Nervously, we stood in the spacious lobby of The Majestic Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, looking out for Bella Kuan’s ride to pull up, expecting the personality who recently broke her foot to emerge hobbling and uncertain.
To our surprise, the 28-year-old entrepreneur, socialite and musician moved swiftly, albeit with some caution, her right arm leaning on a crutch and her left foot strapped into an orthopedic walking boot.
Changing in and out of several top-to-toe Gucci ensembles, Kuan was a dream to work with, walking steadily from location to location within the hotel, politely declining assistance for the most part as she gave the photoshoot her all despite her limiting physical condition.
Two months prior, she slipped and fell 10 metres down a waterfall during a jungle trek, hitting her head and shattering her left foot, a tragic accident for the active and outdoorsy KL-ite.
While the accident put a pause on doing activities that she loved, such as her job as a spin class instructor, trekking and working out, Kuan hasn’t let it get her down.
Harnessing her mental and psychological strength, the Malaysian partner of Singaporean organic beauty brand Handmade Heroes made herself get up and stay active in different ways, including yoga, swimming and non-intensive gym workouts.
“It has been a tough two months, but thankfully my parents were helping me. They were so present for me in the first month but now I can be on my own,” shared Kuan as we sat down to chat in the Governor’s Suite, the final location for our shoot. “I felt stuck, and when you have a lot of free time, your mind breeds all these negative thoughts you know? So it’s very important to know you can snap out of it, and just get your day going.”
“I’m trying to, within my abilities, to do as many things as I can and try not to stay home so much,” said Kuan, who plays the piano and sings, and majored in classical music at the Malaysian Institute of Art.
“God has been so great to me. In the moments after I fell, I couldn’t do anything but pray, I just closed my eyes and everyone thought I was going to die. I thought I was going to die,” she recalled. “It took three hours for my friends to carry me out of the jungle to get me to the hospital, and another four hours to drive back to KL.”
It will be another three months until she can walk without her crutches, and several more months until she can return to her active lifestyle.
For now, while her movement is restricted, she is still able to work on her passions, Handmade Heroes, beauty and fashion.
The organic beauty brand was conceived in Singapore by Lynsey Lim in 2013, and brought over to Malaysia by Kuan and partner Lim Cai Jin.
“It’s all vegan, all natural,” explained Kuan. “We’re very fun, very young, we try to make all natural products accessible to all young women. It’s not supposed to be expensive.”
Cruelty-free, paraben-free and alcohol-free, Handmade Heroes makes products for the body, hair and face.
“I’ve always been interested in beauty stuff, and I enjoy learning about entrepreneurship, so I thought that it would be a good product to test the market, and it’s been four years,” she added. “Apart from being young, fun and affordable, it’s also about educating people about what you put in your body.”
Personally, Kuan leads a balanced lifestyle when it comes to health – she stays fit but won’t restrict herself when it comes to enjoying good food.
Fashion wise, Kuan is extremely versatile, which showed during our shoot. Her charisma melded perfectly with the bold Gucci pieces from the Pre Fall 2019 collection.
Her ability to adapt while wearing various ensembles was impressive. As we photographed her against various backdrops she transformed each frame, giving every shot a different mood, and that was truly a thing of beauty.
She then evoked rustic charm posing in a three-piece GG cherry fil coupe outfit in the lounge, seated at the grand piano in strappy sandals you – would never have guessed her left shoe hid a broken foot!
In the elegant Drawing Room, seated by the window in a red turtleneck, a wool jacquard stitch bomber and matching jogging pants, Kuan oozed sophisticated edge.
Finally, on the couch of the luxurious Governor’s Suite, the final look involved Kuan posing in classic cool chic attire – the Blue-red Flying Ribbon printed cady dress paired with Gucci Zumi tweed knee boots.
In each outfit, Kuan truly embodied the fun-loving, adventurous Gucci spirit.
“I can go from denim to really fancy dresses,” said Kuan, whose staples include white sneakers. “My personality, I think which is very fun, it’s also very versatile.”
Persisting through her recovery may be a challenge, but one that Kuan is meeting head-on, taking time every day to be grateful that she is alive. She has even managed to squeeze in a trip to Italy, refusing to let the injury ground her.
“The accident was like a nightmare. When I landed, I opened my eyes. And I was like, Oh, my God, I’m alive,” said Kuan. “And I really, really thank my friends for helping me through this. They saved my life. I’m doing better now, life goes on.”
Photographer: Yap Chee Hong/The Star
Apparel, shoes and accessories: Gucci Pre-Fall 2019
Location: The Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur
Make-up: Naoke Chu/Lancome
Hair: Keith Ong/Shiseido Professional
Styling and coordination: Nasa Maria Entaban
Intern: Sara Ayman