Hong Kong no longer a cultural backwater?

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It used to be that international-level events in this town were few and far between. Years ago you would wait for months just for something to take place. And when it finally arrived, often the draw would be a famous name on the decline, not someone at the top of their game. Hong Kong just wasn’t on the map for international talent. But that’s simply no longer the case. What’s behind the city’s turnaround?

Take a second to think who’s been to Hong Kong just over the last year. It’s both pioneers and people on the edge of music, art and fashion. The Kitsune crew, Terry Richardson, Kanye West, Zaha Hadid, Nigo, Karl Lagerfeld, 2 Many DJs, Hiroshi Fujiwara, Justice, Pharrell Williams, Busy P, Louie Vega, DJ Premier, Danny Krivit, DJ Nu-Mark, Bob Sinclair, Krump Kings, Tittsworth, and even Banksy’s art have all been recent visitors.

Who’s responsible for the increase? It’s individuals and private companies, not the government or institutions that have fueled the change. The city’s capitalistic drive has actually aided the cultural push. Competition between fashion brands, trendy retailers, nightclubs and the city’s style impresarios has led to a steady string of events and a rise in both quality and quantity.

Luxury brands looking to capture market share and enhance their image fund major soirées every season featuring international talent. Fashion king Karl Lagerfeld took a slightly different approach this year. Chanel Mobile Art, Lagerfeld’s collaboration with architect Zaha Hadid, brought not only an ultra-contemporary structure to the middle of the city, it also contained a traveling art exhibition inside. Hong Kong was the opening destination of Chanel Mobile Art, and one of only six cities throughout the world to play host.

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Over the last year Diesel (under the local leadership of Federico Tan,) created a series of events that brought top artistic talent to Hong Kong. The highlight was an exhibition where sought after photographer Terry Richardson was teamed with local artist Michael Lau.

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Apart from international guests, Hong Kong’s local art scene has also been flourishing. The city now features a series of art walks, conventions and auctions, in addition to a plethora of gallery shows. A new art magazine has also been launched with a collective approach to promoting art and culture in H.K..

Galleri magazine, which focuses on exposing new artists, has brought creative talent out of the darkness. By their second issue they were already a new force in town, since the first issue led to numerous opportunities for their contributors.

In the nightlife arena, Hong Kong has experienced a similar growth. The two top clubs, Dragon-i and Volar, have continued to define themselves through their choice of big name d.j.s. Both clubs include resident music-lover / owners who have brought pivotal d.j.s to the city for the first time. Gilbert Yeung at Dragon-i and Ben Ku at Volar have packed their clubs and provided Hong Kong with a diverse line up that would make any city jealous.

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Competition between fashion retailers has also brought an increase in events to the city. I.T and Lane Crawford, two of the big fashion retailers, have promoted hot new designers through a series of happenings. Along with personal appearances by the designers, the parties often include top musical talent in genres outside of the norm. For example at the launch of the Visvim brand in Hong Kong, Japanese fashion pioneer Hiroshi Fujiwara played an acoustic set.

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Two other entities that deserve special mention include CLOT and Silly Thing. The two conglomerates have developed extensive relationships with foreign brands and collaborated with artists to bring their work to the city.

All of these factors have contributed to Hong Kong’s new position as a first-tier destination for international talent.

But will it last?

One danger that Hong Kong faces is getting out bid by others in the region. Already H.K. is losing out on concerts to Macau whose casinos can afford to spend more to attract gamblers to their tables. As the China market matures, Hong Kong may face stronger competition from Mainland cities such as Shanghai and Beijing who can promise numbers of people that Hong Kong simply can’t match. Marketing budgets, the source of financing for these events, are much larger for Mainland China than they are for Hong Kong.

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2 Comments

  • Actually, It’s also the international awareness of the people in Hong Kong. It’s the fact that they know that there’s stuff out there. They’re hungry, they want it, they know it’s there, and they’re up for it. This is a very good thing. It’s not just a blank-ish canvas, it’s a hungry one, itching for paint. Wonderful.

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