Model, muse and bona fide member of the art world’s glitterati, Tina Chow has made endless contributions to the international fashion community. Tina, born Bettina Louise Lutz, moved from Cleveland, Ohio to Japan in 1966, where she launched herself into the fashion world by modelling for Shideido and in Issey Miyake’s first runway presentation.
After meeting and marrying renowned restaurateur Michael Chow, of the Mr. Chow fame, Tina moved to London and then New York, catapulting herself into the hip and emerging art scene that included Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
The pair became regulars on the New York social scene, but despite Michael’s best efforts, Tina began to stray and look for more free and creative personalities to keep her company. She became close with artist Andy Warhol, and it was he that gave her a piece of Aquamarine crystal, a gift that spawned Tina’s jewellery collection. That stone, combined with her love of bamboo, a trait she inherited from her father, Tina began to design a jewellery collection consisting of mostly bamboo-wrapped crystals and silk cord.
Upon separating from Chow, Tina notoriously dated Richard Gere, whom she bonded with while fundraising for AIDS research, and they shared an often recounted fling. After her relationship with Gere, Tina began seeing Kim d’Estainville. Unfortunately, d’Estainville was infected with HIV at the time and passed the virus to Tina, making her one of the first heterosexual women to be infected with the rampant virus. She died in 1992 of HIV-related illnesses at her home in California, wearing her favourite Forunty dress.
More remarkable than her social life or relationships are her personal style and clothing collection. Tina was one of the first women to embrace a daily uniform. Despite owning hundreds of noteworthy designer wares, she was most often seen wearing a white Hanes crew neck t-shirt and black Kenzo trousers, of which she had more than seven pairs. Karl Lagerfeld has credited her with investing the ‘minimal chic’ look. It was that look that famously stopped traffic in China when Tina made a visit, provoking passers by to ask ‘What kind of human being is that?’ in a time where western styles and trends were only beginning to infiltrate the more conservative east.
Her clothing collection, catalogued in the book Flair: Fashion Collected by Tina Chow, has been topic of many an essay and discussion. Her interest was in the construction and presentation of a garment, and she wanted to make the book more of a teaching tool rather than a documentation of her own personal style. Tina approached collecting fashion in a way that most would collect art, a practice that was unheard of at the time, but which has now been reinvented by collectors such as Anna Dello Russo.
Images courtesy of the Fashion Spot forums.