L.A.’s culture queen opens her doors
On first impression, Eva and Michael Chow’s art deco-decorated home in Los Angeles appears forbiddingly formal. Weighty wooden front doors from a Spanish monastery open and lead to an enormous indoor courtyard, where the ceilings are 28 feet high and a large, regal portrait of Eva by Julian Schnabel in her Vivienne Westwood wedding gown stares across the expansive room at an equally large portrait of her restaurateur husband by Jean-Michel Basquiat. The room is empty, save for a black piano and bench and a half dozen Alberto Giacometti-inspired lamps, designed by Michael, set on tall, black pedestals. Eva explains that the lack of furniture allows it to be a space for living. “Let me show you,” she says as she pulls out her phone and presents a picture from her private Instagram account. It’s a shot of her and a few friends rolling around on the carpeted floor several days earlier, listening to music and being silly. “We really use our home,” she says, leading the way to the couple’s gold-leaf-covered living room, then taking a seat on an early 20th-century Pierre Chareau sofa.
The Chows are famed for their personal style (Eva favors black; today’s ensemble includes vintage Chanel flats and an Azzedine Alaïa skirt)—and their rarefied collections of art (huge works by the likes of Keith Haring and Ed Ruscha hang in the house) and design (they have one of the world’s great collections of furniture by deco master Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann). The Holmby Hills residence took seven years to construct (1998 to 2005). “We built the house around what we collected, what we had. So we would build a wall for this or that particular painting, that kind of thing,” says Eva. But while it may look like a temple to aesthetics, it doesn’t function as one. Throughout the house are giant, abstract, heavily textured paintings by Michael, who returned to his youthful passion of painting recently after spending decades building one of the most dynamic and long-lasting restaurant empires, Mr Chow (the Beverly Hills location opened back in 1974). There’s even a cart laden with bottles of paint and a splattered palette sitting in one hallway off the courtyard. “Michael is doing touch-ups on one of his paintings,” she explains.
The relaxed atmosphere stands in contrast to Eva’s profile as one of the most take-charge doyennes of Los Angeles society—an uber-connector and influencer across the worlds of Hollywood, art, food and fashion. As a trustee of LACMA, she’s the co-chair (along with Leonardo DiCaprio) of the hugely successful, Gucci-sponsored Art + Film Gala, which has raised millions to date for the museum and its film programs. A former fashion designer who closed her business, Eva Chun, in the mid-’90s after she married Michael and around the time they had their now-22-year-old daughter, model and musician Asia, Eva is also heavily involved in the restaurant business, helping to launch new locations recently in Mexico City and Las Vegas, and developing a Mr Chow wine and a chili sauce. The wine label, comprising a Cabernet and a Chardonnay, are made with the winemaker at Justin Vineyards in Paso Robles, owned by fellow LACMA trustee Lynda Resnick. She will next produce a Mr Chow Champagne in France (“I drink Champagne almost every day,” she says) and a Malbec in Argentina.
Eva moved to the United States at age 17 from her native South Korea and briefly worked in the film business before studying fashion design at L.A.’s Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design. Her style philosophy is to find designers she likes and remain loyal. “For me, good fashion is timeless. I try not to buy anything if I wouldn’t want to wear it in 20 years,” she says. “It’s got to be personal and it’s got to be forever.” In addition to Alaïa (“More than 50 percent of the time I’m in Azzedine”), she wears Hedi Slimane-era Saint Laurent (“I bought practically every collection when Hedi was there”), Givenchy and Gucci. She lingers over a sip of Champagne in the living room, which looks out at the pool and a separate structure that includes a subterranean screening room. “That’s pretty much it. The rest is Levi’s and sweatpants mostly,” she says.
While she proudly calls herself a collector, lately the word sits a bit funny with her. “These days, like the past 10 years, everybody is a collector—it’s like a job. I’ve never thought of it like that. To me, a collector is not someone who wants to buy for gain and sell the next week. That’s a businessperson. For me, it’s just a way of life,” says Eva, who is celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary with Michael this year but says they aren’t planning anything major. “We’re not really big event kind of people. I do my own celebrating when I feel happy. Every day I drink great wine. I look at beautiful paintings. I listen to music. What else are you going to do to celebrate?”
Photography by ADRIAN GAUT.
Written by DEGEN PENER.