It’s time for Michael to get back to his painting, but before he does, he admits that he has lost hope of ever making Voice for My Father. “Too political, too sensitive,” he says. Besides, having honored his past, it’s time to celebrate the present. “Now is a very exciting time for my family. We have a great foundation here, and all of us are very fortunate to be able to work in a creative field—whether it’s music, art, food, or whatever.”
IN THE SCRIPT THAT IS MICHAEL CHOW’S LIFE, the part of the narrative arc that can’t be excised is the 1992 death from AIDS of his second wife, Tina Chow, the mother of China and Maximillian.
Tina was an internationally renowned beauty, businesswoman, collector, jeweler, and a member of the International Best-Dressed Hall of Fame. Her incomparable style, at once devil-may-care and considered, was a magpie mix of androgyny, high fashion, and Eastern touches that inspired designers and photographers alike. Karl Lagerfeld credits Tina with having ushered in minimal chic, and Kate Moss has said that Tina Chow is her style icon.
Even before they married—in London in 1973, where they lived in an envy-inducing double townhouse with an indoor swimming pool—Michael and Tina were the Brangelina of their day. The media valentines to them continued when, accompanied by their two young children (5-year-old China and baby Maximillian, who had been born the year before), the Chows moved to New York in 1979 to open Mr. Chow on 57th Street. The family lived above the restaurant, which quickly gained a reputation as a hedonistic den where the tables were reserved but the company wasn’t. And with Michael becoming increasingly reclusive and focused on his Art Deco collection, Tina was front and center at the restaurant—a position she would maintain until the couple began to drift apart, in the mid ’80s. They eventually divorced in 1989.
UNLESS THE CHOW FAMILY movie were to be made by Disney, it’s unrealistic to think that no growing pains would be part of the plot—particularly, one assumes, when Michael marries the fashion designer Eva Chun in 1992 and she inherits two teenagers. But if tensions within the family exist now, you wouldn’t know it from talking to the Chows, who, to an outsider, scan as a creative and unexpectedly functional family. “I’d say we’re about as functional as any family,” China says, in early October, when we meet in the Marlborough gallery in New York. “We’re all fiercely protective of one another and are very old-fashioned that way. You have to remember there is a lot of tragedy in our past. It’s made a huge impact on who we are.”
China is talking in between takes at a fashion-and-art shoot she’s styling for Pop magazine starring supermodel Liya Kebede. The location she has chosen is an immersive installation by her artist friends Justin Lowe and Jonah Freeman that features a complex warren of surreal interconnected rooms, which are due to be dismantled the following day. Time is of the essence, and she routinely screams out to the photographer in her mouselike voice, “Francesco, I need you now!” Despite the uncomfortable deadline she set for herself, China, a judge on the stalled reality-TV show Work of Art, insists she really enjoys doing magazine work, particularly when the job intersects with fashion and art.