blend in, she would dye her hair and wear tons of blue eyeshadow hoping it would turn her eyes blue.
Says the mother-of-two: “I did everything I could to not look like myself, but now that I am in my 30s, how I look is exactly the reason why I got to where I am and what makes me special. When you’re younger, you’re so short-sighted about what you think beauty is. As you grow older, what you thought was ugly could actually be your superpower.”
Knowing how young girls are naturally influenced by how other females look, Chriselle is determined to prepare her daughters Chloe, seven, and Colette, four, for life in a visuals-driven age. “I want them to understand that there will be things they don’t like about themselves and that’s normal, instead of thinking that they have to fit this perfect image or be a certain way.”
It helps that her children can see her at work. “I love having them see me putting on a lot of makeup or an outfit together, because they know I didn’t wake up like that,” says Chriselle. “It gives them a healthy understanding of what it takes.”
In the past three years, Chriselle – who has a knack of developing businesses to address problems she has personally faced – has added childcare to her portfolio of enterprises, which includes a branded content company and a fragrance house. Launched in 2019, Bumo was intended to be a co-working space with licensed childcare, but turned to virtual classes during Covid to stay afloat. The idea of Bumo came about when, after giving birth to Chloe, Chriselle realised that there was no system in place for working parents.
“We thought we would die as a company at that time,” says Chriselle. Now, Bumo is expanding its on demand childcare offering, with four locations in or near Los Angeles. It has a waiting list of over 5,000 children.
Her acquisition of perfume house Phlur aligns with perhaps the most painful period of her life. Last year, Chriselle and her husband Allen Chen divorced after 15 years together, eight of which were married. Her first scent for Phlur delved deep into her pain. “The hardest part for me after my divorce was not necessarily missing this person, but missing the closeness of someone, waking up skin to skin, and feeling the warmth of someone next to you,” Chriselle reveals. “I wanted to bottle that feeling up.”
Aptly named Missing Person, the fragrance went viral when it was launched online in February. Online reviewers generally agree that the scent delivers, likening it to warm hugs, being in love, and the memory of a loved one. Subsequent scents mark Chriselle’s journey of self-discovery and self-empowerment, with the latest fragrance Apricot Privee, launched in May, encapsulating her “longing to have a sexy, juicy summer fling”.
Divorce has liberated her, though in its immediate aftermath, she was so depressed that she could not eat or wake up. Now, thanks to parents who moved in with her to provide support and shared custody of her daughters with her ex-husband, Chriselle has time to focus on herself. She can now travel and unplug, and not take photos all the time.
“As a content creator, that was really hard. Even though I was going to these places, I was constantly looking at the world through my phone. For the first time ever, I was not doing that anymore.”
At a girlfriend’s birthday bash in Lake Como, Italy, in July, she connected with people, partied, and lived it up. “I am experiencing my 20s in my late 30s. I didn’t think about responsibilities for the first time as an adult, and that was really liberating,” she says.
“For the past eight years, I was so focused on just keeping this perfect image of family together that people on social media thought I had. There was also pressure to continue to build my business. It was hard for me to enjoy life. Now that I’ve let go of the idea of what I am supposed to be like or what type of family I am supposed to have, now that I don’t have any of those kinds of standards and expectations for myself, life has become a lot more freeing.”
How happy is she now? “Oh god,” she chuckles, “I don’t want to cry, but I am the happiest I’ve ever been.” (She does cry.) “I am thinking about myself for once. Women tend to think about everybody else before themselves, and I think I sacrificed so much of myself to make sure everyone around me was okay and happy. And for the first time ever in my late 30s, I’ve been able to be selfish and think of myself for the first time. And I didn’t realise that I deserved it. So, (it’s about) just owning up to your struggles, but not being ashamed of them, and knowing that it all works out in the end… beautifully, better than you could have ever imagined.”
Then, Chriselle is called to step in front of the cameras. Clad in a stunning black bra and blazer number, she strides to her mark and effortlessly strikes a pose – an instant hit, it appears, as a voice in the dark bellows: “Yeaahhhhhhh… Chriselle!”
Back to bold
According to fashion maven Chriselle Lim, there’s going to be more boldness to all fashion and beauty looks in the coming year. “I am seeing a lot of nostalgia, early 2000s (looks) happening,” she says. “During Covid, there was a lot of loungewear. Now, we want to dress up. For 2023, we are going to see a lot of glamour, maybe over the top outfits, which I am excited about because so many of us have been in casual wear for so long. For beauty, too – people have been in their natural element for so long that now they want to stand out. “For a long time, it’s been the natural, no make-up make-up look,” says Chriselle.
“The US is more adventurous but even in Asia, I see girls looking more sexy with a statement eye or lip.”
Chriselle in 60 seconds
- Bra or no bra? No bra
- Best quality in a friend. Loyalty
- Favourite fictional hero. Wonder Woman
- How old do you feel right now? 21
- Worst mommy moment. Sleep training my first child a little too late
- Aside from friends and family, whose death would you mourn? My assistant’s. My life would be in shambles without her.
- What are you addicted to? Black coffee
- What is your most misunderstood quality? That I am always strong. I am actually quite sensitive.
- Go-to alcoholic drink. Aperol Spritz
- What question would you like to ask yourself? What brings me the most pleasure right now.
PHOTOGRAPHY Joel Low, assisted by Eddie Teo
CREATIVE DIRECTION Windy Aulia, assisted by Joanzine Lee, Jeon Jae Won & Elrica Tan
ART DIRECTION Ray Ticsay
HAIR Marc Teng, using Keune
MAKEUP Toni Tan