Labour of Love
Jane Chao-lee TURNED A LIFELONG PASSION FOR ART AND DESIGN INTO A CAREER WITH GALERIE HUIT AND THE NEWLY OPENED MAISON HUIT BOUTIQUE. SHE TELLS Jacqueline Kot THE SECRETS OF HER SUCCESS
They say true love lasts a lifetime. It’s evident when talking to Jane Chao-lee, one of the co-founders of lifestyle boutique Maison Huit, that art is her true love—one that dates back to her teenage years, when she was contemplating what to study at university. “Fine art has always been my biggest passion but my parents suggested architecture,” says Chao-lee. “For my generation, for a lot of traditional Chinese families, there was a preference for more practical subjects. I really enjoyed it and it broadened my horizons, but I knew from the very beginning that I would never be a practising architect.”
Her academic choices didn’t lessen ChaoLee’s penchant for collecting art, which started with posters from art museums when she was in high school. “Once I had a bigger allowance, I started buying original prints such as small etchings or lithographs. I moved on to more affordable original works and my collection grew from there. I always buy what I love and the work needs to speak to me. When you look at a piece of artwork, it has the ability to make you happy or sad; it can reflect what you are thinking. I never buy for investment.”
In time, Chao-lee turned her passion into a business with the opening of her art gallery, Galerie Huit, in 2010. “It sounds like a cliché but I still think that a picture can communicate a lot of messages and we can learn a lot from art. I wanted to share this with other art lovers.”
Galerie Huit was originally located on St Francis Street in Wan Chai. It moved to a new home in Sheung Wan to make way for the equally upscale Maison Huit, which Jane founded with four friends, Bonnie Kwong-li, Vanessa Chen-kwan, Viola Chen- Cheong and Evan Lau- Sarkis. Maison Huit had its grand opening in November last year, featuring a collection of lifestyle products from around the world, from one-of-a-kind jewellery pieces to luxury porcelain objects. ChaoLee’s experience in running Galerie Huit also equipped her with the confidence and skill to discover and showcase quality works, be they from a little-known brand or a talented artist.
“We don’t want Maison Huit to be just a shop for high-end merchandise; we want to use it to showcase international designers who don’t have exposure in Hong Kong,” says Chao-lee. “We want to promote the products through exhibitions and events, where the designer will be there to talk about their work so people get to know the piece before they buy it. I wouldn’t have known this approach if I didn’t have Galerie Huit.”
Maison Huit carries avant-garde porcelain works from German brand Nymphenburg, whose heritage dates back to 1747, while the more casual pieces include quirky cufflinks from Turkish designer Begüm Khan and elegant clutch bags from Shanghai-based designer Anna Blum—who Chao-lee discovered during one of her many trips to the city to visit her family. Also on display in the boutique are necklaces by designer Laura Lee that combine vintage and modern aesthetics for an eclectic look.