It was far more low key than the official premiere, a glitzy soirée hosted by Michael Kors at Tin Building by Jean‑Georges in Manhattan’s historic Seaport district. While she loves the excitement and glamour of parties and events—and the chance to dress up for them—Leung says it is intimate moments with close friends that nourish her soul and keep her grounded. “I’m so happy I get to live where I live with such great friends,” shares Leung, who takes any and every opportunity to shower her friends with love and praise.
It is that ride‑or‑die mentality that has taken Leung from a just‑for‑fun blogger to a full‑blown, international It girl. She has successfully created a life she loves, but styling and showing up looking good is not the end goal for Leung, who says she hopes to one day become a creative director for a brand, having essentially carved her career out in the dark. “I didn’t have anyone in fashion growing up to advise me on this,” she says. “You don’t have clear steps like a doctor or banker. You’re flying by the seat of your pants and creating your own future, your own path.” She takes none of what she has today for granted, including her friends.
Finding Power in Purpose
Her inner circle includes fashion designers Phillip Lim and Prabal Gurung. The three of them, along with Kim and Indonesian socialite Ezra J. William, created House of Slay, a collective that works to take on racism, hatred, bullying and fear of the “other”—specifically as expressed towards the AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) community. Launched in November 2021, it was their way of addressing the rise in anti‑Asian hate born of the Covid‑19 pandemic. “It’s awful that it took something bad to create something good,” says Leung, adding that she is still wary of walking too close to strangers, and recently had racial slurs hurled at her in New York, Paris and Milan. “It’s not something that’s completely gone. It’s still around.
“I try not to be negative online, on social media … but when an important cause needs attention, needs eyeballs or donations, I make sure to put it up. I have a sliver of influence and I want to use it as best as I can. I want to leave this world knowing that I helped, or made people feel good.”
In September 2022, less than a year after its launch, House of Slay—or the “Slaysians”, as the five call themselves—received the Positive Social Influence Award at the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) awards. “In what lifetime could I ever win a CFDA award?” says Leung with a level of shock and excitement in her voice that makes you think this had only happened yesterday. “When we were handed our awards, I said to Ezra, we really need to remember and appreciate this, because we’ll never win a CFDA award again. We’re not designers.”
Leung’s career in fashion began in 2010 when she was working as a stylist in Hong Kong and launched her fashion blog, Tina Loves. In 2012, Dior flew her to attend her first Paris Fashion Week. “I was hooked,” she recalls. “I knew from then on, I had to be at every fashion week; it was the most amazing thing ever. The fashion shows gave me so much inspiration and added juice to my tank to continue doing what I did.”
The Search for Self
Through her former blog and now Instagram, where she has over 500,000 followers, Leung has always been able to curate what the world sees of her. But Bling Empire: New York offers a glimpse into her surprisingly soft side: the goofy girl who leaves sing‑song voice notes for her friends; the insomniac who dances through the empty streets of New York City when she can’t sleep; and the brave survivor of abusive relationships.
It is this authenticity that has made Leung a favourite among Bling Empire: New York fans, who find her refreshingly relatable. Unlike the majority of Bling Empire alumni—from Los Angeles to New York—who come from generational wealth, Leung has been financially independent since her early twenties and has built her now high‑flying career in fashion from scratch.
That hard work and humility come through in her kindness towards cast and production members in the series as well as her lack of a sense of entitlement; like when Parisian traffic caused her to arrive too late to enter a Chanel fashion show at which she had been invited to sit front row, rather than kick up a tantrum, she returned to her car, cried and “[felt] so bad” about letting down the luxury maison, which had sent her shoes and clothes for the event. “My friend Laura told me that when she first met me, her first impression was that I’m some fierce fashion person,” she says. “But when she got to know me, the real me, I’m like Hello Kitty inside.”
Leung did not hold back when it came to being vulnerable and showing genuine emotion on the reality show. Opening up about her tumultuous relationship with her parents, which led her to take on the role of a mother figure to her sisters at a young age, it is clear that her friends have become the family she has always wanted—and that her love for them is an act of defiance against her complicated past.
Embracing her spiritual side, she is even exploring new ways to understand the formerly uncharted depths of who she is. “I do hypnotherapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing),” says Leung, who allowed the show’s cameras to follow her into a session of past life regression: a form of therapy in which the patient is brought into a deep meditative state to recall—by seeing, hearing or feeling—past lives they have lived. Practitioners believe it can help with uncovering phobias or past traumas brought into this life from a previous one.
“More and more, I’ve become closer and more connected to my gut,” says Leung, who adds that she is learning to trust what the universe has in store for her—“I believe the universe will not give you a desire in your life if you aren’t prepared to follow through with it,” she says—and, perhaps more importantly, she is learning to trust herself. Even when it comes to sartorial choices.
“I don’t think I play it safe, so mistakes are made, but it’s just fashion. We’re not doing cardiothoracic surgery. We can have fun, there are no rules … I’m now leaning more into that,” she says. “I hate listening to people telling me what to do.”
Sarah Gore Reeves
Rolando Beauchamp for Bumble and Bumble at The Wall Group
William Murphy using Tom Ford Beauty
Craig Reynold and Frida Garcia