Hubert Burda Media

The Power of Two

We find out how Helen Ma and Rosamund Kwan have turned an enduring friendship into a fledgling beauty business.

Rosamund Kwan and Helen Ma wearing jewellery by Hearts On Fire

There’s possibly an element of alchemy. Because when two of Hong Kong’s most influential women decide to work together, supported by an enduring friendship that spans a couple of decades, it turns out to be a golden partnership. The result is their joint venture, RK Beauty, a skincare line that’s offered only at the crème de la crème of luxury department stores – and online.

There are no better models for the brand than its owners. The face behind the brand’s initials is actress Rosamund Kwan, who needs little introduction. An icon of the Hong Kong film industry, she appeared in nearly 60 films, her cinematic journey beginning in 1982 and ending in 2005 with a self-imposed hiatus.

Helen Ma, meanwhile, has been dubbed the “Beauty Queen” by the media for a CV that’s full of the business of beauty. She’s worked with Caudalie, Chantecaille and Aesop, and she launched Evidens de Beauté in Asia.

Capturing the two ladies on camera reveals an easy camaraderie. The new business partnership, it seems, has only bolstered their lasting bond, as evinced by these candid interviews.

Rosamund Kwan

Before this interview I spoke with a film critic who said, “Oh Rosamund, she was so beautiful in her movies.” That’s the enduring image that’s etched on moviegoers’ minds: how lovely you looked.

That’s sweet. Of course I’m happy that people are saying nice things about me, but it’s a bit of a pity that people always say I’m pretty in movies but they aren’t saying that I’m a good actress, except for a few films like Once Upon a Time in China – that got me a lot of compliments for my performance. Actually, there are times when I do wish people would think, oh I can act also! I always wanted people to appreciate my talent.

Did you enjoy working in the movie industry?

To be honest, no, not really. When I started, it was all the martial arts movies. I really appreciate Maggie [Cheung]. She had a really good time in that period. She did some wonderful movies. In the 1980s and early ’90s, there were few women’s movies. I felt that of the lot, Maggie got some of the best roles. I got all the commercial movies, the action and so on.

What do you consider beautiful?

I can’t tell from the face of people what’s beautiful. I only find beauty these days in art, in paintings, in sculptures. When it comes to people, I don’t think about beauty. I look at pictures when I look for beauty. I think what’s beautiful is also very abstract. From the scenery I see when I travel, to watching children playing in the street, and of course in galleries around the world.

Is your house filled with art?

Hopefully it will be. I’m just in the process of moving into a smaller house, so I don’t know. I don’t know why, maybe my ex-husband gave me some inspiration, but I really love colours these days.

Now that you don’t have a busy movie schedule, are you enjoying travelling?

Very much so. Recently I went to Paris and Venice. Earlier I went to India, and I saw the colours varying from street to street – that was really beautiful. I was in New Delhi and beautiful Bodh Gaya. The faces of the people were so serene and so beautiful.

In Hong Kong, you’d be recognised on any street. Did the anonymity in India help you just be?

It was nice that no one knew me or recognised me, so I did whatever I liked, went wherever. I wasn’t bothered. Here in Hong Kong I’m aware of being looked at. But I enjoy living here now. I was born here, brought up here, I went to Maryknoll School. This is definitely my home.

Haven’t your fans asked you to act again? Do they wonder why you stopped?

I don’t know what the perception of me is. When people come to me, they’re always saying, “I hope you’re happy and hope you’re living well and are healthy.” Some fans ask me to come back to movies, but I don’t miss it. I don’t feel it, not even a little bit. I don’t think I did any great work. There are so many newcomers in this business who are doing well, so I don’t think I’ll do any more.

I think you’re being modest. You did some wonderful films. Wasn’t there anything about the Hong Kong film industry that you enjoyed?

I did enjoy the process when I started. I was very young, aged 18. My father was in the business. He didn’t really encourage me, but I did it anyway.

When I was young, all my father’s friends and family were in the film industry, my auntie and uncle, and they were all perfect looking, in my eyes. Only the most handsome men worked at Shaw Brothers Studio and the prettiest girls in China were there. Maybe I was a bit dramatic when I was young, so I wanted to join the film business.

My point of view of the film industry was very different then. When I grew up, when I knew what the world was about, I found it a bit cruel. It’s a hard industry. But I think I was lucky. I did enjoy parts of it.

You acted with all the big stars of the time.

All my co-stars and colleagues really treated me well and with respect. I was always treated like a princess on set. I don’t know if it was because I was second generation, because my family was in the industry, or because they found me attractive. They weren’t gay! But my co-stars were always very nice to me. Andy [Lau] took good care of me. Jet Li, Jackie Chan, all were goodand we’re still good friends.

It would be hard to ignore the fashion of that era. Has your fashion evolved drastically since your movie days?

I don’t think I wore too many of those terrible, over-the-top ’80s fashions. I don’t look back and cringe or laugh. There were definitely some weird things I wore, especially as a teen. When I was 18, I had a long, thick perm. I never wore wigs when I was working in movies; that’s all me. The wigs back then were terrible quality and itchy. I always styled my own hair. When I look back at photos, I think, it’s OK, it’s not too bad. Fashion always changes and evolves, but I changed and evolved, too.

Now it’s a lot simpler. I like to buy a lot of fashion. I think I have too many things now. As I’m moving homes, I can see how many things I have. I think I’ll have to rent storage to sort everything out, so I feel I need to stop buying things. I’m going to mix and match what I have and keep things simple and easy.

What advice do you have for women today?

I think women should have their own work, business and money. I know most women have their family and kids to take care of – unlike me. It’s just me and my dog! I know it isn’t easy to manage a household, but still I feel that women should be independent. There’s power and beauty in a self-sufficient woman. Women should take care of themselves – as well as their kids and husband, but not put themselves last.

Finally, when you see yourself in the morning, do you see how beautiful you are?

When I look at the mirror in the morning, I think, “My God, it’s a disaster!” [She laughs.] That’s why I said beauty’s not in the face, not from the exterior but from within.

Helen Ma

Did you always want to be in the beauty business?

I didn’t really want to get into this business. It’s a coincidence. Since I graduated, I always wanted to go into fashion. I really wanted to work at Louis Vuitton, so as soon as I graduated I sent my CV to the LVMH group. I went for the interview, but at that time there was no position open. They said they liked me so much and they offered me a job at Guerlain. I thought, well, at least it’s a step in the right direction. Maybe they’d do an internal transfer so I could move from the French perfumer to French fashion.

I worked there for a year and eight months, and then I went to the world of Joyce. I launched the first Joyce Beauty shop, which led to the second, the third … At a particular point, I was taking care of 60 brands at one time. So I somehow stayed in that field. Then I stopped. For a few years I didn’t work in beauty. And about three years ago, I launched Evidens de Beauté in Hong Kong.

How did RK Beauty come about?

I wanted to own my own business and I wanted to work with Rosamund. We had talked over the years, and I had a verbal commitment to her that we’d work on a project together. With my years of expertise in the field, this seemed like a natural progression. Natural is the word, by the way. We use many organic products.

They say friends shouldn’t go into business together because it can ruin the friendship.

What’s it been like, working with your best friend?

It’s been wonderful. She’s like a silent partner. She’s not involved with the costs and day-to-day operation, which works perfectly for us – because if she was too involved then I don’t think we’d be able to work together. She’s a great face for the brand and we’re getting a lot closer since we’ve been working together. She’s forced to be in front of the public more now, and I support her and she supports me.

How did you forge this friendship with Rosamund?

It’s been decades long. We’re both tiger signs. She’s a cycle ahead of mine. I’m following her. I met her when I was very young. She was already a big, famous movie actress. A screen goddess. She didn’t know me but I was her neighbour and I’d follow her around. We were in the same building and I’d stalk her and see what car she was driving, what she was wearing. Then I grew up, I left town. I came back after graduation and we had mutual friends. We met at dragon-i – we used to party – and I told her I knew her and I knew she had this amazing Porsche. She looked at me, like, “Who are you?” I guess I was a fan. Now of course, we’re best of friends and business partners.

Is the perception different from the person?

I think so. I think people might think Rosamund is cold but elegant, that you can’t touch her, she seems hard to approach. But she’s not. She’s warm like me, and very caring. She’s perhaps a little reserved, but I think she’s such a laugh. She has a great sense of humour and loves to laugh. And yes, she is always elegant, at all times. People remember her for the films she did with Jackie Chan and Jet Li, the action and adventure and thriller movies, but I remember her laughing at silly jokes.

Are you enjoying the media title of “Beauty Queen”?

It’s not that I’m happy or unhappy about it. I’m just lucky that at this moment they’re attributing this title to me. I don’t take it so seriously. I appreciate the title but I don’t really see myself as the queen. I do things that every girl does. But when it comes to the beauty business, with my history and where my career’s led me, beauty is my final destination. I’m happy because I belong to beauty!

What does your beauty regimen entail?

I used to party a lot and then I stopped completely. It’s not great for one’s skin. Now, I go out on Fridays for a quick drink with friends. But most weekdays I’m in bed by 9.30. That early! I really need my beauty sleep. And when I wake up, I mask every day. Every. Single. Day. First thing. Plus, I drink a lot of supplements, whatever’s good for my skin, like lots of warm water with honey. I do have a healthy lifestyle … mostly!

How has your taste in fashion evolved?

I think I’ve tried all the trends. I’ve always been into fashion. When I was younger and couldn’t afford good leather, I’d wear those plastic faux leathers. I went through all the crazy colours, the patent leathers. I used to have platform shoes, but not any more. Red lipstick was my signature look, a bright bold red. Then everyone started doing it, so I stopped. At the moment, I’m glad things are more elegant and classic. The more chic and simple your outfit, the more your personality can shine. Things that are loud and trendy these days, I don’t follow these things.

What items will always be in your wardrobe?

Leather. I love leather. I have some fur, but Hong Kong’s too hot for fur. I have loads of heels and handbags, boots and jackets and A-line skirts. Anything that brings out the feminine side of a woman in a masculine looking outfit, I like.

What makes a woman beautiful?

Confidence. We all make mistakes. I make mistakes every day, but you live and you learn. No one’s born with grace and class; you learn these things from your mistakes, in good time. You hear a lot of nos before you hear a yes. All this experience brings confidence. I think women should be aware of who they are and what they do well, and be strong. That’s beautiful. I don’t think beauty’s just about one’s face or body.