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Posted by: Frederik Balfour on November 25, 2007
Until now, I could safely say that Paris Hilton and I have never shared much in common. So it came as something of a surprise to me to be invited to a private dinner for her hosted by MTV China in Shanghai, not the first place you would have expected to find Ms. Hilton at Thanksgiving. Indeed, this was no traditional holiday feast. Hilton was in Shanghai as a guest of MTV China, where she was followed and filmed doing what just about every first time tourist to the city does—visiting Yu Yuan Gardens, Xintiandi, and loading up on dresses from luxury retailer Shanghai Tang.
Raphael le Manse de Chermont, Shanghai Tang’s executive chairman, was delighted that the hotel heiress had visited the store. I know this for a fact, because he showed me a news item about it which one of his staff had forwarded to his Blackberry. And I can also tell you that he was not the only one of us 40 or so guests checking his emails that evening.
We had plenty of time to kill while waiting for Ms. Hilton to show up to the private dinner MTV had hosted for her. And when she finally showed up two and half hours late from her disco nap [sporting a dress by local designer Lu Kun], the rest of us had tucked into our tuna tartar and scallops. There was no turkey, no stuffing, no pumpkin pie at this dinner, which made sense, as Americans were definitely in the minority. Apart from Hilton, her bodyguard, and publicist there were few other Americans at the meal.
No doubt some of you are wondering what a BusinessWeek reporter was doing at this dinner in the first place. True, Paris has managed use her checkered history to her advantage, having turned being famous for being famous into a sizeable business empire that includes her own perfume, millions of dollars in endorsements, a record, a part in a movie, nightclubs and royalties from her reality TV show. [I’m a bit fuzzy on this one, but I’m confident there are thousands of bloggers out there who can correct me if I’m wrong.]
Another guest at the party, Yue-Sai Kan was full of praise for Paris’s business savvy. And she should know. Yue-Sai is a major Chinese celebrity in her own right, making her name as the host of a national TV program called “One World” launched in 1985, where she introduced her audience to things American. She used her popularity to launch the eponymous Yue-Sai cosmetics brand, which she eventually sold to L’Oreal.
[I have very personal reasons for respecting what Yue-Sai has to say. I met her for the first time in 2005, at an Armani fashion show in Shanghai, and had told me to look her up the next time I was in New York. I was there to undergo surgery on my mitral valve last year. Upon hearing this, Yue-Sai insisted on putting me up in her town house on Sutton Square while I was convalescing—an extraordinary gesture of generosity from someone I’d met only once.]
But as I started to explain, it was not because of Paris that I was invited to the dinner by MTV’s Li Yifei. Rather, it was because it would be a great way for me to improve my Chinese guanxi, a topic I’d written on a week before and had interviewed Li about. And make no mistake, it was a great place to network. The collected net worth of the guests was well north of a billion dollars and I did come away with a good collection of business cards from netpreneurs like Netease founder William Ding Lei, Chinese VCs and media executives.
I did not however, exchange cards with Paris, though we did speak about false eyelashes, one of the few topics I felt I could draw her out on. She was intrigued to learn that the very best ones are made from mink fur but seemed very concerned to know whether they had to kill the animals in order to harvest their hair. She prefers the $10 a pair disposable version, which she, or I should say, her stylist, only applies once to her lids. I guess maybe all those camera flashes can cause lash fatigue.
Speaking of fatigue, Paris said it’s pretty tough work being Paris, but someone’s got to do it. The next night at the MTV Style Awards, she was certainly put through her paces. Three separate appearances on stage, requiring her to don three different dresses. No wonder she got a little flustered and told the Shanghai crowd how happy she was to be in Beijing.
I never got a chance to catch up with Paris again to hear about her overall impressions of her visit. But if she happens to be reading this blog, I’ll pass along the gist of a conversation I had with executives from the two major corporate sponsors of the evening. After she leaves, they’d love to see her say [and have the media report] how much she’d like to thank their companies along with MTV and Shanghai Media Group, for the swell time she had in Shanghai.
P.S. Paris, in case you don’t remember, the brands they represent are Jack Daniels and Huiyuan Juice.
P.P.S. Readers, in case you were wondering, the party girl only drank Evian at dinner, and then some Diet Coke.
BusinessWeek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies. Eye on Asia’s bloggers include Asia regional editor Bruce Einhorn, Tokyo reporter Ian Rowley, Korea bureau chief Moon Ihlwan, Asia News Editor and China Bureau Chief. Dexter Roberts, and Hong Kong-based Asia correspondent Frederik Balfour.