I’m definitely something of a cross-breed
valuable. When I first got to England, I didn’t get much respect from my peers and I believe that was because Hong Kong had made no cultural contributions to the world stage. Yes, we were rich, but as a city we had nothing original to our name.”
After finishing his architecture degree at Sheffield University, Young moved back to Hong Kong to fill this cultural void by creating a brand that was representative of local tastes and aesthetics. G.O.D. was born in 1996 and Young spent the next two decades repackaging visuals, concepts and flavours from Hong Kong heritage into furniture, fashion and food. His designs are often purposefully provocative, such as his tongue-in-cheek slogan “Delay No More” and its striking similarity to a profane Cantonese expression, and the T-shirts printed with characters that reminded the police of a local triad gang, which famously got him arrested for 24 hours. But many other pieces also hold a strong message about the future of the city.
For the past 20 years, Young’s fundamental battle has been to turn Hong Kong into a cultural and creative hub, not just a financial one. “We’re on our own here and we have to assert ourselves against our competitive neighbours, otherwise we’ll get lost,” he says. “Geographically, we’re ideally placed, English is spoken widely and it’s an open society with a free press and a trusted legal system. This combination is pretty unique in Asia, and we need to harness our advantages to maximise Hong Kong’s competitiveness. With the rise of Asia, the world is yearning for a cultural showcase in this part of the world, so we should build state-of-the-art venues for film festivals, fashion shows, music extravaganzas and sporting events.”
Young believes the fight to turn the city into a cultural hub is a more worthwhile one than some of the other issues on the political agenda. “It complements the roles that China has set forth for other mainland cities and creates a vision for Hong Kong that everybody can share,” he says. “I hope it also gives our disgruntled youngsters a sense of direction and helps them focus on something they can all be a part of. A lot of the frustrations expressed during the recent civil unrest stem from not knowing where our future lies.” A few days after our shoot, I meet Young for coffee at his studio in the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre in Shek Kip Mei and, as I wander through its many cluttered rooms, I feel like I’m entering both a time warp and a shrine to local culture. There are ornate chairs, a wall of clocks, hundreds of cups and plates in glass cabinets, china ornaments, miniature Hong Kong taxis and buses and Cathay Pacific planes, and rooms of brightly coloured posters—all of which could have landed on the scrapheap but now inspire Young and his design team every day.
“Everything I collect has humour and, as Hongkongers, we all need to have a bit more fun together,” he says. “I’m an Anglophile. I love European culture, and I admire how the British can laugh at their traditions but still pass them on. Their confidence in their heritage has allowed London to become an international hub while remaining quintessentially British. A Hong Kong person doesn’t have that, because we’re still stuck in the colonial mindset—the foreigners were our masters and thus everything local is inferior. I’m trying to redress that.”
Over the past year, Young’s core mission has remained the same, but his focus has shifted from furniture to fashion. He’s currently working on a collection of Hong Kong-inspired clothing to sell in the six local G.O.D. stores, and his studio is awash with cheongsam-style capes, neon dresses, slogan jumpers, and skirts and trousers made