Shirley And Kevin Wong Take Us Through The Louis Vuitton VIP Experience In Europe
The couple shares an insider’s view into the exclusive world of the luxury brand’s fashion and heritage. Paris, with all its magic, was the perfect location to shoot this "Metro Society" cover, as it also plays a very special part in Shirley’s life
“We’ll always have Paris,” is one of those historically indelible movie lines. It is uttered by people who have never watched the movie it was from (Casablanca) or known the bittersweet history of the words (star-crossed lovers Rick and Elsa can never be together and all that keeps them going is the memory of their brief time in Paris). Aside from being the City of Love, the City of Light, Paris is also the capital of the world of luxury, and heritage house Louis Vuitton is intertwined with that legacy. Young couple Shirley and Kevin Wong were recently feted by the maison and given a voyage beyond imagining.
The Metro Society team visits the Wongs at their office to relive the highlights and fond memories of their Vuitton experience. The gracious and utterly ladylike (in a pink tweed jacket, cream shift dress and cream flats) Shirley asks us: “Would you like some tea or coffee?” We reply that water is more than adequate, and she says with a kind smile and soft giggle: “I’ve already prepared everything.” Her staff then bring in a heaping plate of sinful cookies and pretty cups and mugs, all waiting to be filled. Her husband Kevin soon comes in and he makes everyone feel at home with his effortless warmth. Their banter tumbles out naturally, and in their presence, it is easy to believe in fairy tales.
“We met because she was part of a beauty contest, and I was one of the judges, so of course we had to wait till it was all over before we could date,” Kevin starts the story. He then adds gallantly, and sweetly, like a schoolboy in the throes of an adolescent crush, “Well, she was not only beautiful but also very intelligent. She got the hardest question, the one asked by Senator Risa Hontiveros and she gave a great answer!”
Shirley smiles shyly but when we prod her to reveal the question, she says, “It was about the relationship of China and the Philippines, with the issues over the Spratlys. And I said, Let’s not add fuel to the fire, the International Court has already decided and let’s go with that and be gracious about our win.” Though Kevin is proud that he married a lovely lady, he also quickly reiterates, “Of course, when you’re Chinese Filipinos, there are things that you just understand when you grow up in the same way and with the same values. There are unspoken things that we don’t even have to explain to each other.” Shirley affirms, “We had the same values. Our parents exposed to working early, and I really couldn’t have dated anyone who was immature.”
But “mature” doesn’t mean he doesn’t like to kid around. “But ask us, ask us, who asked for the number first!” And it turns out that Kevin didn’t want to seem like the cliché ardent suitor and “entrapped” Shirley. “We were messaging each other on IG, and sometimes it would be hard, so he said, why don’t you add me on WhatsApp, so I had to be the one to message, what’s your mobile?” Kevin then ribs his wife some more, “And remember when we first held hands?” Shirley seems embarrassed but she gamely tells us the story, “We were watching a movie and he was constantly on his phone. So when I asked him to please put away his phone, he said, 'Only if you’ll hold my hand.'”
But there’s one story that Kevin is proud to tell himself. When it was time for him to ask Shirley to be his girlfriend, he chose February 20. And why? “Because it’s 2-2-0, T-O-T-O-O!” (FILIPINO WORD for TRUTH). As our Metro Society managing editor, Justin Convento, put it: I’ll never think of that date in the same way again.”
A different side of Paris
As favored clients of Louis Vuitton, Shirley and Kevin were invited to the unveiling of the spring- summer 2019-2020 men’s collection by Virgil Abloh, a private tour of the Foundation Louis Vuitton museum, the Vuitton ancestral home in Asnières outside Paris, which is also the home of the Vuitton workshop, a special party in Prague for the launch of the new fine jewelry collection, and special tour of the flagship store on the Place Vendome. For the show, Shirley teases Kevin that he enjoyed more than she does, even if she is the more avowed fashion lover of the two. “He was so excited to see Russel Westbrook and Lewis Hamilton!” His wife also styled him for the show. “It was really different because it was right on the street!” They were naturally thrilled to meet Virgil Abloh himself and to see brand ambassador Sophie Turner and her then fiancé and now husband, Joe Jonas. Shirley was extra happy to meet Francesca Amfitheatrof, who now designs the LV jewelry line.
“It’s a different feeling, you keep on telling yourself, wow, I’m really watching a Vuitton fashion show, but at the same time, it’s not too stiff,” Shirley says.
“Like, it’s so normal to just see celebrities all around you, and you’re also with them,” Kevin reveals.
At the Asnières ancestral home and workshop, they both got a deeper glimpse of the inner workings of the maison.
Shirley describes her insightful trip to the workshop. “People just accept that luxury bags are expensive, but when you see up close just how well they are made, when you see the materials that are used, that is when you realize, 'Oh that’s why they’re worth that much!' Then they brought us to this part of the home which had been bombed in World War II but the bomb didn’t detonate so it was really meant to be.”
“And I didn’t think that the craftsmen would be so young, they are really doing a good job of passing on their skills and special crafts,” Kevin observes. The couple also marveled that the home was maintained the way it was when the original Louis Vuitton family still lived there, which gave them a more immediate feeling of the family behind the brand.
Their day at the Frank Gehry-designed Fondation Louis Vuitton also opened their eyes to the mason’s deep commitment to art. “What I really loved about is was that it was right by a park, and so you can really appreciate the architecture. And from that park, you can see the best view of the Eiffel Tower.” The modernity of the museum and the long history of the house crystallized the seamless union of past and present. “You can really see how they both value the old and the new,” Shirley summarizes.
The jewel of the Charles River
After Paris, the whole team moved to Prague. They were billeted at The Four Seasons, which is a complex of several old castles that have all been renovated to form one hotel. The couple was also invited to a special party for the unveiling of the new collection of the Vuitton jewelry line now designed by Francesca Amfitheatrof. The party was in an ancient castle again, and yet the show was sleek and modern. “It was such a privilege,” Shirley, an avowed jewelry lover, says with a mix of glee and reverence.
Of their overall experience, Kevin says, “What really amazed me about Louis Vuitton was that they really took care of everything, they can anticipate your needs even before you think of it, and so you’re so relaxed, you feel so safe, they really made it all so easy.”
There’s no place like the Place Vendome
Of all the aspects of their trip, their special tour of the Peter Marino-designed flagship of the Maison Louis Vuitton on the Place Vendome really left its mark on the couple. “It will now be the peg of our future home,” Shirley declares. “We just loved everything about it! The high ceilings, the neutral colors, how they mixed the modern with the old, it really left its mark on us,” Kevin enthuses. He further adds that after the trip and experiences that he feels like the brand is for them, the young, rather than just for mature clients.
The Vuitton shop on the Place Vendome isn’t just deeply historical for the house but for Paris itself. The maison is actually two hotel particuliers, which were homes to aristocrats and nobles, and one emperor, Napoleon III. They were designed by the architect Jules Hardouin Mansart, the very same architect who designed Versailles. Peter Marino then “rescued” the building from some unfortunate renovations in the 1980s, and, with artisanal details and old-fashioned craftsmanship, he restored its 18th-century glory with 21st-century open layouts and lots and lots of natural light. And so it’s no wonder that a young couple in their 20s, who came from halfway around the world, fell head over heels for a shop that is ever mindful of past glories, but has its sights firmly on the future.
What first sparked your love for Louis Vuitton?
Shirley Wong: "When I was a little girl, I would always see my mom and her friends carrying Louis Vuitton bags. They always looked so fabulous and polished. I always wanted to have one because I wanted to be a 'big girl,' ready to take on the world. So when my mom gave me my first Vuitton bag with the classic monogram, that was the start of my love for bags and most especially for Vuitton.
Kevin Wong: "Its history and its being trendsetting."
Louis Vuitton is a heritage house. How does that heritage become a part of the Vuitton experience?
Shirley: "Louis Vuitton is a staple in the fashion world; always the trendsetter, to say the least, while remaining essential. Being able to witness the origins of the brand helped me understand and appreciate its value. Every piece has its own story and that makes every collection more than just a fashion statement."
What are the most sentimental pieces in your collection?
Shirley: "My outfit during my first LV fashion show that I attended. At first, I thought, it’s not so me, because it was printed and I mostly wear black or at least, I’m not so much into prints. But when I put it on, and then added the jacket, which added a bit of street cred since the show was right on the street, it made me feel so confident! And tall!"
Kevin: "For me, it’s my Poincon de Geneva Flying Tourbillon watch. I really love watches and when I saw how they made the complications, it really made me appreciate all the work that went into the watch."
How do you decide which pieces you will invest in?
Shirley: "I usually buy the classic styles and easy-to-pair colors that are proven to stand the test of time. Or something very rare that will increase in value over time."
How does Louis Vuitton help with your style evolution?
Shirley: "Simplicity is the new black. I’m all about elegance and comfort. I also like that Vuitton is so detail-oriented and I saw that on our trip."
Strong and beautiful women are associated with Vuitton, such as Lea Seydoux, Emma Stone, Alicia Vikander, and Sophie Turner. Do you relate with these women and how so?
Shirley: "Yes, because Louis Vuitton is part of my lifestyle. From getting ready, to going to work or traveling. Like these women, I feel empowered whenever I am wearing or carrying the brand."
Do you have a motto or life philosophy that guides you?
Shirley: "The lows keep you grounded, the highs keep you motivated. I feel that staying optimistic is a form of sophistication."
Kevin: "On my phone, I saved an inspirational quote: If your dreams don’t scare you, dream more."
This article was originally published in Metro Society vol. 16, no. 6.
Photographs by Chuck Reyes, Thomas Cesalek, and Raul Manzano