Dream Reality: The TV show may have ended, but Deborah Valdez-Hung’s glitzy world is only getting bigger
Standing in the airy foyer of her Residence Bel-Air home, Deborah Valdez-Hung looks exactly like she does in the Netflix reality show Bling Empire: New York – better, actually. With her signature configuration of bronzer, highlighter, contouring, full red lips and skin-tight designer garb, the media star is a natural standout from the handful of staff in the room, or in any room, in fact. Surprisingly, she is softer and daintier in three dimensions than she is in two. If anything is true of Valdez-Hung, it is her endless talent for optical illusions and posing for the camera.
“Let’s get straight right into it?” she asks jokingly. “Welcome. Come right in. Feel free to roam around the house and see which location we should work on for the photos. Everything here is inspired by surrealism and avant-garde.”
She leads the way to a living room containing all things maximalist, from the blue dangling light fixtures to the red velvet walls and unconventionally heart-shaped couches. All these reflect the passionate nature the jetsetter has carried from her humble beginnings in the Mexican desert to the international cities and countries she now calls home from time to time.
A former model herself, Valdez-Hung is the owner and chairperson of Dreamodels, one of the city’s and Asia’s premium full-service modelling agencies. She is also somewhat of an influencer, given her high position and glamorous, fast-paced lifestyle that whisks her to fashion shows and other events across the globe. It appears from her Instagram, which has 772,000 followers to date, that she is still modelling and rarely short of a prominent party or exotic location to pose at.
“I have been interested in fashion since I was young,” she shares while adding another row of bling around her neck. “I did not go to a fashion or design school, but my friends have a fondness for fashion, and from there, I learned about the construction of clothing. However, my interests were beyond that, to be completely honest. That’s why I decided to become a model. It is a very competitive industry and everything changes very fast. You have to be creative and daring.”
Food for thought
An employee offers a bottle of Coca-Cola in addition to the already massive spread of branded cookies and fresh fruits prepared for the day. One cannot help but wonder, is this a way to counter the famous scene in the pilot episode of Bling Empire: New York where she was accused of not serving any food? Maybe. Or maybe not. She confesses that she just enjoys food and snacking in general, contrary to what the majority of people might think of models’ dietary habits.
Laughing while munching on lychees, she says, nonchalance personified: “I knew this would be brought up. But yes, oh my gosh! I love snacking, especially at midnight.”
She’s svelte and looks fresher and more vulnerable than she does. From the word go, Deborah is unflinchingly honest and not afraid to tackle the heavy stuff. On the other hand, her beauty is both striking and earthy.
“Modelling was also an opportunity for me to travel the world. As a kid, and up to now, I am always amazed on how rich culture can be of a certain country. The modeling stint was offered to me, and looking back, I think it would be silly of me to pass on such great opportunity.”
Denting momentarily her ultra-glam image, she admits to preferring flats and sneakers to high heels especially since she is always on the go. Despite this assertion, her landscape is one populated by diamonds, private jets and rose bouquets larger than many studio apartments here. It’s a cross-platform, finely tuned optics juggernaut that requires constant maintenance and, she insists justifiably, a lot of work.
Before the Hong Kong socialite lifestyle and the reality TV fame, Valdez was a practising civil lawyer in Mexico and Europe.
“I decided to be a lawyer as I wanted to help people and to have a bigger purpose in life,” she shares. “But I was also heavily influenced by my father who also has a background in law. Growing up, I was always fascinated listening to his stories and work experiences.”
And in all business situations, her legal training and background is helpful. She launched Dreamodels in 2012, the same year of her marriage to wealthy and flamboyant Hong Kong businessman Stephen Hung, whom she also teasingly dubs as her number-one fan and social media manager.
“Is this pose okay? Try taking it from a top view,” she instructs of her husband who is snapping behind-the-scenes photos of our shoot to post on her Instagram account. “Humour and laughter are parts of our culture in Mexico. I think that’s what makes us unique.”
Other cherished members of the household are not to be left out.
“Chiquita! Tan Hermosa!” she coos in her most loving Mexican-Spanish lilt as her dogs scamper over to join her for a photo.
There’s no question that her grueling upkeep routine is working. On the topic of animals, whose rights she strongly advocates, she becomes emphatic. She is a fur mum to two Chihuahuas who own a bedroom and a closet of their own, and she enjoys playing dress up and matching Chanel outfits with them.
“If I have all the means and energy, something I would be ecstatic about doing every day for the rest of my life is to free animals from cages, zoos and labs. I would like to volunteer and dedicate my time in helping a few animal protection associations. Or maybe I’m being too ambitious? I don’t know. But I think as humans, we should value and respect animals’ lives. At the end of the day, we are all God’s creations cohabitating on this planet,” she says fervently.
Back in her early days in Mexico, the millennial reality TV star was raised in a Christian family’s household.
As to the legacy she wants to leave, she is starting a company specialising in accessories and faux-fur coats. “I am giving all my love to my family, friends and pets with this project. They are more than my inspirations in doing all of these things. They are my motivators too,” she says. “Passion and fashion will always be part of my DNA.”
In addition to being a person of influence, Valdez-Hung is without a doubt an “it”: a vector of debate, a media property, a mover of markets, an engine of consumer behaviour, a symbol, a brand, a cipher. As she sits at her home office table discussing work, food, dogs and life, she embodies the glamorous woman her fans aspire to.
Her husband suggests she does one more pose with her dazzling pink Rolls-Royce and is denied: “Pass. That’s been done to death.” Job done, she gets up without a murmur and, like the 6 pm sun slipping below the horizon, quietly exits the frame.
Interview & Art Direction: Joseff Musa Photographer: Jack Law Videographer: Jack Fontanilla Fashion Stylist: Jhoshwa Ledesma