Jeffrey And Emily Piak: The Society Couple Shares How They Got Married And Their Love Story
The stunning pictures that you see on these pages were taken in June, when we captured society couple Jeffrey and Emily Piak on their first visit to Prague. They were also in the capital of the Czech Republic to preview the new Riders of the Knights high jewellery collection by Louis Vuitton. Naturally, we wanted to find out how they found the experience of being the subjects of a photo shoot in one of Europe’s most historic cities. But by doing so, we unwittingly kicked off the kind of conversation that couples have probably been having since the beginning of time. You know, the kind where one person reminisces about a shared experience, only to realise the other person doesn’t remember things the same way at all.
It all begins quite innocently. “Prague was really beautiful,” Jeffrey tells us. “It felt like a second honeymoon for us. Even having to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to get ready for the shoot was worth it.” He adds, “When we got married, we only got our pictures taken in a photography studio, we didn’t do an outdoor shoot.”
That’s when Emily reminds him: “Yes, we did. Remember, we went to the Botanic Gardens, and my gown got dirty.” The ensuing expression of bewilderment that crosses Jeffrey’s face is mild and brief, but quite genuine. “We went to the Botanic Gardens? Oh, okay.”
Luckily for us, this is a couple who doesn’t sweat the small stuff, and harmony continues to prevail for the rest of the interview. In fact, they are a disarmingly endearing, down-to-earth pair, who don’t do gushy declarations, which makes their professions of affection for each other all the more heartfelt when these do arrive.
Jeffrey and Emily first met in 1983, when they were colleagues in a fire protection company. At the time, Jeffrey was a project engineer who had been working there for a while, and Emily was the new girl who had joined the trading department as a clerk.
Their sweet love story
“I had always wanted to start my own business, but I didn’t come from a rich family, so I didn’t have the capital,” Jeffrey says. To prepare for his future as an entrepreneur, he decided to get some experience in the fire protection industry, whose contracting business model didn’t have capital‑intensive requirements such as manufacturing equipment. That, he figured, would be useful when he was ready to launch his own venture.
He first talked to Emily at a company barbecue. A while later, after she ended a relationship with someone else, an older colleague of theirs suggested that she get to know Jeffrey better. Why did he think they would hit it off? “Jeffrey was very well‑liked,” Emily says. “He’s very easy-going and friendly, and everyone found him to be a nice guy.”
“And charming. And handsome,” Jeffrey adds without missing a beat, prompting chuckles all round.
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Thus, things were put into motion. Their colleague arranged for a meet-up for all three of them at a restaurant. “Our first date had three people,” Jeffrey recounts. “No, the two of us only,” Emily corrects him. Apparently, the matchmaker conveniently “forgot” to show up, and his ploy worked. Jeffrey and Emily began dating, and five years later, his mother suggested they should get married. Jeffrey conveyed her sentiments to Emily, and the couple agreed—they should get married. And so, they did.
Prague was really beautiful; It felt like a second honeymoon for us. Even having to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to get ready for the shoot was worth it.
— Jeffrey Piak
“Just like that. Simple, easy,” Jeffrey declares. “Yes, there was no proposal, not like nowadays,” Emily confirms with a laugh. “He’s not a very romantic guy, he doesn’t really express himself that way.” We ask if Jeffrey would like to defend himself against these charges, and he brings up the fact that Emily never seemed to like it when he bought her flowers on her birthday. “I always say, the flower petals should be folded with money,” she jokes, before admitting: “I’m not really a flower person, I find it a waste. I guess I just don’t know how to appreciate them.”
In 1990, Jeffrey finally made the plunge to start his own fire protection solutions company, Rico Engineering Works. By then, he was 30 years old, and he figured it was now or never. Emily supported his decision. She soon joined him at Rico, where she worked in logistics until last year when Emily faced what she describes as “the biggest challenge of my life”.
During a check-up, her doctor discovered a tumour on her ovary. Just a few days later, she was undergoing surgery so that they could confirm through a biopsy whether the growth was cancerous.
“The doctor said if it wasn’t cancer, the surgery would just take two hours,” Jeffrey remembers. He accompanied her to the hospital in the morning for the operation, then left for a lunch appointment with a client, during which he couldn’t stop looking at his watch. Soon, the two‑hour window had passed. “Those few hours were very long. I kept waiting for the doctor to call, and I was very worried. I knew something was wrong, I was already expecting the worst.”
Overcoming Emily's biggest hurdle together
Midway through lunch, he apologised to his client and rushed back to the hospital, where their three children were waiting with equal anxiety. Sure enough, the doctor confirmed that Emily had Stage 1C ovarian cancer. The kids cried when they heard the news, but Emily took it quite calmly. “She was very brave. She wasn’t scared,” Jeffrey remembers.
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“My principle is, if something has already happened, I have to face it. I cannot hide, I have to overcome it,” Emily explains. “And all this willpower has to come from me, nobody can help me. If I cannot control my feelings, be brave, and fight this, nobody can help me. My family can only comfort me. I’m the only one who can make myself happy.” Her faith helped, she adds. She became a Christian about 10 years ago, “and I have no fear of death”, she says. “I know where I will be if I don’t make it, and it doesn’t matter to me how long I am in this world.”
In fact, she was reluctant to begin the recommended chemotherapy treatments after her surgery, partly because of her acceptance of whatever her fate would be, and partly because she was afraid of debilitating side effects. When she told Jeffrey her decision, “I could feel that he was very sad. He knows that once I decide on something, it’s difficult to change my mind”, she remembers. “Actually, it was during this difficult time that I felt he really loved me very much. He urged me to give myself a chance by going through the treatment.”
Slower pace of life
To persuade her, Jeffrey accompanied her to several consultations with doctors. Finally, she relented. “I could feel he was relieved and very happy,” she says. “And I believed that I could pull through even if the side effects were bad.” Over the ensuing 18 weeks of weekly chemotherapy sessions, she lost her hair, but “I was like the queen”, Emily recalls with a laugh. “Everybody was very nice to me.”
Her children kept her company during the sessions, and Jeffrey told her she looked much nicer with short hair. “Everybody else said the same thing,” he says. We don’t disagree—the chic pixie cut Emily sports on these pages suits her petite frame. But she still prefers longer hair, she tells us, and has been growing out her tresses since her chemotherapy ended.
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Well, when I married him, I wanted somebody to lean on. I wanted to be the little woman. And I feel that I made the right choice. If there is a second life, I would want to be his wife again.
— Emily Piak
How did the whole ordeal change them as a family? “I appreciate them much more,” says Emily, who is now in remission. She has also decided, with Jeffrey’s blessing, to cut back on work so she can spend more time on other pursuits. She’s just started bowling lessons and plans to brush up on her Chinese and maybe learn some form of dance next. “I want to improve myself.”
Asked if Emily has always been so fearless about everything, Jeffrey says with a chuckle: “Not exactly. Only about this. Usually she depends a lot on me.”
“Well, when I married him, I wanted somebody to lean on. I wanted to be the little woman,” she reasons. “And I feel that I made the right choice. If there is a second life, I would want to be his wife again.”
This story is done in collaboration with Louis Vuitton
- Photography John-Paul Pietrus
- Fashion Direction Desmond Lim