Five Creative Men Shaping Hong Kong’s Future

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Five Creative Men Shaping Hong Kong’s Future

Words by Mr Daniel Kong | Photography by Mr Gideon de Kock | Styling by Mr Jacky Tam

1 February 2022

Dubbed the Fragrant Harbour from its historic agar-wood incense markets, Hong Kong has always been a city characterised by trade. Merchants and visitors from all around the world have streamed into its ports, resulting in a city of contradictions. East and West, tradition and modernity, mountain and sea. Incense-laden temples are just a short walk from futuristic shopping malls. And office workers descend from their pristine steel-framed skyscrapers, catching a glimpse of shimmering roast ducks hacked away by the local butchers. This is a city of infinite change and ambition. No further proof is needed than to look at M+, the city’s world-class museum and a cultural institution to rival other global cities. Amid this bubbling backdrop, MR PORTER spotlights five leading gents in business, design, creative and culinary circles, to get their take on this metropolis, and understand what the horizon holds.

Mr Juno Mak

Achieving critical success in the music and film industries simultaneously is no small feat, but Mr Juno Mak has managed to find that balance. As a singer, scriptwriter, actor and director, his career has provided onlookers with a firm idea of who he is. This was evident in _Rigor Mortis _(2013), his directorial debut, which veered into the dark and supernatural. Mak’s career highlights a man who is wholly determined. Whether it is a song or a film, he is fully intent on transforming the inkling of a creative idea into fully fleshed reality.

What makes a good story in a film?

I believe films should incorporate some element of fantasy. As a kid, when I went to the cinema, I wanted to fall into the world in front of me. Fantasy doesn’t have to mean a movie like Avatar, but I believe every story should feel like people coming together collectively to make a dream, a creative vision come true. It’s an approach that is different from other directors in the city that like to tackle topics grounded in real life.

What new projects are you working on?

I’ve recently finished a three-year project that involved releasing one new album per year. As the project was quite extensive and spanned 30 songs, I’m happy to explore other creative pursuits. One of them involves working on my recently launched fashion label. I’m also excited to get back on screen, and I’m working already on an early script.

Does Hong Kong give you creative inspiration?

For me, it’s not necessarily the city that gives me creative inspiration, but the details. I can get inspiration from a cigarette, or from my pet cats. Inspiration comes from life and where I am at any one point.

If you didn’t work in show business, what would you do?

It’s difficult to say, though I’d love to be an author because I love writing. Interestingly, as a kid, I used to think that I wanted to be librarian. Later on, my interests moved to comics. And I’ve also said before that I wouldn’t mind working in a bookstore. But honestly, I think whatever career I would have, it would have to be something creative.

Mr André Fu

Mr André Fu is one of Hong Kong’s leading architects, offering a new language of design for spaces in Hong Kong, Asia and beyond. He has overseen the creation of iconic hotel spaces and beautiful homes, showcasing a philosophy grounded in quiet consideration and refinement. Fu’s work takes a courageous and compelling approach to modern luxury, eschewing ostentation for timeless forms, subtle textures, and craftsmanship.

Hong Kong is a busy place. How do you find peace?

Interestingly enough, I find my inner peace whenever I am simply sketching with a pencil – it’s the moment when I am fully immersed in a world that connects my mind with what is being drawn on a sheet of paper. I enjoy that level of fulfilment and focus.

We heard that The Upper House recently named the penthouse suite after you. What’s that all about?

When The Upper House first opened 11 years ago, it was considered the antithesis of what typically defines an Asian luxury hotel. At the time, I attempted to infuse how I saw hospitality going forward into this property. Fifteen years later, I am still excited to evolve with the House as it has remained a key relationship for me throughout my career. The idea for the name was borne out of an informal conversation with the team at the hotel, and I’m grateful for it.

Which Hong Kong buildings inspire you most?

I am particularly drawn to the local cafés built in the 1970s and 1980s, most of them complete with mid-century furniture, contrasting mosaic tiles and metal ceiling fans. I am also drawn to the purist spaces at the newly opened M+ museum by Herzog & de Meuron, and also to the Kadoorie Estate, which is adorned with a vast collective of houses built between the 1950s to the present day.

Work and inspiration have brought you to so many parts of the world. What continually draws you back to Hong Kong?

I think it is the energy of the city that keeps bringing me back. I enjoy the eclectic aspect of Hong Kong – in particular, the way in which this city constantly reinvents itself. I am a firm believer in the future of the city, too.

Mr Michael Lau

In the 1970s and 1980s, Hong Kong was one of the world’s leaders for both toy design and manufacturing. Mr Michael Lau, who grew up during this boom, immersed himself within the local toy-making community, sourcing interesting models before eventually transforming the everyday objects into bona fide designer collectibles. Dubbed as the “godfather of designer toys”, Lau’s influence spans far and wide, touching street, hip-hop and skateboarding communities.

How did you become interested in toys?

I grew up in a family that ran a farm, so the only “toys” I had back then were nature and a soccer ball. Because of this, I learnt to be creative by building my own toys, dismantling different objects and putting them back together in different forms. Hong Kong was also a leader in terms of toy design and production, with samples and dead stock available for sale, so by the time I grew up and started earning money, I started investing in interesting pieces I could find.

Tell me about your most recent solo exhibition.

My exhibition, MAXX HEADROOM [2021], was held at WOAW Gallery. It was a passionate self-reflection, and a journey of maximum effort and fresh aspirations. It reexamined one of my career’s hero characters named MAXX from my Gardener series, and the show featured both new and older works and explored concepts of youth, passion and perseverance.

Tell us about your favourite neighbourhood, Sham Shui Po.

Sham Shui Po is a haven for people interested in electronics, gadgets and all sorts of craft. It is definitely not fancy at all, but when I do visit, I like to wander through to look at all the shops, equipment and accessories. You have to learn to appreciate the raw aesthetic in order to appreciate the area.

How many toys have you collected?

There are too many to count, and too many to name. But in all honesty, I don’t collect as much as I used to. I’m more interested in finding space and inner peace. To create and build my own ideas, to paint and express my thoughts through an exhibition – this gives me great joy.

What new projects are you working on?

I have been experimenting with new mediums and materials outside of sculpture and painting that hopefully will be unveiled for an upcoming work. Experimentation is a continual journey for me. For my coming exhibition in Beijing this April, I will also be creating my biggest painting ever in the form of a diptych as a tribute to one of my favourite paintings by Picasso, “Guernica”.

Mr David Lai

Located in a secluded part in Soho, Neighborhood is an intimate restaurant founded by the illustrious chef Mr David Lai. Its low-profile name and cosy ambience belie its stature among culinary circles. Since 2018, Lai has steered its ship, securing a well-earned spot as one of “Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants”. The secret sauce? Unpretentious, well-executed food that does all the talking.

Where’s your go-to breakfast spot?

There’s an indoor market next to a sports venue on Bowrington Road where I usually play table tennis in the morning. Inside, you’ll find all sorts of food, including a well-known stall that serves beef tripe noodles. So, right after my workout at 11.00am, that’s where I head to.

What’s the best part of your job?

Like any occupation, the definition of a good job is one where time passes easily. Right now, I have a team that I’ve worked with for a long time, and I don’t have to communicate quite as much. This gives me the freedom to focus on the creative parts – going to the markets, coming up with new dishes, and taking care of regular customers.

What’s the hardest thing you have had to learn in the kitchen?

The norms of how you can behave in the kitchen have changed so much. My former bosses used to be able to get away with smashing plates. Expectations have changed, and the way I have to manage my team is different. There is a lot more communication, along with a lighter management style.

What motivates you each time to open a new restaurant?

It’s a matter of right time, place, and people. Ultimately, it can’t be just about the money. It has to come from a deep and inspired idea. Sometimes you have the right time and place, but not the right people. That doesn’t work; all the stars have to align.

Any future plans?

Given the situation with the pandemic, I don’t want to get ahead of myself. We feel very lucky that the restaurant is doing well, and that we can trade normally. To compete and not be complacent – that is already an achievement. However, if we eventually find space near Neighborhood, I’d love to open a bar. I have a huge collection of vinyl sitting at home, so it would be a good excuse to play them there.

Mr Wesley Ng

Entrepreneur Mr Wesley Ng started tech accessories brand CASETiFY more than a decade ago and hasn’t looked back. From a scrappy start-up that saw him and co-founder Mr Ronald Yeung finding time to develop the business after they had finished their office jobs, the company has boomed beyond imagination. Ng’s belief in speed and agility, a wisdom imparted from Hong Kong icon Mr Bruce Lee, has influenced CASETiFY’s evolution and ensured its success. Last year, New World Development bought a 10 per cent stake in the company for an undisclosed eight-figure sum.

Your business started in 2011, and has since turned into a team of 200. What’s next?

Offline retail is an interesting venture for us, and we’ve been expanding our retail presence during the pandemic. We opened our first store in Hong Kong two years ago and have been expanding stores globally since. The business now has stores in Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea, with plans for the US, our biggest market.

Congratulations on the 10 per cent investment stake from C Ventures and Mr Adrian Cheng. How did you celebrate?

To be honest, we didn’t really celebrate. Now that you’ve reminded me, maybe I should grab a nice bottle of wine. It’s one of those things in life where the best outcome is one that wasn’t planned. We didn’t plan to raise any money. Adrian and I have known each other for many years and respect each other. Everything just unfolded naturally.

How do CASETiFY’s collaborations with other brands work?

It goes both ways. Sometimes people reach out to us. Sometimes our team reach out to certain brands and designers. The dialogue itself is also very organic and is handled case by case. Last year we collaborated with Yohji Yamamoto. Since Yohji is a force to be reckoned with, he already had a clear idea in mind. With some other partnerships, the process is more conversational.

Best business advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t listen to any advice out there. There are so many ways to success, so explore the path that’s right for you.