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‘I love Hollywood of the 1920s and 1930s. The fantastic films. The glamorous actresses. They’re my muses, and many of them passed through this house’

step inside the golden age of hollywood as

Fashion designer sue wong

opens the gates to the cedars, her historic mansion overlooking l.a. The gorgeous mansion, built in 1926 for MGM director and screenwriter Marcel Tourneur, has a starry history – Johnny Depp, Jimi Hendrix and Dennis Hopper are among its previous occupants, and it has welcomed scores of silver screen legends as guests. Chinese-born Sue (right), who has been restoring the property to its previous glory since buying it eight years ago, is able to enjoy a spectacular view of Los Angeles from the terrace (below)


one of my dresses.” A little immodest? Maybe. But it’s the only way Sue Wong, the American fashion designer of Chinese descent, can explain why, when almost everyone is going through a tricky period financially, her business continues to expand. “It’s also because my dresses transcend time and price point,” she adds. “They look like haute couture but they sell at pret-a-porter prices. Lots of women see fabulous dresses in the magazines which they can’t afford. They just dream about them. But I’m able to make their dreams come true at a price they can afford – and in return, they stay loyal to me.” It’s true. And Neiman Marcus, Saks and other big American department stores that sell her creations can vouch for that. But the question remains: how could a little girl born into poverty in communist China become a famous designer and end up living in one of



s long as there’s love, there’ll be weddings, and as long as there are weddings someone A in some part of the world may well be wearing


Silent movie star Norma Talmadge and Johnny Depp both lived in the house, which is said to have been inspired by a 17th-century Venetian palazzo




Sue’s love of vintage glamour is clear in both her fashion designs and her home’s exquisite decor. In the living room (above, foreground), are stunning painted and gilded Corinthian columns, and, at the centre, a velvet Art Deco-style ziggurat banquette Sue designed. Just behind the room one can see the solarium, which contains green velvet chairs that once decorated the ocean liner SS Normandie

H o l l y w o o d ’s m o s t h i s t o r i c mansions? “I think anyone can, like me, come from nothing and – if they want it enough – go as far as they wish,” explains Sue. “I think that if you believe in yourself, you can overcome any adversity. The universe can give you anything if you’re willing to take the chance. We’ve all

got unlimited potential that often we don’t dare use.” That’s the theory. But a little girl escaping from revolution and winding up as a success in the world of fashion is hardly a straightforward process. “I was born in a region in the south of China – Canton,” she relates. “At the beginning of the



Legend has it that rock great Jimi Hendrix wrote his 1967 classic Purple Haze in one of The Cedars’ bathrooms

Left: the hallway, which famously features a portrait of Sue at the far end. Above: silent film star Norma Talmadge’s former bedroom boasts a restored ceiling and antique Italian door headboard. There’s also a large lion figure – the MGM symbol – which is just one of 140 found throughout the house. Right: the bathroom, with its antique Moroccan mirror and original tiles, where Jimi is said to have written his colourful classic


Sue has come a long way since her childhood in China during Mao’s regime, when her parents disguised her as a boy to ensure her survival. Her family later escaped to America. Left: wearing a Sue Wong ensemble in the salon (above). Jayme Odgers’s Three Goddesses hangs on the far wall. In the library (right) we can see 19th-century work Compassion




‘When I was child, we were poor Chinese immigrants in an LA ghetto... I think anyone can, like me, come from nothing and go as far as they wish’

20th century my ancestors emigrated to California and helped build the railways. So my father, aged 13, made the same trip in search of his fortune. And when he neared 30 – an age at which you have to be married in my culture – he returned to the region he’d left in order to find a wife. “He met my mother through a matchmaker and married her. After two years, before I was born and when Mao’s troops began to close in on the region, he returned to America. From there he tried to rescue my mother and me. It took years to manage it. “I have a very vivid memory of me, at the age of five, holding onto a little pillow that my mother gave me. ‘You must hold this carefully and not lose it because it contains something very important.’ It contained her jewels. The only ones she had. The ones from her wedding. It was a bribe for the border guard who would let us enter Hong Kong, where some relatives were waiting for us. “Just over a year later we finally arrived in Los Angeles. Up until then, and as far back as I can remember, I had dressed and grown up as a boy.” There was no alternative. At that time, with Mao’s pressure to produce boys, if they’d discovered you…


Left: Sue’s bedroom, which features an Art Deco wardrobe from the 1920s (on right). The curtains and bedspread are in white embroidered silk, while the chest at the end of the bed is covered with a 19th-century Manila shawl inspired by yin and yang. Below: Jimi’s Moroccan-themed bedroom. Above: another of Sue’s timeless creations, infused with her signature vintage allure. “All women are goddesses,” she says. “Feeling beautiful gives us power”


Like her home, Sue’s creations have an unmistakable vintage feel. They’ve been worn on the red carpet by Cameron Diaz, Jessica Biel and Anne Hathaway for a purpose: to make it more beautiful. “Two months after finishing college, aged 19, I landed my first job as a designer. Some people think I’m an old woman – the other day they referred to me on the radio as ‘a fashion institution’ – and it’s because I began very young. They also think I’m surrounded by a huge team. That’s not true; it’s me on my own, but I’m very prolific. I have a huge capacity to create. It’s innate. I can easily sketch 25 new dresses in a day, and I’ve even managed 55 in one stretch.” There’s another designer famous for the very same thing: Karl Lagerfeld. Not just his own collections but also any others that he’s commissioned to do. “I know. And bearing in mind that I do a

new collection approximately every two months (resort, spring, summer, fall and holiday party season) I’ve no alternative but to work fast. Fast and well, because I’m meticulous when it comes to details. Everyone asks me: ‘How can you come up with all these fantastic designs and with such quality?’” Yes, how exactly? “I have them made in China, bypassing an intermediary who would normally take 40 or 50 per cent. I go directly to the factory and I control the production. The savings are passed on to my clients. I want them to feel beautiful and powerful when they put on one of my dresses.” You’re famous for your slogan: “Beauty, Magic, Transformation”.

“All women are goddesses. We’re all filled with potential, although we don’t always use it. Feeling beautiful gives us power. There’s an element of chemistry in beauty that’s magical, and the magic creates transformation. And transformation can take you wherever you want. “I witness it every day. I see how my dresses change an ordinary woman into a beautiful one, and how the goddess inside suddenly reveals herself. What they then do with that power is their business.” But to make a woman feel so good there has to be something more than just a nice dress. “It also has to be well made! I’m a woman who designs for women. That’s very important. I don’t think of the typical 24-year-old with the perfect figure. No, my client-friend can range in age from 16, for their graduation party, to over 80, for that cruise with their husband to celebrate a wedding anniversary – although the great majority are between 30 and 50. “Not all of them have per fect bodies. In reality,


“In Chinese culture, when women marry they stop helping out their family financially because they now belong to another, so we’re not wanted. It’s possible that many of the things I’ve achieved in my life are a consequence of me having to prove that ‘I’m worth something.’ That it was worth letting me live… That it was worth letting me be myself. Even now in this country. “We were struggling Chinese immigrants living in an LA ghetto. I didn’t have any toys, but I did have an imagination. At the age of seven I was drawing my own dolls and their clothes too, which I’d cut out and put on them. My parents wanted me to find a good Chinese husband and a useful job, such as teaching.” But they failed because of that something you had inside you that pushed you down a more artistic route. “Ever since I was about three years old! Even as a young girl I knew I was a born artist. What I didn’t know was how to express it creatively. On top of that, I always knew I’d been put on this planet


‘With so much history around me, I feel like I live in a museum – with the obligation and responsibility to keep all this beauty intact’

Originally, the estate occupied a much larger area and also included a lake, terraces and waterfalls. Today, the pool and elegantly-manicured garden still seem like the set of a classic film, and look equally enticing by day (left) or night (above). Right: a sparkling design from Sue’s label, which has as its slogan: “Beauty, Magic, Transformation” barely anyone has. But because I’m a woman I understand our anatomy, so I try to disguise those parts that aren’t so pretty and highlight those that are.” You’re also a big fan of vintage style, paying homage to the early years of the last centur y, especially the Twenties and Thirties. “I think I’m the reincarnation of someone who lived in those years. I love that period. The aesthetic. The art. German expressionism. Picasso and Braque inventing Cubism. The Ballets Russes and Diaghilev. Free thinking. Female sexual liberation. “And above all, Hollywood! The fantastic films. The glamorous actresses. They’re my muses, and many of them lived in or passed through this house, The Cedars. “With so much history and so much beautiful architecture around me, I feel like I live in a museum – with, of course, the obligation and responsibility to keep all this H beauty intact.”



Hello Magazine  
Hello Magazine