LOS ANGELES ARTS PATRON EVA CHOW ON HOW THE LACMA ART+FILM GALA BECAME ONE OF THE MOST SOUGHT-AFTER PLATES IN THE CITY
"Like every organization or like any good anything, one needs some kind of a leader."
Eva Chow is looking down at me with a serious expression—not a particularly happy one, truth-be-told, which is a little strange seeing as she’s wearing a wedding dress. I’m gazing up at her portrait, a quite striking work by Julian Schnabel that sees her painted onto a golden yellow background. The work sits above an ornate stone fireplace, mirrored at the opposite end of the vast central room of her Beverly Hills home by another fireplace, above which hangs a portrait of her husband Michael Chow by Jean-Michel Basquiat—the two Chows facing each other in a tangible, albeit somewhat daunting harmony of paint, stature, and color.
The room is cavernous and sparse but undoubtedly elegant. Cream walls are interdicted by two stories of stone arches and columns, all beneath an incredibly high timber-beamed ceiling. I can hear the photo team wrapping up the shoot in one of the numerous large rooms running off this central hall, and am led into a corner sitting room—homely despite its gold-clad walls and enviable assortment of art deco and Ming dynasty furniture. “The best part of a photo shoot is when it ends.” Chow observes without rancour as she makes herself comfortable in the settee across from me. She’s relaxed into a black Givenchy t-shirt full of holes, simple black leggings, and long, rectangular, emerald drop earrings.
Chow has had a storied career: trained by master watercolor artists in her native Korea at the age of 11, she moved to Los Angeles as a teenager in 1974, became an assistant to legendary film producer Dino De Laurentiis, then became a highly successful fashion designer, with her clothes appearing in Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, and on the cover of Vanity Fair. Since meeting her husband, the acclaimed restaurateur and artist best know as “Mr. Chow,” she has become one of the most important people operating in the Los Angeles cultural space, and since spearheading the LACMA Art+Film Gala—now in its sixth year—has driven a convergence of fine art, film, and celebrity that finds few rivals anywhere.
Remarkably, when Chow joined the board of LACMA the museum didn’t even have a film department. “It was closed due to lack of funding,” she explains, “but LACMA is an encyclopaedic museum and we’re in Hollywood—the center of the world for film—so that was a very important issue. Michael Govan [Director of LACMA] said, ‘why don’t we do something to highlight the film department and maybe do some kind of a fundraiser?’ So I went to meet with Leo [DiCaprio], because we needed someone who would really represent Hollywood, and that’s how we started.”
In a city known for its accomplished social operators, Chow is notable for drawing together a truly glittering crowd for each event. At the 2013 gala she was described by the New York Times in a profile as “working the room like a piranha in a goldfish bowl.” I ask her what the main skill is in mastering a room and bringing different people together: “Well, you know I wouldn’t call myself a master,” Chow says with a smile that suggests she might have anticipated the question, “but I love people and I always loved creative people and they love me back I guess. I always believed that everything is accumulative and my friendships are for a long time—I support them and they support me in a lot of ways, so I guess there’s no skill to it—it’s just that one needs to invest in personal relationships and if I’m good at it, it’s maybe because of that.”
Miranda Carroll, the Director of Communications at LACMA, credits Chow with a far more decisive role than merely being the social pivot: “She has the creative vision for how the gala looks at each event.”
“I do A to Z.” Chow acknowledges, “I have some amazing people that help—the Gucci teams, they’re amazing. Not only are they our partner and sponsor, they come with a lot of great people, but like every organization or like any good anything, one needs some kind of a leader. So in that sense I guess I do try to put my idea and vision, and set the tone for how the evening is going to go. It’s a collaboration—nobody can do anything by themselves.”
While Chow is helping to add wheels to the wagon, she is riding it too, and is keenly aware of the cultural sweet-spot that her home city has found itself in: “As beautiful and elegant as Paris is, Los Angeles has a growing and pioneering energy. It’s almost like a Western movie when all the gun fighters come to the west coast. It’s almost like that, but it’s a creative kind of thing. You know, the ‘50s were perhaps Italy, and the ‘60s were London, and ‘80s were New York, and I feel now, Los Angeles is having its real moment.”
Stylist: Kelly Brown.
Hair & Makeup: Ricardo Ferrise for Opus Beauty using Kevin Murphy and Chanel Rouge.
Written by Gus Donohoo
Photographed by Abigail Briley bean