Style Q & A: Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

Style Q & A: Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop Fashion has to keep up with local event planner Rowena Cui, not the other way around by Caroline Gault   October 2015 photography by Ashley Champagne styling by Jessica Clark hair and makeup by Jasmine Ming-Wai Ma Not even 44 hours in labour can…

Style Q & A: Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop

Fashion has to keep up with local event planner Rowena Cui, not the other way around


October 2015

photography by Ashley Champagne 
styling by Jessica Clark 
hair and makeup by Jasmine Ming-Wai Ma

Not even 44 hours in labour can slow down Rowena Cui. Twenty-one months ago, after gaining 99 pounds during pregnancy – mostly water weight – she was at the hospital simultaneously preparing for the delivery of her first son, Red, and a 20th anniversary video shoot for the Edmonton City Centre Church Corporation (E4C)’s School Lunch Program. With her marketing agency Planit Sound – which she co-founded six years ago with her husband, R.J. – deadlines never sleep. (Both are Avenue Edmonton Top 40 Under 40 alumni.) In between contractions, she feverishly typed on her laptop to book shoot locations, hire contractors and write scripts.

The 36-year-old entrepreneur is used to working under pressure. She has more than 15 years of experience in human services, from group-home settings (her mother was a foster parent and cared for several children when Cui was growing up) to Alberta Health Services, providing one-to-one supervision, crisis intervention and high-suicide-risk watch. In 2004, she co-launched a day program, also with her husband, called Young Touchables, which helped transition high-profile, at-risk youth back into society through music production and performance.

She also has a flair for event planning. On average, Planit Sound executes seven large-scale events per year, and at least 50 per cent of its business is for non-profit organizations, including the Edmonton Down Syndrome Society, the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation and The Works Gala. Some of her work involves fashion show production, a unique skillset she honed managing five seasons at Western Canada Fashion Week. Last spring, she pulled together a powerful board of directors – one that could rival Taylor Swift’s girl squad – to launch her own movement, Apricity, which selects a new charity every year and amplifies its cause. Her right hand is Edmonton’s First Lady, Sarah Chan, and the board also features an array of influential designers, journalists, television hosts and public relations professionals. 

For Cui, execution under pressure has a lot to do with dressing for the occasion, whether it’s a jam-packed day at her colourful St. Albert office (at a glance, bright blue walls la Carrie Bradshaw’s Sex in the City apartment and a refurbished yellow record player outfit the room) or a late-night gala at a downtown hotel. “As a business owner, we are our brand,” Cui says. “We are our own walking, talking advertisement for what we do and what we create, and so acting your best, doing your best, looking your best, it transfers to all levels of life.”  

You obviously had a life-altering experience giving birth to Red. What was it like?

You realize what you’re made out of. When I think of everything that I thought was so difficult in life, you really feel like a warrior. It’s incredible. My husband said, “There is no way I could have done what you women can do.” It truly is a miracle. Husbands really love their wives and partners for going through that. 

How has your style changed since becoming a mother?

Before I had my son, I loved everything to be form-fitting. I love feminine looks. I love the female body. I think it’s OK – you can still be sexy and show off your best assets, and still be classy and sophisticated and elegant. Colour, I’ve always loved. Patterns, mixing, I’ve always loved. Now, if I know I’m going to see my son in between meetings and I won’t have time to do a full outfit change, I need fabric that, if I get a milk stain or a food stain on it, it can wipe off really quickly with mild soap and water, and it can air dry by the time I get to my appointment in 20 minutes. I’ve moved from fitted, delicate fabrics – things that need to be ironed and dry cleaned – to things with movement, things with durability. But also, when you’re on set and on a shoot, you’re running, you’re up and down, you’re tweaking, you’re primping, you’re spraying, you’re doing makeup. I want something that’s durable, but something that’s me. It has to be fun. It has to be playful.  

Jumper from H&M; Vince Camuto shoes from Who Cares Wear

What’s your beauty routine?

I had to learn how to put makeup on since I became pregnant. I never had skin issues before. I think I was 12 the last time that I had the chickenpox. But when I had Red, wow – I had to learn how to put foundation and powder on. But typically, I try to do everything in an hour. Eat, shower, makeup, everything. For my beauty routine, I love the Clarisonic; I use that at night. It’s great. It brings everything to the surface. It’s interesting, because to balance my skin I was missing oils, and so I put this oil on called Jurlique Skin Balancing Face Oil at nighttime. 


Has fashion always been of interest to you?

[My mother] says I was 12 and Punky Brewster was my idol. OshKosh B’gosh had these Punky Brewster high-tops – one was purple, one was pink, and the laces were the opposite colours. And I loved the rain and they were waterproof. I don’t know what I had to do to get them, but she was like, ‘When you tried those shoes on, you were so excited you almost cried, and you took such good care. You would clean them and polish them and put them in the box and even save the tissue paper, and then cover them up and take them out every day and wear them.’ She said that’s when she knew that I loved clothes and loved fashion.


What are the favourite items in your closet?

I love Hunt Amor. I always rock it when I can. She even custom designed my wedding headpiece. I had two wedding gowns made by Lani van Rooyen from ROOY Couture and Consulting, and then Amor met with Lani, saved extra fabric and made the headband. I also bought these boots at the Shoes t’ Boot in Canmore that I love. They are like a Miz Mooz-type heel, it’s a round-toe, but not too round. It’s an all-white ankle boot with an inside zipper, and it has a floral print. You’ll see me wear it in the fall.


Where else do you shop?

If it’s something like a dress, I go to 124th Street. I start at Floc Boutique, then Shades of Grey, Black & Bold and Who Cares Wear. I like Who Cares Wear because they carry a lot of French Connection. They carry a lot of blazers and, in the summertime, they carry all the bright ones and I’ll buy them in every colour. And then I’ll go to Whyte Avenue – Workhall and The Bamboo Ballroom. And I forgot about Coup {Garment Boutique}! I love Coup and Anna and the girls there. Then gravitypope Tailored Goods. My family, we’re big on Chuck Taylors. And we’re cheesy; we wear them all together.


Why is fashion important to you?

Fashion has to be accessible, and it has to be inclusive. I have people who say they don’t care about fashion, but you say, ‘Well, who put that outfit together today?’ You care about fashion. I see that you wear eyeliner. You wear lipstick. You obviously get your hair done. You have nice shoes on your feet. Where did you get that purse? Obviously you do. It’s a big part of our self-expression. It’s a big part of our own personal brand. I love that I can be a part of that experience.


Fashion Era  1950s

Breakfast spot  Socrates in St. Albert 

Lunch spot  Tres Carnales

Dinner spot  Bul Go Gi House

Dish  Anything deep-fried

Drink  Extra dirty gin martini with extra olives 

TV Show  Entourage

Author/book  Love Grace & Sorrow in No Particular Order by Kevin Semeniuk 

Local boutique  I shop them all

Local designer  Hunt Amor

Style icon  The Sex and the City wardrobe and Jessica Alba

Vacation spot  Jamaica

Beauty product  Jurlique Skin Balancing Face Oil
(a must have for mamas!)

Hair salon  Mousy Brown’s and Pose Salon (I rotate between the two!)

Fashion item  Right now, jumpsuits

Accessory  Red lips

Shoes  My floral booties by Neosens

Songza playlist  “Lookin Fresh in The 90s”

App  Handyscan (so brilliant that I can scan anywhere, anytime!)

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