Authors: Kevin Kwan
Yes, you can be sure Min Jiang's legendary wood-fired Beijing duckâwith a first serving of crispy duck skin dipped in fine granulated sugar, wrapped in homemade pancakes with sweet sauce, shredded leeks, and cucumbers, followed by a second serving of the sliced duck in fried noodlesâwas part of the impromptu ICU buffet organized by Felicity Leong.
In 2015, the world was most preoccupied about figuring out if the economy would continue to recover, how to keep the Ebola outbreak in Africa from becoming a global pandemic, where ISIS terrorists would strike next after the horrendous Paris attacks, how to help Nepal after its devastating earthquakes, who would be the front-runners in the next U.S. presidential campaign, and whether Jon Snow, Lord Commander of the Night's Watch and one of the heroes in George R. R. Martin's
Game of Thrones
television series, really died in the season finale.
RUE BOISSY D'ANGLAS, PARIS
She stood on a raised mirrored platform in the middle of Giambattista Valli's elegantly appointed atelier, staring up at the glittering chandelier, trying to hold still as two seamstresses meticulously pinned up the hem of the delicate tulle skirt that she was modeling. Looking out the window, she could see a little boy holding a red balloon walking down the cobblestone street, and she wondered where he was heading.
The man with the string of baroque pearls around his neck smiled at her. “
, could you please turn for me?”
She twirled around once, and the women surrounding her all oohed and aahed.
” Georgina swooned.
“Oh Giamba, you were right! Just two inches shorter and look how the skirt comes alive. It's like a flower blooming right before our eyes!” Wandi cooed.
“Like a pink peony!” Tatiana gushed.
“I think for this dress, I was inspired by the ranunculus,” the designer stated.
“I don't know that flower. But Giamba, you're a genius! An absolute genius!” Tatiana praised.
Georgina walked around the platform, scrutinizing the dress from every angle. “When Kitty first told me that this couture dress would cost
175,000, I have to confess I was a little surprised, but now I think it's worth every cent!”
“Yes, I think so too,” Kitty murmured softly, assessing the tea-length gown from its reflection in the rococo mirror leaning against the wall. “Gisele, do you like it?”
“Yes, Mommy,” the five-year-old said. She was getting tired of standing there in the dress with the hot spotlight on her, and she wondered when she could get her reward. Mommy had promised her a big ice-cream sundae if she would stand very still during her fitting.
“Okay then,” Kitty said, looking at Giambattista Valli's assistant. “We will need three of these.”
“Three?” The tall, gangly assistant looked at Kitty in surprise.
“Of course. I buy everything in threes for myself and Giseleâwe need one for each of our closets in Singapore, Shanghai, and Beverly Hills. But this one has to be ready for her birthday party in Singapore on March firstâ”
“Of course, Signora Bing,” Giambattista cut in. “Now, ladies, I hope you don't mind if I leave Luka to show you the new collection. I have to rush off to an appointment with the fashion director of Saks.”
The women exchanged air kisses with the departing designer, Gisele was sent off with her nanny around the corner to Angelina for ice cream, and as more Veuve Clicquot and cafÃ© crÃ¨mes were brought into the showroom, Kitty stretched out on the elegant chaise lounge with a contented sigh. It was only their second day here, and already she was havingÂ the time of her life. She had come on this Parisian shopping spree with her Singaporean BFFsâWandi Meggaharto Widjawa, Tatiana Savarin, and Georgina Tingâand somehow, things were so different on this trip.
From the moment she stepped off
, the Boeing 747-81 VIP she had recently refurbished to look exactly like the Shanghai bordello in a Wong Kar-wai movie,
she was experiencing heretofore unprecedented levels of sucking up. When their motorcade of Rolls-Royces arrived at the Peninsula Paris, all of the hotel management stood in a perfect line to greet her at the entrance, and the general manager escorted her up to the impressive Peninsula Suite. When they went to dinner at Ledoyen, the waiters were bowing and scraping so frantically that she thought they were going to break into somersaults. And then during her Chanel couture fittings at rue Cambon yesterday, none other than
Karl Lagerfeld's personal assistant came downstairs with a handwritten note from the great man himself!
Kitty knew that all this royal treatment was because she had arrived in Paris this time as
MRS. JACK BING
. She wasn't just the wife of some random billionaire anymore, she was the new wife of China's second-richest man,
one of the ten richest men in the world. To think that Pong Li Li, the daughter of sanitation workers in Qinghai, had achieved such great heights at the relatively young age of thirty-four (although she told everyone she was thirty). Not that any of this had been easyâshe had worked nonstop her entire life to get to this place.
Her mother had come from an educated middle-class family, but she had been banished with her family to the countryside during Mao's Great Leap Forward campaign. But she had instilled in Kitty that getting an education was the only way out. All through her youth, Kitty studied extra hard to always be the top in her class, top in her school, top in her state exams, only to see her one chance at a higher education get snatched away when some boy with all the right connections was awarded the only slot to university in their entire districtâthe slot that was rightfully meant to be hers.
But Kitty didn't give up, she kept on fighting, moving first to Shenzhen to work at a KTV bar where she had to do unspeakable things, and then to Hong Kong, landing a bit part in a local soap opera, transforming it into a recurring role after becoming the director's mistress, dating a series of rather inconsequential men until she met Alistair Cheng, that cute, clueless boy who was much too sweet for his own good, going with him to the Khoo wedding and meeting Bernard Tai, running off to Vegas with Bernard to get married, meeting Jack Bing at Bernard's father's funeral, divorcing Bernard, and finally, at long last, marrying Jack, a man who was truly worthy of all her efforts.
And now that she had provided him with his first son (Harvard Bing, born in 2013), she could do anything she damn well pleased. She could fly to Paris on her own private jumbo jet with one French translator, two children, three fabulous girlfriends (all as toned and polished and expensively dressed as she was, and all wives of rich expats in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Singapore), four nannies, five personal maids, and six bodyguards and rent out the entire top floor of the Peninsula Hotel (which she did). She could order the entire Chanel Automne-Hiver couture collection and have every piece made in triplicate (which she did). She could take a personal guided tour of Versailles with the chief curator followed by a special al fresco lunch prepared by Yannick AllÃ©no at Marie Antoinette's hamlet (which was happening tomorrow, thanks to Oliver T'sien, who set it all up). If someone wrote a book about her, no one would believe it.
Kitty sipped her champagne and glanced at the ball gowns that were being paraded before her, feeling a little bored. Yes, it was so beautiful, but after the tenth dress, it was all beginning to look the same. Was it possible to overdose on too much beauty? She could buy up the whole collection in her sleep and forget she ever owned any of it. She needed something more. She needed to get out of here and look at some Zambian emeralds, maybe.
Luka recognized the look on Kitty's face. It was the same expression he had seen all too often in some of his most privileged clientsâthese women who had constant, unlimited access to everything that their hearts ever desiredâthe heiresses, celebrities, and princesses that had sat in this very spot. He knew he needed to change direction, to shift the energy in the room in order to reinspire his high-spending client.
“Ladies, let me show you something very special that Giamba has been toiling away at for weeks. Come with me.” He pressed against one panel of the boiserie walls, revealing Giambattista's inner sanctumâa hidden workroom that contained only one gown displayed on a mannequin in the middle of the pristine space. “This dress was inspired by Gustav Klimt's
Adele Bloch-Bauer I
. Do you know the painting? It was purchased for $135 million by Ronald Lauder and hangs in the Neue Galerie in New York.”
The ladies stared in disbelief at the artistry of the off-the-shoulder ball gown that transformed from ivory tulle at the bodice and into a shimmering gold column, with a cascading train-length skirt embroidered with thousands of gold chips, lapis lazuli, and precious gemstones, painstakingly scattered into a swirling mosaic pattern. It truly looked like a Klimt painting come to life.
“Oh my God! It's unbelievable!” Georgina squealed, running one of her long manicured nails over the gem-encrusted bodice.
” Tatiana commented, mistakenly trying to show off her secondary-school French. “
“We don't have a price on it yet. It's a special commission that's taken four full-time embroiderers three months to assemble so far, and we still have weeks of work to go. I would say that this dress, with all the rose-gold disks and precious stones, will end up costing more than two and a half million euros.”
Kitty stared at it, her heart suddenly beginning to pound in that delicious way it did whenever she saw something that aroused her. “I want it.”
“Oh, Madame Bing, I'm so sorry, but this dress is already spoken for.” Luka smiled at her apologetically.
“Well, make me another one. I mean another three, of course.”
“I'm afraid we cannot make you this exact dress.”
Kitty looked at him, not quite comprehending. “Oh, I'm sure you can.”
“Madame, I hope you will understandâ¦Giamba would be happy to collaborate with you on another dress, in the same spirit, but we cannot replicate this one. This is a one-of-a-kind piece made for a special client of ours. She is from China alsoâ”
“I'm not from China, I'm from Singapore,” Kitty declared.
“Who is this âspecial client'?” Wandi demanded, her thick mane of BeyoncÃ©-bronzed hair shaking indignantly.
“She's a friend of Giamba's, so I only know her by her first name: Colette.”
The ladies suddenly fell silent, not daring to ask what they wanted to ask. Wandi finally piped up. “Erâ¦are you referring to Colette Bing?”
“I'm not sure if that is her surname. Let me check the spec sheet.” He turned over a leaf of paper. “Ah yes, it
Une telle coÃ¯ncidence!
Is she related to you, Madame Bing?” Luka asked.
Kitty looked like a deer caught in headlights. Was Luka kidding? Surely he must know that Colette was her husband's daughter from his first marriage.
Tatiana quickly jumped in. “No, she's not. But we know of her.”
“Do we ever.” Wandi sniffed, wondering whether she should tell Luka how Colette's bitch-from-hell video tirade had gone viral in China, logging more than thirty-six million views on WeChat alone, making her such a notorious poster child of
bad behavior that she was forced to flee to London in disgrace. Wandi decided that it was better not to bring it up now.
“So this dress is for Colette,” Kitty said, fondling one of the gossamer-like organdy sleeves.
“Yes, it's going to be her wedding dress.” Luka smiled.
Kitty looked up at him, stunned. “Colette is getting married?”
“Oh yes, madame, it's the talk of the town. She's marrying Lucien Montagu-Scott.”
“Montagu-Scott? What does his family do?” Wandi asked, since everything in her universe revolved around being part of an incredibly rich Indonesian family.
“I don't know anything about his
, but I believe he's a lawyer?” Luka said.
Tatiana immediately began googling his name, and read aloud from the first link that popped up: “Lucien Montagu-Scott is one of Britain's new generation of environmental lawyers. A graduate of the Magdalen Collegeâ”
“It's pronounced âMaudlin,'â” Georgina corrected.
“Maudlin College, Oxford, Lucien sailed across the Pacific on a catamaran made out of 12,500 reclaimed plastic bottles with his friend David Mayer de Rothschild to highlight the problem of global marine pollution. More recently, he has been involved in publicizing the environmental crisis in Indonesia and Borneoâ”
“I think I'm going to fall asleep,” Tatiana scoffed.
“He's a charming gentlemanâcomes with her to every fitting,” Luka remarked.
“I can't imagine why Colette Bing of all people would end up settling for this guy. He's not even an M&A lawyerâhis annual salary probably wouldn't even pay for one of her dresses! I guess she must be desperate to have mixed-race babies,” Georgina said, glancing covertly at Kitty, hoping she wasn't too upset by the news. Kitty just stood staring at the dress, her expression inscrutable.
“Ooohâ¦I want to have a beautiful mixed-race baby too! Luka, do you know any hot single French counts?” Wandi asked.
“I'm sorry, mademoiselle. The only
I know is married.”
“Married is fineâ¦I'm married too, but I would dump my boring hubby if I could get a beautiful half-French baby!” Wandi giggled.
“Wandi, careful what you wish for. You never know what sort of baby you'll get,” Tatiana said.
“No, if you have a baby with a Caucasian man, you're almost guaranteed it will be attractive. There's a ninety-nine percent chance it will look like Keanu Reeves. That's why so many Asian women are desperate to find white husbands.”
“First of all, Keanu isn't half white. He's like three-quartersâhis mother is only part Hawaiian and his father is American.
And not to burst your bubble, but I have seen some rather unfortunate-looking mixed-raced babies,” Georgina insisted.
“Yes, but it's very rare. And soooo tragic when that happens! OMGâdid you hear about that man in China who sued his wife because all their children came out looking so ugly? He had purposely married this beautiful woman, but it turns out she'd had tons of plastic surgery before she met him! So the children all looked like her before the surgery!” Wandi giggled.
“That story was a lie!” Tatiana insisted. “I remember when it went viral, but it turned out the newspaper made up the whole thing and did a fake photo shoot with two models posing with a bunch of ugly kids.”