Having spent over a decade of my formative years in Hong Kong, I try to return as often as I can, to reconnect with the chaotic yet sophisticated fusion of East and West. On the one hand the essence of this thriving city never changes – as I wandered through the streets of Sheung Wan last month waves of nostalgia rolled over me, the area’s distinctive smells taking me back to a time when Hong Kong life was all I knew. On the other, Hong Kong never stops evolving – the on-going reclamation of land from the sea renders the harbour narrower at every visit, and the unfamiliarity of new skyscrapers twisting their way above reminds me this is a city to which I no longer belong.
I challenge anyone to find a city with more soul than Hong Kong and this is perfectly embodied by a new type of shopping experience which struck me on my return visit. Enterprising store owners are adapting their offering so that they’re no longer just creating cool boutiques, but instead generating immersive experiences which add depth and ambiance to a shopping destination. Rather than seeming to me to be set up in reaction to the proliferation of spotless malls, they work hand-in-hand, to ensure the people of Hong Kong – and its visitors – have the luxury of enjoying every possible shopping experience available.
A prime example of this is Haji Gallery, a tiny art gallery which showcases local artists, alongside books, clothes, belts and other trinkets designed by the store’s owner, Mini Choi. From what I understand, the gallery-boutique was among the first in the current trend for lifestyle stores, which add idiosyncrasy to the surrounding area, and in this instance encourages the HongKongers who are happy to shell out a fortune on designer clothes and accessories to appreciate art in the same vein.
Another great case in the drift towards lifestyle stores is Konzepp. A cave-like shop which sells funky clothing, accessories, postcards and other curiosities, it’s also a community space for passers-by to drop-in, have a coffee, tap into the free Wi-Fi, read magazines and listen to music, and for creative individuals to get together to brainstorm and share their ideas. It’s a cutting-edge enterprise which taps into the city’s artistic energy, and it’s a fascinating find. How wonderful it could be if we were to open up Focus PR in the same way, providing a vehicle to untapped creative minds across London.
Finally, if you ever find yourself in Hong Kong I recommend you bypass the IFC mall and head to Edit, a froyo shop and café on the ground floor, with a cutting-edge fashion emporium upstairs. The store is essentially an edit of things the owners love, based on their travels around the world, providing a combination of established and emerging designer brands, vintage pieces, and carefully hand-picked items from international markets and bazaars. According to the store’s owners via their website, “Edit is our way of inviting you to travel with us, and to get a share of the treasures we find along the way.”
Twenty years after I left, Hong Kong still has as big a hold over me as ever, as much for the undying nostalgia I feel whenever I visit, as for the fact its constant evolution means no two visits have ever been the same.