bal harbour blog

High Culture in Hong Kong

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Fiona Kotur, the fashionable expat whose namesake handbags are carried by style setters around the globe, takes us on a tour of her favorite local haunts.

Being the archetypical New Yorker, I never imagined I would live anywhere else. New York was in my blood and growing up there shaped my sensibilities. After college and a short period in London, I returned to my city to begin more than a decade’s work in fashion—first with Ralph Lauren as accessories designer and later at Gap, as part of the team to launch their new concept, Old Navy. During that time, business travel often took me to Hong Kong, where my bond with this new city began, and usually during those quiet hours that come with extreme jet lag. I got to know the city at 4 a.m., and came to appreciate the neighborhoods, culture and vibrancy that set it apart from most other places I visited. Sometimes I even imagined living there if, for some improbable reason, I were ever to leave New York. That unexpected day arrived in 2002, when my husband was presented with an interesting career opportunity abroad, and I, ready for a two-year adventure, moved to Hong Kong. Eight years on, and with the addition of our four bilingual sons, we are still here, happily dividing our time between New York and Hong Kong, ensconced in both cities.

In my experience, Hong Kong is really two cities: The one that presents itself to tourists, usually on the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbour, and the seasoned expat insider’s version, which tends to exist more on the Hong Kong island side. Soon after I moved here, between settling in and helping my friend Tory Burch launch her retail brand, Hong Kong began to reveal itself to me. I’ve always had a passion for unraveling new places, and this one offered much to discover. My biggest find came when I happened upon an old silk mill run by an eldery master craftsman who planned to move abroad the following week. I bought up all the incredible textiles he was leaving behind, began making vintage brocade evening bags, and my company, Kotur, was born.

Many of the best places in Hong Kong are found by word of mouth. Some are heavily guarded secrets, shared after time by tai-tai friends as a sign of loyalty and trust. Others seem too obvious to be true—for example, the great resources found in the Mandarin Hotel. There is a tradition of hotels in Hong Kong that differs from that in other cities. Hotels here are not just for visitors, but also for the benefit of locals, for grooming, dining, shopping. K.S. Sze & Sons jewelers is such a place. See Elsa for outstanding custom work. Their abilities range—Elsa recently made a pair of wood cuffs for me, set with hammered gold and semiprecious stones, but they can make more formal pieces as well, in the spirit of Verdura and Van Cleef. It’s also a good pearl resource for quality and value.

Most men go to the Mandarin Barber for their grooming, but you will find the women upstairs at the Mandarin Beauty Shop. Among their many service experts, you will find Samuel So. Samuel is a second-generation master pedicurist, taking over from his father, who worked at the Mandarin until he was 80 years old. Both specialize in the traditional Shanghai pedicure, executed with precision using sharpened chisel-like blades. The result is addictive—your feet will never look so fresh, and a monthly visit to Sam is on every glamorous HK girl’s calendar.

It is worth the trip across the harbour to see Soong Salon de Mode, discreetly hidden in a modest building behind the Penninsula Hotel. Soong is a find, but certainly not a new one; for decades foreign royalty and Hong Kong “Peak Princesses” have patronized Soong. They offer the largest variety of materials for men and women, including Italian cashmere suitings, Scottish tweeds and vintage silks, to name just a few. It is best to bring a favorite piece for fit to reinterpret in different materials. My favorite Soong piece is a camel car coat I had lined in an unexpected retro silk print with a matching blouse. You can have fun here.

Of course, Hong Kong is known to have some of the best shopping in the world. But beyond the city’s top department stores, each with its own distinctive point of view—Harvey Nichols, Lane Crawford, Joyce, Seibu—I recommend buying LUXE City Guides to find the most current shopping list. Available at Lane Crawford and in most hotels, the pamphlet is updated twice a year and is witty, well-written and very accurate.

One of the most refreshing and interesting evolutions in the city of late is the emergence of the art scene. While Hong Kong has long been a destination for Asian antiquities, there is now a new focus on contemporary art from China and the region, as well as, very recently, the opening of several reputable and prestigious international art galleries. Hong Kong is now the third largest international art market, and twice a year the HK Art Fair takes place at the convention center, coinciding with the Sotheby’s and Christie’s auctions. Francois Curiel, the new head of Christie’s, has brought life into that world, making the auctions a major part of the social season. It’s an interesting time to visit. The city is energized by the art focus, and the activities extend beyond the study of art history to include a heavy social schedule of dealers and auction house lunches, cocktails and dinners. The new Ben Brown Fine Art gallery has brought a roster of international artists. Located in Central, this space is the Hong Kong-raised gallerist’s first outside of London. He represents many noted artists, including Caio Fonseca, Ron Arad and Candida Höfer.

The art scene has extended beyond the Central district and into neighboring, hip Sheung Wan, the western part of famed Hollywood Road. There you can find Cat Street Gallery among others. My studio and showroom is also in Sheung Wan, which is likenend to New York’s meatpacking district. The traditionally Chinese neighborhood does have an authentic, calm and creative bohemian feel.

Five years ago, when I moved to Sheung Wan, there was nowhere to have lunch, but now there is an influx of cool restaurants, galleries and clubs. Yenn Wong, a young, chic developer known for her boutique hotels, recently opened 208 Duecento Otto, a casual spot with great style and great pizza.

Among my regular haunts is Gaia, a Hong Kong institution, along with Pino, Gaia’s Italian owner. I also love superchic Sevva, with an outdoor terrace on top of the Prince’s Building. The Sevva menu is inspired by Joyce Café, the former iconic restaurant of owner Bonnie Gokson’s sister, Joyce Ma; my favorites are the nub-nub chopped vegetarian salad and the crisp cake. Dieters beware; the dessert menu is irresistable.

After hours, we go to Tazmania Ballroom, the glamorous pool hall and lounge opened by Gilbert Yeung, a Hong Kong nightlife guru. Down the street is Kee Club, and though it’s a private club, if one is very nice to the concierge, he will make it happen for you. It’s a wonderful place to go after dinner, but it starts filling up at midnight. Also, Kee has great dim sum for lunch. It’s a regular meeting place for local night owls of all ages.

The final destination for many in this town is Happy Foot. Massage and reflexology is a regular practice here and a tradition that is easy to embrace. With much entertaining done in restaurants, I have been to several dinner parties where the entire group migrated to Happy Foot, to recline in those comfortable La-Z-Boy chairs for post-dinner conversation and a foot massage. Consider it your after-after-party, and the way to end your day in style, the Hong Kong way.

Kotur is available at Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, Bal Harbour.

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