After a tumultuous year in the spotlight, Vivian Lai is gunning for a fresh start in 2020 and is out to shut down her critics.
Silk blouse from Tory Burch. Wool pants, leather belt, and embroidered wool coat all from Etro. Leather boots from Tod’s. Korean Collective earrings from Net-A-Porter.
Vivian Lai is pondering life as she waits for her makeup artist to finish applying a slick of lipstick to her carefully made-up face. She then picks up her phone to quickly record an IG story for the benefit of her fans on Instagram. Her doe-like eyes crinkle at the corners when she smiles and she lets out a hearty laugh as she describes getting all dressed up for our January cover shoot.
It’s a different and more lighthearted side to the actress, one that has rarely been seen in recent months, as she navigates the pitfalls of her husband’s career troubles. Vivian’s husband, Alain Ong, was deputy group CEO of Pokka Corporation (Singapore) and CEO of Pokka International before he was removed in September 2018 following internal investigations. He no longer works for Pokka, and Vivian, too, has been dropped as the beverage maker’s ambassador.
Criticism is my motivation to do better
Keeping Her Chin Up
Since then, Vivian has taken to reflecting on her life’s path more, and is adamant that she remains in good spirits despite the swift backlash thrown her way when the story was made public last year.
“Criticisms are a natural thing. There are people who don’t like me, and that’s their opinion and they are entitled to it. I usually just brush it off and not think about it. To be honest, other people’s criticism is my motivation to do better,” shares the 43-year-old.
“It’s all about your mindset. Staying positive isn’t a problem for me at all. I’ve learnt that you just have to separate the important things from the not-so important things in life to do so.”
Dress from Chloe. Leather boots from Tod’s.
Family Comes First
And what exactly has been the most important to her throughout last year’s messy ordeal? It's no surprise that it’s Vivian's love for her family.
“My family is the single most important thing in my life. My family is what makes me a happy and cheerful person,” shares the mother to two girls, Vera, 13 and Ariel, nine. “Due to social media and the way society is today, my children do face a lot of negativity, and to protect them from that, I talk to them often and am always ready to share my advice with them.”
So protective is Vivian of her daughters that they were the very reason she decided to break her silence on her family’s troubles last August, even though her husband’s case was still pending in court.
“This news happened more than a year ago. Back then, I did not speak about it because (I wanted) it to be handled through the proper channels. So it was not convenient for me to say too much. Now, a year later… reporters have appeared outside my home, wanting to chase the story,” she revealed.
“It has affected the life of my family. I am not just by myself. I have a family. To (my kids), a home should be a warm place where they feel free. (They shouldn’t) feel scared (about) coming home. It might be a difficult time for us now. But no matter what, we will get through it.”
My family is the single most important thing in my life.
Rotate Birger Christensen ruched crinkled-jacquard mini dress from Net-A-Porter. Korean Collectives earrings from Net-A-Porter.
Holding Her Own
While she’s not big on making New Year’s resolutions, Vivian is looking for a fresh start in 2020 and she’s hoping her new bubble tea business, Teabrary, will give her that reboot. She currently has two outlets in Singapore, and others located in Cambodia, China and Taiwan.
“Every year, I look forward to a lot of things,” she confesses. “Sometimes, my dreams will come true and sometimes they won’t. I haven’t really acted in a while, so I hope I have the opportunity to take on another movie. But, the thing I’m looking forward to the most, is the growth of my new baby, Teabrary.
“I want Teabrary to be found all over the world so I’m in discussions to bring the brand to Europe. On my wish list right now is Paris, Milan and London! If I can achieve this, I’ll be happy. I’m truly enjoying being an entrepreneur but I’d like to make it clear that I’m not leaving the entertainment industry either. I’m a big believer that one needs to truly enjoy what he or she is doing to do it well, and right now, I love going to work every day.
“I’m a hard worker," she continues. “And whether in my career or in my personal life, I hope that people can see that I’m putting in the effort to improve this year.”
Paying It Forward
More than just putting her face to a brand and collecting a paycheck, Vivian not only wants to build a tea empire, she hopes to empower the farmers she collaborates with and to give back to this group of workers whom she deeply respects.
“I like drinking different types of tea, and two years ago I had the chance to meet with tea farmers in Taiwan. The one thing that struck me was that even though they were producing a good product, they didn’t know how to properly (promote) the tea and were losing out (in business) because of that,” explains Vivian.
“I can’t say that Teabrary is very successful yet because we’re still new, but at the stage we’re at now, I feel fortunate that I’m able to help improve the lives of the farmers I work with.”
A self-confessed tea lover, Vivian had sampled thousands of cups of bubble tea for the research and development of Teabrary’s menu. Here are her favourite Teabrary drinks:
1/ Taiwan No 12 Jin Xuan Tea: “This tea leaf is difficult to find. When you drink it, you get this buttery-smooth aftertaste.”
2/ Sicily Iced Lemon Coffee: “Even though we’re a tea studio, our coffee is fantastic. This is a mix of coffee and lemon juice which is very refreshing.”
3/ Shizuoka Matcha Latte: “Waa… I don’t have the words to share how special this drink is.”
4/ Teabrary Fresh Fruity: “All the fruits are imported fresh from Taiwan and vacuum packed so you don’t lose any flavour.”
5/ Artisanal Crafted Dessert Tea: “All the drinks in this series combine dessert flavours with tea so you get the best of both worlds.”
PHOTOS: JOEL LOW, ASSISTED BY ALFIE PAN
ART DIRECTION: BARBARA KOH
STYLING: NEO LI RONG, ASSISTED BY RIN LOW
HAIR: JENNY LEE/MONSOON NOVENA SQUARE, ASSISTED BY LEON LI/MINGU X MSTYLIST
MAKEUP: SUHUAN LI
LOCATION: THE ALKAFF MANSION