Blake Abbie of ‘Bling Empire: New York’: accidental reality star

It is one of the most poignant, most unexpected scenes to hit the screen — any screen — in this still young year.

Meeting his mother for dim sum in an episode of the just out debut season of “Bling Empire: New York” (trending worldwide on Netflix), Blake Abbie gingerly broaches the subject of his family burdens; the freight of cultural expectations, especially when it comes to having a child of his own.

A Canadian who lives in Manhattan — one who is a mélange of Chinese and Scottish, and who identifies as “queer” — he confides to her that he is not certain what his future will look like. Meaning: he is not sure if he will end up with “a man, a woman, someone transgender or non-binary.” And that he does not know when, or how, he will one day bring a baby into the world.

Bracing for some “Joy Luck Club”-style impasse or a blast of Asian chill, viewers instead watch his mother graciously flip the script. “The baby will have eyes, nose, mouth … right?” she asks, after a beat.

Adding that the most important thing is that a baby is healthy, June, in her laboured English, says: “Don’t feel pressure or stress whoever you date. It’s all good. Be happy.”

And … scene.

“It was so scary to shoot that,” Abbie said when I rang him up this week to debrief. Talking to me on the phone while walking through the streets of New York — the sirens of the Lower East Side occasionally giving some aural wallpaper to our convo — he said it was most challenging because “Asian families … you do not really talk about feelings like that.”

And even though his mom, who is from Hangzhou and lives now in Vancouver, “has never questioned who I love, has never questioned anything,” he brought it up because “I am the eldest of my generation (of all the cousins). And I am a boy. And I was named after my great-grandfather, who was very prominent. So there are expectations …”

The response to the moment in the show, however, took even him by some surprise. Inundated with texts and DMs from well-wishers, he has even been hearing from women who already have children, who wrote to say: “This is the kind of mother I want to be.”

It’s all part of the emotional ecosystem of “Bling Empire: New York” — a spinoff of the original L.A.-based “Bling Empire” — while still indulging us in the lifestyle porn that is a signature of the franchise. The social appointments. The nightlife crawls. The exquisite pettiness. Fellow cast member Nam Laks, whom they call “the Blair Waldorf of Thailand,” and who is so filthy rich (and wonderfully absurd) she seems befuddled by how a kettle works in one scene.

Blake, in particular? Distinguishing himself as a very un-reality-show contender — a one-time classical music and languages student at the University of British Columbia (he studied voice and German) — he does not give clout-chaser or thirst-trap, like many of the denizens of these sorts of shows. Instead, he refers to himself as something of a “cultural anthropologist.”

“When you are with people who are — for lack of a better word — narcissists, you can have a hard time getting in a word edgewise. I definitely played more of the role of the observer,” he told me. “I am more insular by nature. I’m a Scorpio!”

Having spent the better part of the pandemic back in Vancouver, he got on the radar of the spinoff through fashion influencer Tina Leung, who was already signed up. They have been friends for a while, having travelled in the same stylish circles (his day job is as managing editor of the fashion-forward mag A Magazine Curated By, although he also played a role in the 2018 mainland Chinese scripted series “Meteor Garden”). Blake did not think he was right for reality TV but went along with it because … if nothing else, he thought he could get a story out of the experience of trying out for it. After all: “I am not American. I am mixed race. I am not from a billionaire family.”


From the start he was intrigued by the notion that this version of “Bling Empire” was meant to be a little grittier, a little more real. And that New York itself would be a character in it, the hook for the series being that Dorothy Wang — a familiar heiress from Beverly Hills — had newly relocated to the city.

What Blake does give in the show are looks. With his alpine cheekbones, Keanu-esque vibe and wavy longish locks that scream “Easy, breezy,” his lanky, supple style is a cross between wood nymph and Haider Ackermann model. A typical look for him, he says, is a Partow hand-knit sweater (she is an Iranian-American designer) paired with Maison Margiela jeans (he wears them all the time) and a pair of Salomon running shoes (“like a good B.C. guy!”). Phillip Lim and Thom Browne are other favourites. As are other lesser-known brands like Eckhaus Latta and Lu’u Dan. For his own Netflix premiere, meanwhile, he donned a suit and shirt by the brand Ouer (by two queer Chinese-Canadian designers).

His own fashion awakening, he says, came through two decisive Canadian influences. “I grew up watching my mom watch Jeanne Beker on television (the long-running ‘Fashion Television’). And Tim Blanks (host of ‘Fashion File’).” Agreeing with me that they were sort of the Reels and Instagram Live of their time, he loved how unfiltered and behind-the-scenes they both got.

“And it came out of Toronto, so wild!” He tries to bring that element into his own coverage today, he says, combined with that unflinching outsider perspective.

His MO in life and in reality TV. “Growing up as an Asian-Canadian vs. growing as an Asian-American are two very different things,” he says, a lens he hopes to bring to the show.

Asked, finally, what he misses most about Vancouver, he mentions the level of Asian food there and also all the outdoorsy stuff (he is a skier and hiker), but also … its ozone? “The thing that hits me as soon as I get off the plane, to this day … Vancouver air is unlike any other air … you cannot explain it. Money can buy you a lot of things, but it cannot buy you that. That is luxury.”

Turns out the truest bling of all is fresh air.

Shinan Govani is a Toronto-based freelance contributing columnist covering culture and society. Follow him on Twitter: @shinangovani


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