Hot on the heels of Tiger King, Below Deck, Love Island and Selling Sunset comes a brand-new reality TV obsession: Bling Empire. It’s an eight-part series from Netflix, based on the lives of a group of extremely wealthy Asian and Asian-American residents of Los Angeles. Described as a real-life version of the hit romcom Crazy Rich Asians (2018), the show is full of top-end Botox, custom couture and jewellery so expensive it requires security staff.
Expect tiaras and tantrums between Anna Shay, who is an heiress to an estimated billion-dollar fortune, and fiery socialite Christine Chiu. There are fights and fallouts thanks to independent entrepreneur Kelly Mi Li and her partner Andrew Gray (an actor known for playing the role of the ‘red Power Ranger’). There’s parental bereavement for former pop star and Japanese denim-empire heiress Cherie Chan. Representing the ‘ordinary guy’ is down-to-earth (ie. not a millionaire) model Kevin Taejin Kreider, while the show’s centrepiece is Kane Lim, whose family own luxury shopping malls in Singapore and Thailand.
Whether popping to Paris on a private jet or closing Rodeo Drive for a private Chinese New Year party—all while draped in eye-wateringly expensive haute jewellery—Bling Empire provides a glimpse into the lives of one of California’s most affluent communities. Brimming with witty one-liners—“Come and eat, or pretend to,” quips Christine and “Just go shopping, that’s the best therapy,” shrugs Kane—frugal, these folk aren’t.
Here, Vogue shares the over-the-top moments of Bling Empire, the new series you don’t want to miss.
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There’s bling, bling and more bling...
From the first scene, the show is awash with multimillion dollar houses, top-of-the-range sports cars and high-end couture. These women—and men—are dripping in Louis Vuitton, Dior, Chanel, Versace, Balmain and Hermès. Any social gathering is cause for the friends to don the latest tulle-swathed gowns or intricate headwear (keep an eye out for Cherie’s particularly distinctive collection).
After an explosive argument about a penis pump (seriously), Christine not-so-subtly points out that her “$100,000” couture gown has been soiled. Anna does yoga in diamonds, Kane’s Louboutin collection takes up an entire wall, while Jaime Xie (daughter of a Silicon Valley mogul) favours Isabel Marant and Bottega Veneta. Apart from Kevin, you’ll never see someone wear an item of clothing that could be bought on the high street.
It’s not just clothes—caviar is as common as ketchup, while a casual dinner party sees the friends deciding to open a bottle of 1982 Rothschild red wine, which is somewhere, says Christine’s husband Gabriel (a plastic surgeon and a direct descendent of the Song dynasty) “between $5,000 and $10,000.”
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...And fights, fights and more fights
With money comes tension, and the showdowns centre around couture-collecting mother-of-one Christine and the scene-stealing Anna, who is the daughter of late billionaire engineer Edward Shay. Their feud stems over who is the real ‘queen’ of Beverly Hills and who can spend the most money. Determined to upstage Anna at all times, Christine has the best lines: “I was once seated to the left of Prince Philip,” and “We go to Dolce & Gabbana Alta Moda and then we take the boat around the coast.”
When Christine tries to lord her pink sapphire Louis Vuitton necklace over Anna at the latter’s dinner party, she swiftly changes the seating plan, moving Christine and her husband to the less desirable end of the table. What ensues is a season full of awkward confrontations and thinly veiled jibes.
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Life is one big party
Want to throw a lavish Chinese New Year party? Try shutting down Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive, like Christine and Gabriel. The jaw-dropping blow-out, for 130 guests, was a feast for the eyes—from an eight-course dinner to an Olympic ribbon gymnast, each guest was gifted sponsorship of an orphaned child in China, for a year. In a later episode, Christine coyly admits that a further donation to charity in honour of her son Baby G’s first birthday cost “half a season of couture.”
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There’s spiritual excess, too
It’s not all clothes and cars, though—Bling Empire reveals some more meaningful moments. Notable scenes include Cherie trying to talk to her recently deceased mother via a medium who insists that she’s been reincarnated as her newborn son.
Kevin, who was adopted from South Korea by an American couple as a child, goes to a hypnotherapist to salvage memories he may have of his birth parents. And Kane dispenses with Versace to tap into Buddhism, realising that there is more to life than handbags, backstabbing and bling.
There are also lighter moments. After a ‘cleansing’ with a shaman on the beach, the shaman tells Jaime she can’t trust her own judgement. She replies: “That happened today. You know the Bottega Veneta pouch bag? I couldn’t decide on the colour I wanted.” She already owns three.
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The penis pump episode
We don’t want to give too much away, but in episode three, the notoriously reclusive Anna invites friends over to her home and what begins with a ‘mouth massage’ (popular among Los Angeles’ wealthy) ends up with an unexpected revelation involving the host and a penis pump.
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From lovers’ quarrels to family feuds, there’s drama for everyone
Amid the parties and personal masseuses on tap, there are solid friendships at the core of the show—even if you have to scratch the Chanel-clad surface to find them. Kane’s bond with Kevin, especially during his attempt to reconnect with his South Korean lineage, is heartwarming. Kane also supports Cherie, who is grieving the loss of her mother. And even tough-talking Christine shows a softer side over her fertility problems.
Ultimately, Bling Empire shows that despite the jewels and the jets, these are human beings with problems, just like the rest of us. And while they may be able to buy their way out of most situations, expect to be slowly won over by the humour, charm and (occasional) kindness of the cast.
Bling Empire is streaming on Netflix now.