Fashion stylist Olivia Croucher Buckingham’s love affair with Hong Kong began with a man she never met, writes Madeleine Ross
Olivia croucher Buckingham teeters on 10-inch Charlotte Olympia stilts on the corner of Ice House Street and Queen’s Road Central, hankering for the pedestrian light to change so she can cross. It’s 34 degrees Celsius and brow-moppingly sultry as traffic surges down Hong Kong Island’s key artery. Today, however, the commotion in the city’s dealmaking district is heightened by the presence of Justin Bieber. The pop idol has just checked in to the Landmark Mandarin Oriental opposite us, so the hotel’s porte cochère is flanked by paparazzi and teenage girls.
Such mayhem is the backdrop for our shoot with the ever-stylish Croucher Buckingham, who has gallantly agreed to brave the heat, gridlock and pubescent squeals so that we can capture her outdoors and in action. When she’s not sporting her black-tie best at the city’s swankiest soirees, this ebullient gal-about-town is racing around Central in jeans and sneakers, collecting and depositing clothing samples at the top fashion houses.
“When the light changes, walk towards me and look at my lens,” orders Hong Kong Tatler’s flame-haired celebrity photographer, Crazy Rouge, who is crouched on the other side of the road, poised to capture the platinum blonde. Croucher Buckingham and Crazy Rouge are pals outside work and spend most of today’s downtime arm in arm. Finally, the green light flashes and the two have 30 seconds to get the perfect shot.
Thankfully, Croucher Buckingham is au fait with all things photographic and half a minute is plenty of time to work her best angles. After boarding at Heathfield School in Ascot, England, the Hong Kong native studied photography at the London School of Fine Arts. “Those skills help me in my current job as a fashion stylist because I understand what a photographer wants and I can see different perspectives,” she says in her energetic, husky British accent. Her first solo exhibition took place at China Tang in London and featured evocative photographs of her hometown. “At that time almost none of my English friends had ever been here—i wanted to show them my Hong Kong.”
Croucher Buckingham is a fourthgeneration Hongkonger. Her maternal greatgrandfather, Noel Croucher, immigrated to the colony at the turn of the century and co-founded the Hong Kong stock exchange. A vibrant eccentric from humble beginnings, Croucher left an indelible mark on the city’s business community and forged a legacy as a philanthropist, leaving his vast fortune in the name of scientific research. In 1979, a year before his death, he established the Croucher Foundation, which strives to improve the standard of scientific and medical research in Hong Kong by providing scholarships and fellowships to promising minds. “My greatgrandfather was instrumental in both my and my mother’s love affair with Hong Kong,” says Croucher Buckingham. “I sadly never had the honour of meeting him. But his spirit most certainly remains in this city and no words can describe how immensely proud I am to be his great-granddaughter.”
After dabbling in public relations, events and photography in London, Croucher Buckingham returned to Hong Kong and began a career in fashion. It all started at Hong Kong Tatler, where she assisted our style editor at the time, Arne Eggers. “That opened my eyes to the world of fashion,” she says. “Nothing had grabbed me until then, but I found my feet and all of a sudden the puzzle was put together. I could work with photographers, having studied as a photographer, but instead of being behind the lens, I gathered the samples, made the looks and advised on trends.” Now her focus is personal styling for private clients, which includes putting together outfits for time-deprived Hongkongers in high society—whose identities she prefers to keep confidential.
Far from anonymous herself, Croucher Buckingham is at home in the spotlight. Her circle of friends is peppered with home-grown and international It girls, including Victoria Tang, Tina Leung, Feiping Chang, Antonia Li and the superstar Delevingne sisters.
“The Delevingnes are close family friends of ours. Chloe, Poppy and I were all at primary school together at Garden House,” she says nonchalantly. “I’m a few years older, but age became less of a factor as we grew up and soon we were part of a little London gang.”
Croucher Buckingham was one of Poppy’s bridesmaids at her wedding in Morocco last year; she wore a white lace frock by one of her favourite British designers, Alessandra Rich. Another current favourite is Australian brand Ellery, which, like Croucher Buckingham herself, “loves a monochrome palette. They just make simple more interesting, with flared sleeves, deep necklines and flouncy details,” she says as she gestures excitedly. She’s also a “huge supporter” of Burberry Prorsum, which she wears for our interview. “I don’t follow trends,” she says. “I take a part of a trend and make it work for me, whether it’s a belt, a scarf, a shoe—but I almost never do a headto-toe look.”
Croucher Buckingham is part of a generation of glamorous young Hongkongers who are building powerful personal brands through social media. Like Feiping Chang, Alison Chan and Elly Lam, whose lavish lifestyles have earned them thousands of Instagram followers, she’s an avid poster of selfies. Although she embraces social media, she’s also uneasy about its longterm effects. “Social media is taking over the fashion industry. So much advertising comes in the form of Instagram now,” she says. “I think it’s fine if a brand gives you an outfit with the stipulation that you have to Instagram it in return, but I do think it’s scary that the platform has become so powerful in a promotional sense. It’s definitely interfering—i just don’t know yet if it’s good or bad. Perhaps it’s both.”
Croucher Buckingham lives a few blocks away from her mother—and her mentor. “Mummy has always been interested in fashion. When she was living here in the ’80s, her wardrobe was full of brands like
Emanuel Ungaro and Yves Saint Laurent. Thank goodness she had a girl and I could inherit all these fabulous vintage pieces!” The bond between the two has always been strong because Olivia is an only child. “The first year of boarding school was frightful,” she throws off, disarmingly, in her distinctly British way. “The idea of letting Mummy go at 11 years old was… Oh my gosh, shock, horror!”
Now, Croucher Buckingham has plans to bid her mother farewell once again. She wants to spend more time in London, so that she’s on the ground for Fashion Week there and close to those in Paris and Milan. And what about love? Will she have to leave behind a dashing beau? “Well, love is certainly not happening for me here!” She cries comically, the pitch of her resonant, raspy voice soaring to a chirp. “I think there is more interest for me in London but”—she pauses coyly—“i can’t confirm anything on that front.”
Croucher Buckingham has to run—she has an appointment with Calvin Klein to sort out her outfit for the Vip-only Justin Bieber private concert in the evening. Before she does, I ask her if she lives by any particular motto. “Take each day as it comes,” she says coolly. “Anything could happen.”
“THE FIRST YEAR OF BOARDING SCHOOL WAS FRIGHTFUL. THE IDEA OF LETTING MUMMY GO AT 11 YEARS OLD WAS... OH MY GOSH, SHOCK, HORROR!”
white out Croucher Buckingham (far left) as a bridesmaid at Poppy Delevingne’s wedding
Noel Croucher left his vast fortune to medical research through the Croucher Foundation