Having built five businesses across five countries, Carol Chen is the embodiment of female empowerment. In her, the Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge has found a sympatico paragon of the Goodwood marque’s most emblematic virtues
Launching with Wraith and Ghost in 2016, followed by Dawn in 2017, the Rolls-Royce Black Badge was the world’s most luxurious automobiles with performance characteristics heightened for a more dynamic drive. In 2019, the Black Badge family was finally completed with the introduction of Black Badge Cullinan: the most powerful statement of Black Badge yet.
Much like serial entrepreneur Carol Chen, the Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge is stately without being ostentatious, one of many defining traits which describe the recipient of this year’s Singapore Fashion Award. An exterior of regal serenity belies the wealth of power and potential hidden beneath its hood, an automotive allegory for Chen, a svelte Taiwanese-American who eventually made her corporate and creative home-base in Singapore.
“Infinite possibilities define who I am. You can literally stick me in the middle of nowhere and I will find a way to make things work, and find a way to succeed. I will find a way to create value where there was none before because that’s what makes life worthwhile for me. I do love seeing possibilities where they aren’t obvious and that’s part of the fun in life!”
Profiled on international media like Forbes and CNBC, the effervescent Chen was dubbed an “International Style Icon” by E! News. Having built five businesses across five countries: she recently pivoted from the highly successful Covetella (which incidentally dressed the 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians) to Maskela (a luxury mask enterprise as the pandemic worsened), Chen is passionate about empowering women and inspiring them to make full use of the opportunities life presents. Carol was also selected to represent Asia at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit with President Obama and named one of “Southeast Asia’s Top 5 Startups”, last October, LUXUO spent a day with Chen (and her “spirit animal” – a Rolls-Royce Cullinan Black Badge) to see just what values a woman of her stellar accomplishments is analogous to the world’s best specced SUV.
Jonathan Ho for Luxuo: You once identified yourself as “Chief Hustler” on your namecard, how did you decide on that title?
Carol Chen: [laughs] I felt like that it best described anything and everything that I did. As an entrepreneur, you have to do whatever it takes. It’s a frame of mind and an attitude. I gave myself that name because titles like Founder and CEO were generic.
You had four start-ups before Maskela, literally one in each city, why couldn’t you stay in one place?
It wasn’t that i couldn’t stay in one place. I simply followed opportunity. I’ve moved all over the world and to five different countries, most of the time, I was just following my heart. I never set out to build a particular business but every business was a result of chance opportunity that I was just ready to take on. They say that success is where opportunity meets preparedness and fortunately, I was in the right place at the right time and made the most of it.
Pierce Brosnan once said that he would have been more successful if he wasn’t such a pretty boy. Now, you’ve won a few beauty titles in the US, what do you feel gave you the drive to become an entrepreneur?
My drive really comes from my parents. As Taiwanese immigrants to the US, they built a life for themselves from virtually nothing. They really gave me the motivation and encouragement to believe in myself and they made me feel I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. Watching them go through their struggles and eventually succeed, gave me the same drive to be like them and become an entrepreneur myself. Having their love and support through all my endeavours has really kept me going.
Being Asian yourself, you probably understand the conservative mindset of people not wanting to rent or share clothes hence not many would have come up with the idea for Covetella or pressed forward with it. Did you see something that regular people didn’t?
Covetella came about from solving my own needs to some extent. I had a closet full of evening gowns from being a beauty queen and from my pageants, and i didn’t know what to do with all of them. The concept was working really well in the US and there weren’t any couture rental companies in Singapore, so I thought why not bring it over here? After a few years of educating the market and building the brand, couture rental really took off and went mainstream. I feel really proud of having this legacy of a more sustainable way to dress and look glamourous.
Why Singapore instead of all the other cities you could have chosen to try?
I initially came to Singapore for love. I followed my ex-boyfriend here and I have absolutely no regrets because it is by far my favourite country in the world. It has given me so many opportunities that even though that relationship didn’t work out, I felt that my life really took off in Singapore. Over the last 6 years, I feel like I’ve been able to achieve so much in this country and that this country has given so much to me; and in the end, I really found love, so I guess it all worked out. [laughs]
You’ve pivoted from Covetella to Maskela, tell us how that happened.
When Covid happened, Covetella stopped being useful in the market because there were no longer any events to go to. I really came up with the idea for Maskela because I was wearing a surgical mask before masks were required and people were literally telling me that I looked scary in one. I decided I wanted a mask that looked fabulous instead of scary so that’s how I struck upon the idea of Maskela. People love it! Just because we’re in a pandemic, doesn’t mean that people stop wanting to look good! I feel like I’ve proved that you can be safe, while being stylish.
- The Architecture of Luxury has been engineered to meet size and weight requirements of different propulsion systems. When the driver presses the ‘Low’ button situated on the gear selection stalk, they unlock Black Badge Cullinan’s full suite of technologies. This is asserted by the proud amplification of the motor car’s 6.75-litre twin-turbocharged V12 through an entirely new exhaust system, announcing its arrival with a deep, authoritative basso profundo.
- Key to the visceral thrill of Black Badge Cullinan is the Architecture of Luxury, Rolls-Royce’s proprietary all-aluminium architecture that debuted with Phantom. The sub-structure not only delivers extraordinary body stiffness but its flexibility and scalability allowed Cullinan to be fitted with all-wheel drive and four-wheel steering in its silver badged guise. These dynamic features have been comprehensively exploited and re-engineered for Black Badge while retaining the peerless quality of ride that has driven Rolls-Royce’s success.
- A final touch completes the interior seating: the Infinity lemniscate motif is embroidered into the fold-down rear arm-rest as an elegant reminder of the power contained within. This simple but potent symbol is also incorporated in the illuminated treadplates and engraved on the brushed and darkened steel clock case. Red-tipped clock hands and instrument display needles also serve as a discreet reminder of the motor car’s dynamic prowess.
- Starlight Headliner, visible here through the rear window, has joined historical Rolls-Royce iconography such as the Spirit of Ecstasy, Pantheon Grille and ‘Double R’ monogram. Its presence in Black Badge Cullinan intensifies the cabin’s ambience by casting a low light over the lavish leather seats. Presented in fine Black leather, handwoven with 1344 fibre optic lights, it is a true reflection of the sky at night and incorporates eight brilliant white shooting stars that dart at random predominantly over the front occupants, subtly acknowledging the motor car’s owner-driver appeal.
- This ethos is perfectly embodied by Black Badge Cullinan’s Technical Carbon veneer. In the spirit of Sir Henry Royce’s founding philosophy, “When it does not exist, design it”, a collaboration between the marque’s designers, engineers and craftspeople saw the creation of a new luxury material. Inspired by masterpieces of urban architecture, a naked-weave carbon-fibre finish has been developed to create highly accurate repeating geometrical shapes that produce a powerful three-dimensional effect.
Of all the start-ups you’ve run, which do you feel has been the most challenging?
Wow. [Laughs] Every start-up I’ve run has had their own challenges in different ways. They’ve all been in new cities and countries but I have to say that building a factory in China was probably one of the most challenging personally and professionally. I was so outside of my comfort zone, living with people who didn’t speak any English and lived a totally different life. We worked really long hours and I felt like I was on a different planet but that experience built a lot of character and I’m really grateful for it.
How do you define success?
I was asked that in a beauty pageant once [laughs] and my father really loved my answer – “Success is not a destination. It is a journey.” I think along the way, if you really try your best and you overcome your obstacles, you really prove to yourself that you can do anything that you put your mind to, I think that’s what really makes you successful.
What do you feel were some of the most important decisions that led you to your milestones?
I think some of the most important decisions have been to follow my heart. I’ve followed three guys across the world because I’ve always found it’s easier to make money than to fall in love, so when given the chance, I felt like those were the right decisions. Though obviously not all of them worked out, I still feel those were the right decisions at the time. Life is so much more than just career. It’s about living it to the fullest, having amazing friends and living with the love of your life.
You’ve appeared in many publications, have any of them texted you to say that they regretted it?
My exes? [Laughs] No! I don’t think any of them regretted that we broke up, some things are just not meant to be. It was an opportunity for both parties and I’m very happy for all of them and I hope they are for me as well.
Well they say looking fabulous is the best revenge. What inspires you the most? What drives you the most?
What drives me the most are all of my blessings. In the game of life, you get be dealt five aces when there should only be four. I feel like I hit the jackpot with family, friends, health, love and plain opportunity. Being blessed with so much really makes me feel that I need to make use of all that has been given to me, to make the world a better place. I do feel like I have an opportunity to make an impact on this world, while I can, with whatever I have.
In terms of creativity and possibility, the average person will always have a lot of doubts, do you suffer any fear or anxiety?
Oh yes, all the time. I always feel like I have imposter syndrome. I’m not sure that ever goes away for some entrepreneurs. There will always be moments of self-doubt, which is why I feel it’s important to surround yourself with people who love and believe in you so that when you’re in those moments, they can remind you that you can do it.
Most people will have a benchmark that lets them know when they can take a break and rest on their laurels for a bit. Do you have one?
[Laughs] I definitely want to take a short break! Perhaps a week or two just to catch up on some sleep, but I don’t think I could ever take a long break because I love working. I love making a difference, I love creating value for whoever I can. That’s what really drives both me and my fiance, that’s really what makes us a perfect fit. It’s no longer about work-life balance but work-life integration for us. I love what I do and quite frankly, that’s why I’m an entrepreneur, so I can build my life around my business and vice versa. I don’t need a break from making an impact or making a difference because it’s what I enjoy.