THE ABUNDANCE OF TINA LEUNG
Story // Shelton Boyd-Griffith
Photos // Caleb & Gladys
Creative Direction + Styling // Phil Gomez
Makeup // Colby Smith
Hair // Isaac Davidson
Who is Tina Leung? Well, if you ask her to describe herself in three words, she’s rambunctious, loving, and loyal.
To us, Tina is that rare breed that is innately relatable even while wearing couture. She feels on a visceral level, eats junk food like you and me, and even wants to eventually retire on a farm and sit on the porch sky gazing. It’s something that naturally comes through on our zoom call, and also *no spoilers, her on-air screen time on Bling Empire. So often with fashion “it” girls, we see the aesthetic first, the perfectly curated feeds, the ensembles, the bags, the hot new restaurants, etc. With that, we sometimes don’t see the person. I’m guilty of it myself! But with Tina, you have no choice but to see her truly. Behind the stellar chameleon wardrobe (from big names one day to a slew of emerging brands the next), and her beautiful mint green-sometimes-blonde-sometimes seafoam-tresses, and of course her 367k followers, is the most delightful person you could ever want to meet.
Amidst a busy press schedule in anticipation of Netflix’s Bling Empire: New York’s debut, red carpet events, and whisking off to Paris for the Spring/Summer 23′ Haute Couture shows, we caught up with the style maven via Zoom on a gloomy, typical NYC day. She and I instantly chatted like we’d known each other for a while, bonding over astrological signs — she’s a Taurus rising in Vedic astrology, I’m a Taurus moon & sun — and her love for what she calls, “sad, mopey, weird siren songs.”
Also we talked about drag. “My drag name is Sukiyaki,” she says excitedly. She then asks what mine is; honestly, I haven’t found her yet. “We’ll find her together; it’s fun, the process of finding your inner personality.” So now, apparently, we’re also a drag family. Sukiyaki and *to be determined (me) coming to an LES stage near you.
While she may be used to being an in-demand influencer and fixture in the fashion industry, her profile is about to get ten times as wide. Tina is one of 6 ensemble cast members on Netflix’s Bling Empire: New York, which has since aired if you’re reading this right now. Now not only is her wardrobe on display, her entire life is. One can only imagine how that feels. What does Tina do to re-center, realign and relax?
“Meditation, and bubble baths with Epsom salt and eucalyptus. I need a lot of time by myself to get myself back.” Fashion content creators — they’re just like us.
One recurrent theme that kept coming up during our call was the grounding of Earth. “We have other people’s energy being pushed into our energy on the daily, so we definitely need something like nature or somewhere. Bringing us back to Earth.” For a fire sign, she sure craves the calm of Earth. She elaborates further, “I hear going barefoot on the grass helps.”
After our initial conversation, it was only fitting that I took the entire weekend to binge-watch the new series. I wanted to see if what I saw on TV matched up to the wide-eyed soulful spirit I spoke with on the computer. Verdict? I can say that without a shadow of a doubt, the person I bonded with over not being Michelin chefs is the same person on screen. And like Tina told me, “I have to say, I can’t be anything other than I am, so what comes out is me,” I couldn’t agree more. I don’t think anyone’s ever said that a high-drama, heavily produced reality show has ever made you really gravitate to a person. Well, I’ve entered the chat! No spoiler alerts here, but with every scene, Tina just organically steals it. And not in a gauche “look at me, look at me” kind of way, but rather in an “I see myself reflected on screen” way.
While her foray into reality TV may be new, she’s no stranger to the limelight. We all know Tina as one of the OG founding mothers of fashion blogging. Alongside contemporaries like Tamu Mcpherson and Susie Bubble, she had an iPhone, a domain, and a dream and burst into the fashion space, completely changing the industry forever. To be perfectly honest, early aughts bloggers were the original TikTok creators. They created their own communities, explored fashion and style through their own narratives, and pissed a lot of fashion folks off. “The very first season or two when TikTok creators first came on the scene, I was kind of like, okay, so this is how traditional media and others may have looked at us in that way, and were wondering what was going on?”
“Every month, I would run to the newsstands and devour all the fashion magazines and flip straight to the back, look at the editorials, and from then, I just knew that I wanted to create these editorials.” And that she did.
Leung has styled editorials, top celebs, and campaigns, all in addition to fronting campaigns and being in front of the camera. She’s manifested the creative life she’s always wanted. Born in Hong Kong, Tina cultivated her creative spirit through a myriad of mediums. “I would write poems. When I felt too much pain inside, I would let it out and write these random poems. I used to make my own greeting cards because I was very into arts and crafts. I made up stories and created a whole saga of our life. And we would hold these cinema nights with my friends, where we would create, I don’t know, I guess it was improv. But back then, you didn’t know it was improv.”
Tina may exist within the fashion space and live quite the glamorous life, but she’s committed to doing her part to make the industry a better place. “I want more voices being heard and more inclusivity. And not just for its inclusivity sake.” She’s long been a beacon of representation for AAPI folx. Since she burst into the scene in the early ’00s, she’s immersed herself in a tribe of people that look and experience life through her lens, she’s bringing further representation to the forefront via Bling Empire and continues to create safe spaces for folx through her collective, House of Slay. House of Slay, founded by five prominent members of the New York Fashion world, Phillip Lim, Prabal Gurung, Laura Kim, Ezra William, and our dear Tina Leung, aims to be “a place for everyone – an inclusive space representing not only the AAPI heritage of its founders but underrepresented voices from all walks of life.” Founded in the spirit of love by the five friends, aka the Slaysians, the collective received CFDA’s Positive Social Influence Award last year for their efforts in tackling the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes. It started in the pandemic, and today is still centered in spreading love and acceptance (and the most sickening comic books).
A hit reality show, season after season of invitations to couture, and more eyes on her, so what’s next? “I would love a farm one day,” she says. Is this every fashion girl’s ultimate endgame (see; Kelis, Amanda Seyfried, and me)? “You know, get up and do my chores, pick up the eggs, milk the cow, like very straightforward tasks that I do with my hands. And then, when you’re done, sit on the porch, have a drink, and then go to bed.” Wow, it seems like the life.
With the industry shifting focus daily, creating other avenues to express yourself and sustain yourself creatively is essential. Aside from wanting to live her best Charlotte’s Web, Tina is focused on the next creative extension of her career. She loves a good Champagne, so naturally, she would love to venture into the luxury spirits space. “Something mid-range, not too expensive — but definitely needs to be good quality.” Like most creatives, there’s an arsenal of things she wants to explore. “I would love to start my shoe line. To do one-off limited edition items with friends with people I admire, like one shoe, one phone case, one dress, maybe eight to 10 skews, and then once they’re sold out, move on to the next collaboration. I would love to change Tina loves.com, which was the blog name, I forgot to pay, or it wasn’t on auto-pay, but all of it’s gone. My whole blog is gone, so I would like to turn that site into a site for creativity and collaboration. I really enjoyed creating the Bulgari Magnifica book. It was based on their Magnifica collection two years ago, and I loved that creative, collaborative process. I’d love to do another book. And I’d love to prance around on a farm with you one day!”
Hopefully, she gets to place her feet on the ground soon!