Jeannie Mai's mum helped her realise she has to 'own' who she is
Jeannie Mai was only five years old when she experienced her first fashion epiphany.
Not having the financial means to buy a lot of clothes meant the US TV personality and her Vietnamese mother would sew their own, styling themselves and generally have fun with fashion.
So when Mai went to kindergarten, she thought it would be “no problem” to wear a polka dotted shirt, pants with one leg red one leg black and glitter in her hair.
“My mum is a very inspirational person in my life. I learnt from a very young age from her that style is very important, it’s what sets you apart. Style gives you confidence and allows you to say what you have to say without saying a word. From the day I was born, I knew I was different. I was funky, fresh and different,” the spunky 37-year-old fashion expert told The New Paper.
She was in town back in May, spending weeks shooting the second season of How Do I Look? Asia, the Asian spin-off of the hit US makeover series How Do I Look, which she hosted.
How Do I Look? Asia premieres on DIVA (Singtel TV Ch 303/StarHub TV Ch 513) on Aug 29 at 8pm.
Mai recalled: “I walked in the classroom and every kid stopped everything and made fun of me. All of them were wearing OshKosh B’gosh and Levi’s jeans and I had no-name brands and just a bunch of glitter. My teacher said that I was an embarrassment and distraction in the classroom.”
When the school day ended, Mai bombarded her mother with questions on why she allowed her to dress like that.
Her mother stopped the car, turned around and said, “How many kids in that classroom do you remember? They all know you because you’re different. You make yourself stand out so they know you. That’s how you need to be”.
In her little mind, Mai then understood that she needed to “own who I am”.
“I can’t let people take that power from me,” she said.
And it was that incident that has stuck with Mai and shaped her into who she is today.
In How Do I Look? Asia, she guides eight fashion victims from all over Asia to style enlightenment, with the help of the participants’ friends and family and a professional team of stylists.
She said: “I’m not messing around here. I don’t just need you to go from ugly duckling to swan, that’s not the story. The story is the transformation. We have helped people who have been weighed down by the pressures of family or work and really needed to be picked up.”
Q: Do you give yourself makeovers?
A: All the time. Every year I kind of stop and look at myself and say, 'Am I wearing something too much?'. I always have to change. For example, I had blue hair for 10 years. It was hard for me (to get rid of). I was like, “This is me, this is my brand”, but I had to grow up. I’m 37 now and I’m married. When you have a makeover it actually celebrates that you’re a different person now and I didn’t want to be the same person I was before so I stepped away from the blue hair.
Q: In your opinion, which country in Asia is the most fashionable?
All Asian countries have different styles. Vietnam is very loose, soft and romantic. Japan is very adventurous and structured. Korea is fashion-forward. Singapore is comfortable and relaxed in a good and bad way. Maybe I’m biased but I love our Vietnamese traditional wear the most. One of my dreams is to make a fashion line of ao dais for the modern woman because its silhouette makes everybody look good. It’s long, it’s thin.
Q: What are some do’s and don’ts for Asian women who want to step up their fashion game?
A: Know and embrace your body type. If you are fuller-figured, flaunt your curves, but that doesn’t mean wear something so tight you see every curve coming at you like a freeway. Pick one part of your body that you like and use that as your centrepiece. Don’t let your image in the mirror say something you’re not saying. Don’t let your style give the wrong message. If you like to dress sexy but you look kind of slutty, change that. If you like to be comfortable but look lazy, change that.