‘Bling Empire: New York’ Blake Abbie: Accidental reality star

It’s one of the most poignant and unexpected scenes on screen – any screen — in this still young year.

Meeting her mother for dim sum in a season one episode of « Bling Empire: New York » (trending globally on Netflix), Blake Abbie cautiously broaches the subject of her family burdens; the burden of cultural expectations, especially when it comes to having a child of his own.

A Canadian who lives in Manhattan – a mixture of Chinese and Scots, and who identifies as “queer” – confides to him that he is not sure what his future will look like. Meaning: it is not safe to end up with « a man, a woman, someone who is transgender or non-binary ». And that he doesn’t know when, or how, he will one day bring a baby into the world.

Preparing for a “Joy Luck Club” style stalemate or an outburst of Asian chill, viewers instead watch as her mother gracefully flips the script. “The baby will have eyes, a nose, a mouth… right? she asks after a while.

Adding that the most important thing is for a baby to be healthy, June, in her working English, says: “Don’t feel pressure or stress with whoever you’re dating. It’s perfect. Be happy. »

And … stage.

« It was so scary shooting that, » Abbie said when I called her this week for a debrief. Talking to me on the phone while walking the streets of New York — the sirens of the Lower East Side sometimes giving a sonic wallpaper to our convo — he said that was the hardest part because “Asian families…you don’t don’t really talk about feelings like that. »

And even though his mother, who is from Hangzhou and now lives in Vancouver, « never wondered who I love, never questioned anything », he spoke about it because « I I’m the eldest of my generation (out of all the cousins). And I’m a boy. And I was named after my great-grandfather, who was very important. So there are expectations…”

The response at the time of the series, however, surprised even him. Inundated with texts and DMs from well-wishers, he even heard from women who already have children, who wrote to say, « This is the kind of mother I want to be. »

It’s all part of the emotional ecosystem of « Bling Empire: New York » – a spin-off of the original Los Angeles-based « Bling Empire » – while indulging us in the lifestyle porn that is a signature of the franchise. Social meetings. Nightlife is ramping up. Exquisite pettiness. Cast member Nam Laks, whom they call « Thailand’s Blair Waldorf, » and who is so wealthy (and wonderfully absurd) that she seems perplexed by how a kettle works in one scene.

Blake in particular? Standing out as a very unrealistic contender – a former classical music and languages ​​student at the University of British Columbia (he studied singing and German) – he doesn’t give chase to influence or of thirst, like many of the inhabitants of this kind of shows. Instead, he presents himself as a kind of “cultural anthropologist”.

« When you’re around people who are – for lack of a better word – narcissistic, you can have a hard time catching a word on the edge. I definitely played more of the observer role,” he told me. he said, « I’m more insular by nature. I’m a Scorpio! »

After spending most of the pandemic in Vancouver, he came on the fallout radar thanks to fashion influencer Tina Leung, who was already listed. They’ve been friends for some time, having traveled in the same stylish circles (his day job is editor-in-chief of the edgy A Magazine Curated By, though he’s also had a role in the scripted series in China 2018 Continental « Meteor Garden ». ”). Blake didn’t think he was right about reality TV, but went along with it because…if nothing else, he thought he could pull a story out of the experience of trying. After all: “I am not American. I am Métis. I am not from a family of billionaires.


From the start, he was intrigued by the idea that this version of « Bling Empire » was meant to be a little grittier, a little more real. And that New York itself would be a character in it, with the show’s hook being that Dorothy Wang – a familiar Beverly Hills heiress – had recently moved to the city.

What a Blake What is give in the show are looks. With her alpine cheekbones, Keanu-esque vibe, and long, wavy locks that scream « Easy, airy, » her lanky, supple style is a cross between wood nymph and model Haider Ackermann. A typical look for him, he says, is a hand-knit Partow sweater (he’s an Iranian-American designer) paired with Maison Margiela jeans (he wears them all the time) and a pair of Salomon running shoes. (« like a good guy from BC! »). Phillip Lim and Thom Browne are other favorites. Just like other lesser known brands like Eckhaus Latta and Lu’u Dan. For his own Netflix premiere, he has since donned an Ouer suit and shirt (by two queer Chinese-Canadian designers).

His own fashionable awakening, he says, came through two key Canadian influences. “I grew up watching my mother watch Jeanne Beker on television (the former ‘Fashion Television’). And Tim Blanks (host of ‘Fashion File’). Agreeing with me that they were sort of the Reels and Instagram Live of their time, he loved how unfiltered and behind the scenes they were both.

« And it came out of Toronto, so wild! » He tries to bring that element into his own cover today, he says, combined with that unwavering outside perspective.

His MO in life and in reality TV. “Growing up as an Asian Canadian and growing up as an Asian American are two very different things,” he says, a perspective he hopes to bring to the show.

Asked, finally, what he misses the most in Vancouver, he mentions the level of Asian food there and also all the outdoor stuff (he’s a skier and hiker), but also… his ozone layer? “The thing that strikes me as soon as I get off the plane, to this day…the air in Vancouver is like no other air…you can’t explain it. Money can buy you many things, but it cannot buy you this. That is luxury.

Turns out the most real bling of all is fresh air.

Shinan Govani is a Toronto-based freelance columnist covering culture and society. Follow him on Twitter: @shinangovani


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