From Semarang to Paris: The Life Story of Oei Hui Lan, Chinese Fashion Icon and Diplomat

From Semarang to Paris The Life Story of Oei Hui Lan, Chinese Fashion Icon and Diplomat – Have you ever heard of Oei Hui Lan? Her name might not be familiar to many, but her story is one that deserves to be told. Born into a wealthy Chinese Peranakan family in Semarang, Indonesia, Oei Hui Lan went on to become a fashion icon, a diplomat, and a socialite. Her life was a remarkable journey that took her from the bustling streets of Southeast Asia to the glamorous salons of Paris.

Oei Hui Lan, a name familiar to many in Indonesia, is renowned not only for her captivating paintings displayed at the Tugu Hotel in Malang, but also as the daughter of Oei Tiong Ham, a wealthy businessman during the Dutch East Indies era.

Oei Hui Lan Painting at Tugu Hotel Malang Radja Room
Oei Hui Lan Painting at Tugu Hotel Malang’s Radja Room

Early Life and Education

Oei Hui Lan was born on December 21, 1889, into a family of great wealth and influence. Her father, Oei Tiong Ham, was a successful businessman, and her mother, Goei Bing Nio, came from a respected aristocratic background. Oei Hui Lan received a privileged education, which included instruction from European tutors. She was fluent in multiple languages, including Malay, English, French, Hokkien, Mandarin, and Dutch.

Discovering the Legacy of Oei Tiong Ham, the Sugar Tycoon of Semarang
Oei Tiong Ham, Oei Hui Lan Father, Sugar Tycoon of Semarang

Socialite and Fashion Icon

In 1912, Oei Hui Lan married Beauchamp Forde Gordon Caulfield-Stoker, a British consular official. The couple moved to England, where Oei Hui Lan quickly became a popular socialite. She was known for her elegant style and her love of Chinese fashion, particularly the qipao or cheongsam. Oei Hui Lan’s unique fashion sense made her a trendsetter, and she was often featured in fashion magazines.

Oei Hui Lan and Her Husband Wellington Koo
Oei Hui Lan and Her Husband Wellington Koo

Diplomatic Career

Oei Hui Lan’s life took a dramatic turn in 1920 when she divorced her husband and married Vi Kyuin Wellington Koo, a Chinese diplomat. The couple moved to Paris, where Wellington Koo served as China’s Minister to France. Oei Hui Lan quickly adapted to her new role as a diplomat’s wife. She was a gracious hostess and a skilled diplomat in her own right. She played a key role in her husband’s career, and she was instrumental in promoting Chinese culture and interests in Europe.

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Oei Hui Lan also known as Madame Wellington
Oei Hui Lan also known as Madame Wellington (on the right)

Later Life and Legacy

Oei Hui Lan and Wellington Koo remained married for over 30 years. However, their relationship eventually soured, and they divorced in 1958. Oei Hui Lan spent her remaining years in New York City, where she continued to be active in social and cultural circles. She died in 1992 at the age of 102.

Oei Hui Lan was a remarkable woman who lived a life of great privilege and influence. She was a fashion icon, a diplomat, and a socialite. Her story is a testament to the power of women to achieve great things.

Gergaji Palace, located on Jalan Kyai Saleh in Semarang
One of her former residences, located at Jalan Kyai Saleh No. 12-14 Mugassari, Semarang Selatan, now serves as the office of the Central Java Financial Services Authority (OJK Jateng).

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