Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Yue-Sai Kan

New Yorker Yue-Sai Kan is the most famous woman in China — famous to a billion people — as a television personality, and as the woman who has introduced cosmetics to the Chinese women. Even her haircut is famous: Chinese women will go to the hairdresser and ask for a “Yue-Sai.” She is the modern Asian woman. She is the modern American woman. She is the modern businesswoman.

Over the past twenty-five years, Yue-Sai has been a force for change of a lot of things for the Chinese people. An American citizen who came here as a very young woman in the early 70s from Hong Kong via Hawaii, she has “opened up the world” to the mainland Chinese, including opening up New York and America to Asia.

Born in Shanghai, daughter of the famous Chinese painter Wing-Lin Kan, she was brought up in Hong Kong. As a young woman, an aspiring concert pianist, she migrated to Hawaii and eventually came to New York on a vacation to visit a schoolmate. Her first weekend she went to a concert of the Boston Symphony, conducted by Leonard Bernstein at Lincoln Center. Afterwards she was taken to the Green Room to meet the great conductor. Amazed and excited, she decided then and there that New York was where she wanted to be.

She got a job as an assistant to a casting agent in an advertising agency. From there she went to work for a public relations man whose clientele included movie stars such as Bette Davis and Cary Grant. From there she got into cable television, which was still very new to the viewing public. The show was called “Looking East.” She was amazed at the response. The show ran for twelve years – the last two on the Discovery Channel.

In 1984, PBS invited her to host a live broadcast from China of the 35th Anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. It was so successful that the Chinese Government asked her if she’d do a television show in China. Which she did. "One World." That show made her the household name in China and single-handedly introduced the American (Western) culture to the Chinese people as well as opening up to the whole world to the complexity and variations of the Asian culture.

In the early 1990s, Yue-Sai was invited by the Chinese to become involved in business in China. The business she chose was cosmetics. China up to that point in its modern development was, in her words “the world of no color.” “The drabness had to go,” thought Yue-Sai; “Chinese women should look good, feel good about themselves.” Before that, Chinese women did not wear makeup. Yue-Sai has changed all that. Today they do.

The cosmetics line was introduced in 1996 in three department stores. Today, it is in more than 900 stores all over China and there are two different price lines – the luxury and the everyday.

Yue-Sai Wa Wa (little doll)
She thinks of herself as more of a media person than a businesswoman, since that was how she made her reputation (and her living). However, her business life continues to expand. She’s written three best-selling books including Etiquette for the Modern Chinese. This is not, she pointed out, just a book about the right fork to use, but instead, to introduce to the reader the social habits, customs, manners of dress, and business, etc. of the Western and American culture.

A few years ago, the young daughter of a friend asked Yue-Sai to bring her back a doll from China. She was surprised to discover that she couldn’t find a China doll. There were none. All she found were the blonde, blue-eyed American dolls. In October 1999 Yue-Sai introduced the Yue-Sai Wa Wa (little doll). Her retail partners are worldwide: QVC, FAO Schwarz, Toys R Us, kb Toys, and Harrod’s of London. Her first hour on QVC, they sold out.

Yue-Sai Kan has led a charmed life since the beginning of her New York experience. From her first day here, she has found “this great city of the world” exciting, acknowledging that all the great things in her life have come as a result of her coming to New York. Today she lives in a beautiful townhouse near the East River where she often entertains. She’s a frequent presence at charity galas and at the smart restaurants. She has a very friendly, outgoing personality with an easy smile and is always ready to laugh.