To this day, she says, she refuses to meet Japanese people, notwithstanding the fact that she is currently negotiating to buy back the Japanese licence to Lanvin, previously sold to trading house Itochu. “It doesn’t matter what title they have. If people say, ‘Madame Wang, this is such and such,’ I never give my hand. I never say hello to Japanese.” She turns her head disdainfully. “Bye bye. I don’t care what they think.”
The waitress offers to wrap up the left-overs. “For my driver,” says Wang. Two egg tarts and two portions of taro pudding are served. The egg tart, with divinely crumbly pastry, is the best I’ve tasted. I had read somewhere that she compares the dual role of newspaper magnate and fashion-house baroness to having a husband and a lover. Which is which? “Who told you I said that?” she flashes back. “Since my husband died I don’t have any lover. So how can I compare my husband to a lover?”
The important thing is to throw yourself into both. “If you run a business, you have to love this business with all your heart. Before, when I ran a newspaper, I sleep for maybe two, three hours a day. I am so excited.” Now she has cut back and handed over day-to-day management to her nephew. With Lanvin, too, her strategy has been to step back and give Elbaz the freedom to create.
The waitress brings pear and papaya. I nervously broach the subject of who should pay for this feast. Wang’s assistant had warned previously that, under no circumstances, would Madame Wang allow the FT to pay. I try anyway. “I am meant to invite you,” I say timidly. “The FT really does insist on paying.” The riposte is swift and brutal. “Here in China, no. Never, never, never,” she shrieks. “This is my domain. Even if you are Chinese, you cannot pay.”
I figure it is useless. Besides, she is already wrapping up, telling me that on no account am I to refer to her as a Taiwanese businesswoman. “I don’t consider myself Tai-wan-ese,” she says, drawing out the word. “I am Chinese. And I don’t consider myself a businesswoman either,” she adds without explanation. Then she softens. “It’s true, I am a woman. That I cannot say anything about.”
This article originally appeared in Financial Times. Click here to read more coverage from the Weekend FT.