The 91-Year-Old Style Doyenne Shares Life Lessons with the Designer at the Zoo
The Superstar Chinese Songstress Looks West with a New Jazz Direction
Chinese vocalist and actress Karen Mok is caught in a rare, quiet moment at Le Grand Hotel during Paris Fashion Week by photographer Michael Hemy in this series of intimate stills, accompanied by her cover of Portishead’s “Sour Times” from her new album Somewhere I Belong. With more than 15 full-length pop releases and 40 feature films under her belt, not to mention 36 million combined followers on social media sites Sina and Tencent Weibo, Mok is one of China’s biggest sensations. Now the Hong Kong native is looking to break into the Western market with her debut English-language album, a compilation of jazz standards from Cole Porter and George Gershwin, and updated covers from The Beatles to Sting. “Jazz is a genre that has always been about crossing borders and transcending cultural differences, so I think it fits with my being a Chinese artist coming to the West,” explains Mok. “No one has really made the transition in a big way—but someone’s got to start it.” Recorded in Shanghai, some of her tracks nod to Asian musical tradition, for instance using the guzheng, a traditional Chinese string instrument, to put a new spin on well-known melodies. Here she speaks about her genre-bending ambitions and the discount CDs that changed her career.
Has jazz always been a part of your musical life?
Karen Mok: Years ago, I stumbled upon some cheap compilations of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong duets and I was just blown away. So this is what you call jazz, I thought, that’s how one should sing—straight from your heart with no inhibitions. It really opened my mind. When I became a pop singer, I realized all those years of listening to jazz had really influenced the way I sing.
Did combining classic jazz and guzheng work out as you intended?
KM: I think it really brought about some magic. The main thing was to try not to copy how people in the West do it. We wanted to retain our own identity for this album—that was really the most important thing.
The album is called Somewhere I Belong. Do you have one place where you feel that most?
KM: I guess it’s probably when I’m doing what I love most, performing and singing. That’s where I belong.
Karen Mok’s Somewhere I Belong will be released in the UK on Decca Records on March 11.
The Fashion Blog's Doyennes Give a Lesson in Sartorial Splendor
We're having a senior moment: From textile mogul Iris Apfel in her trademark owl spectacles to artist Ilona Royce Smithkin in DIY orange eyelashes, the stars of photographer Ari Seth Cohen’s Advanced Style blog represent the most fashionable older ladies and gentlemen of New York and beyond. Today on NOWNESS we feature Cohen’s iconic style mavens in an exclusive short by filmmaker Lina Plioplyte. “Hearing them speak about clothing is so fascinating,” says Cohen, who launched his site in 2008 and also has a documentary in the works. “There is history and memories in what they are wearing and I think it’s important to show that storytelling aspect, as well as their vitality and creativity.” Cohen spoke to NOWNESS about silver-haired confidence.
Did anyone help to inspire the direction of Advanced Style?
When I first moved to New York [from Seattle] I attended a screening for the documentary Hats Off about Mimi Weddell, who in her 60s became an actress and model for the likes of Louis Vuitton and Burberry. I photographed her, and her attitude and approach to style was a big influence on me and the start of the blog.
Why do you think so many younger people read your blog?
Walking around New York taking photographs, I noticed how many young girls are appropriating style from older women: leopard print, fur, turbans and hats. In general, the older women wear these things naturally, with more confidence. With the blog I not only want to show that older women are vital and creative, but also to show people [they need not be] afraid of aging—and personal style is a great way to showcase this.
What catches your eye on the street?
I am always on the lookout for silver hair! What is important to me is self-expression and what might inspire others. I want the portrait to be respectful—that is the most important thing. An outfit might be eccentric but it has to be put together well, with care, because I don’t want to reinforce any stereotypes about older people.
Who would you most like the chance to photograph for Advanced Style?
Richard Avedon’s 60s muse China Machado; Jane Schmitt, who featured recently in the Lanvin X H&M campaign; and Yoko Ono—to name just a few.