Yoyo Cao Reflects on Her Decade in Fashion, Branching out Into Beauty, and What’s Next

The style savant has done much to put Singapore on the fashion map—and she’s only getting started.
Published: April 8, 2024
Yoyo Cao Is ELLE Singapore's April 2024 Cover Star
Fringed shirt, PRADA. Trinity earring in white, rose and yellow gold, CARTIER.

Within seconds of exchanging greetings, it’s obvious that this is not going to be the usual Zoom call that I’m used to. For one, Yoyo Cao has her phone (and by extension, me) propped up against something on her passenger seat, and, for a split second, I imagine us bursting into song for a “Carpool Karaoke” session, local edition. There’s also the fact that Yoyo is doing remarkably well driving through Singapore’s harrowing morning traffic to get to the office while having a thoughtful and insightful chat with me. “I’m sorry; it really has been back-to-back for me,” apologises the fashion influencer and entrepreneur for the unusual circumstances. “I’m constantly travelling; sometimes, it can be six cities in a month. So I make sure to head to the office for regular meetings whenever I can.”

Related article: Yoyo Cao Is ELLE Singapore's April 2024 Cover Star

Considering she just flew back to Singapore at midnight the night before, and is off again to another part of the world in a couple of days, it’s hard to begrudge the fact that we could have started our morning with a nice cup of coffee as initially planned. But this is just how Yoyo rolls. Known throughout the world by her whimsical Instagram handle @yoyokulala (something she came up with as a teen during the days of ICQ), she’s always on the move, always on the lookout for beautiful spots to showcase her style, and always thinking about “what’s next”. If there is one thing to be said about this style-setter, it’s that she has worked hard, and continues to work hard, to get where she is.

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Yoyo Cao Is ELLE Singapore's April 2024 Cover Star
Broderie anglaise dress, BOTTEGA VENETA. (From top) Trinity bangle (extra-large) in white, rose and yellow gold; ring (large) in white, rose and yellow gold, CARTIER. Socks, Yoyo’s own.

In an age where everyone now sees themselves as content creators, it bears reminding that Yoyo—following in the close footsteps of a select group of individuals like Bryan Grey Yambao (@bryanboy), Susie Lau (@susiebubble), Chriselle Lim (@chrisellelim) and Leandra Medine (previously @manrepeller, now @leandramcohen)—was at the forefront of digital exploration before anyone could have guessed how much social media apps would impact the way we view and consume information.

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When asked if her younger self could have predicted where she would be right now, she replies: “I don’t think so. When I started doing this [in 2012], nobody knew where [social media] was headed; nobody knew that there was going to be this market segment like we have right now.” 

As the style maven admits, her “agenda” for being on Instagram then was to primarily promote the clothes that were under her now defunct fashion store, Exhibit. Launched in 2012, Exhibit started as a humble multi-label boutique at Far East Plaza before it blossomed into a full-fledged label with in-house designs. “Instagram was just getting popular, and all my friends were telling me to get on it. At the time, I was very into photography too. So I thought that the app was perfect for me,” she recalls. “I was getting traction on Instagram: People liked what I was doing. Whenever I posted a photo wearing looks from Exhibit, people would walk into the store, show my photo and say, ‘Oh, I want this and I want that’. We started on Facebook first, but slowly, we moved onto Instagram.”

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Yoyo Cao Is ELLE Singapore's April 2024 Cover Star
Trench coat, BURBERRY. (From top) Trinity rings (small) in ceramic and white gold with diamonds; (medium) in white gold and ceramic, CARTIER.

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As successful as Exhibit was, Yoyo made the painful decision to close the shop seven years later in 2019 when she found herself constantly drained by having to juggle her dual roles as a fashion influencer and designer. “I was exhausted doing different collections for Exhibit every single year while having to still travel around the world,” she shares. “At that time, I was like, oh my god, I really can’t do this anymore. I was also having a baby around that time; it was hard. So I decided to stop whatever I was doing at Exhibit and to focus on my influencer work.”

It’s a good thing that she did. Twelve years after her very first Instagram snap (a back shot of her wearing a studded Burberry Prorsum jacket posted on 8 March 2012), she has not only established herself as one of Asia’s top style influencers with almost half a million Instagram followers, but also regularly appears in the front row of the world’s biggest fashion shows, and on the covers of numerous international magazines. Then, there are also the countless editorials and interviews that have been dedicated to her polished, eclectic style that marries “high fashion with street fashion”, not to mention partnerships with brands (Chanel, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Miu Miu among many others) who want to tap onto her distinct sense of aesthetics.


Yoyo Cao Is ELLE Singapore's April 2024 Cover Star
T-shirt; miniskirt, MIU MIU. (From top) Trinity ring (large) in white, rose and yellow gold; pendant necklaces in white, rose and yellow gold with diamonds; in white gold, ceramic and diamonds, CARTIER. Socks, Yoyo’s own.

“Growing up, I remember reading the [now defunct street fashion blog] Jak & Jil all the time and thinking, ‘Wow, these people are so cool’,” she says about her fashion influences. “They were really very naturally stylish—not in a try-hard kind of way— and they styled pieces in ways that I never would have thought of. I was very inspired by that blog.” 

Another source of inspiration came from Vogue Japan, which she bought religiously to satiate her love for Japanese street fashion. “They had this column that featured Tokyo street style—kind of like a street snap, and I was very inspired by that. I remember going to Tokyo and I couldn’t stop looking at the people to see what they were wearing, how they were layering, and what was popular. I think that’s where [my personal style] comes from.” There’s also her mother, whom she credits as having instilled her love for fashion at a very tender age. A bona fide fashion consumer, her mother used to bring her along on shopping expeditions where a young and impressionable Yoyo would browse the shelves and racks while watching her mother quiz store attendants on fabrics and the inspirations behind the collections. It’s a core memory that Yoyo treasures.

Yoyo Cao Is ELLE Singapore's April 2024 Cover Star
Dress, BURBERRY. Trinity earring in white, rose and yellow gold, CARTIER.

Originally hailing from Macau, Yoyo came to Singapore at the age of 13 and lived with a guardian till she moved out on her own at age 18. She attended a private university in Singapore and got herself a business degree. And if her parents had had their way, she’d be back in Macau learning the ropes of her family business (in the tourism industry) instead of being the first person from Singapore to be featured within the pages of Louis Vuitton’s in-house magazine. “It’s really not my thing,” she says with a laugh about taking over the reins of the Cao family empire. “So, I was like, ‘Okay, let me try fashion out first’... but I had no idea what it was going to be like.”

That’s not to say Yoyo doesn’t have a head for business. Never one to stand still, Yoyo launched ROMI Beauty together with fellow entrepreneurs Arissa Cheo and Lin Ting in 2022, in a bid to provide women with “simple, straightforward and effective” beauty products that allow them to streamline their beauty routines. There are currently just three products in the range—Glow Getter Treatment Mask, Dewy Boost Multi Balm and Dream Skin Tint—but, as Yoyo shares, there are plans to extend the range “with a full line-up of products” later this year.


Yoyo Cao Is ELLE Singapore's April 2024 Cover Star
Maxi dress, by SAINT LAURENT BY ANTHONY VACCARELLO. (From top) Trinity ring (extralarge) in white, rose and yellow gold; bangle in white, rose and yellow gold, CARTIER.

“I saw a change [in attitude] regarding beauty and make-up after COVID. Before, it was about having more and wanting different types of powders for different parts of the face. But COVID changed that and people started wanting products that are good for the skin instead of just [providing] coverage,” she explains. “My partners and I have very different lifestyles and beauty needs. Arissa has ultra-sensitive skin, Lin Ting is a mum of two who is awake from 6am, and I always have to go to events and appear in front of the camera. So when we were thinking about this, we decided to come up with a brand that is suitable for the three of us: One that doesn’t have ingredients that irritate the skin, easy and convenient for busy women and mums to use, and a product that you can layer without looking cakey or flaky. That is the core concept of the brand and it’s doing great!” Take the brand’s Dream Skin Tint for example. Promising a light, tinted moisturiser and sun shield all in one, it aims to soothe, protect and hydrate the skin, while giving you a long-lasting natural, dewy finish that’s luminous at the same time. It’s a proposition that’s hard to resist—and one that seems to work. As Yoyo tells me, the product gets “sold out all the time”.

“I am really, really grateful for the support that I have received—from my Exhibit days to ROMI Beauty,” she says. “There are people who used to be Exhibit customers who are now customers of ROMI Beauty, but we also have people from different countries with different skin tones and conditions … I’m very grateful for that.”

As happy as she is with ROMI Beauty’s success, the 35-year-old won’t be putting away her fashion stilettos anytime soon. It’s obvious that she still enjoys what she does and the travelling that her job affords her—not to mention the grand occasions and unique experiences that come with it. Like Cartier’s centennial celebration of its Trinity collection at the start of February. Attended by the who’s who of the celebrity set (Jake Gyllenhaal, Rami Malek, Sofia Coppola and Blackpinks Jisoo included), with performances by Sia, Labrinth and Diplo, Yoyo shares that the event was “vibing”. “Cartier had everybody there—not only KOLs but people from different industries. Musicians, writers, artists... they all came together and it was very inspiring to speak with them and learn about their lives.”


Yoyo Cao Is ELLE Singapore's April 2024 Cover Star
Blouson jacket; checked shirt; swimwear bottoms; New Balance X Miu Miu 530 SL sneakers, MIU MIU. (From top) Trinity rings (small) in white, rose and yellow gold with diamonds; (large) in white, rose and yellow gold; (medium) in white, rose and yellow gold; (small) in white, rose and yellow gold; (small) in white, rose and yellow gold with diamonds, CARTIER. Socks, Yoyo’s own.

Does she ever tire of it all? The years of intensive travelling and being constantly on the move must take its toll somehow. “I get bored when I’m stuck in the same place for a long time,” she replies. “I’m just very grateful that a huge part of my job requires me to travel. And my love for fashion is still the same. I still love seeing beautiful shows and I still get goosebumps. 

“When I was at Milan Fashion Week early this year, my driver reminded me that he has known me for 10 years. He said: ‘September 2014 was the first time I drove you.’ It has been ten years!” she exclaims. “ So I started thinking maybe I should create various content to celebrate this year. I haven’t really thought about the exact content I want but I do want to celebrate the moment in September—just as, you know, a mini-celebration for myself.”

Looking back on the decade, were there any things that she would have done differently? “No, because I’m not someone who lives in regret. I would rather improve myself now than change anything from the past.”

And who is the real Yoyo Cao beyond the fashionable persona and the Instagram handle? “Someone who’s a foodie. I love to eat. Like, wherever I go, I’m constantly looking for new foods to try. Food makes me so happy and I can’t live without soup because I’m just a true Cantonese. I have a very Asian stomach.” And that’s Yoyo for you: A woman who breaks down boundaries and stereotypes, even if it’s just proving that fashion people do actually eat.

Photography REUBEN FOONG
Make-up MANISA TAN, using CHANEL
Hair RICK YANG/Artistry Studios, using ANTICOLLECTIVE
Photographer’s assistants: MCDOUGLAS LIM, KHAIRUL AMIRIN and DANIEL WEST
Stylist’s assistant: JOSEPHINE ANG

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