Dux of Luxe
The world of luxury is at a pivotal point, says marketing maven Peter Cheung. Madeleine Ross meets the style connoisseur as he launches his own strategic consultancy
y mum was always very strict about how her children were dressed,” says Peter Cheung, who grew up flanked by females in a household where good style was sacred. As the youngest child and only boy in his parents’ brood of six, his sartorial triumphs—and mishaps—were closely scrutinised. “We weren’t allowed to wear denim or sneakers outside sport. I bought my first pair of jeans when I was 16, basically to rebel, and I remember my mother looking at them and saying, ‘I can’t believe you’re wearing those; what are you, a farmer?’”
Cheung, who has dedicated his career to the business of luxury, most recently as regional marketing and communications director for Van Cleef & Arpels, credits his impeccably turned out Shanghainese mother for his appreciation of life’s finer things.
As we sip tea in the Conrad Hong Kong, Cheung tells tales of trips to the jeweller with the meticulously groomed matriarch. “It was the 1970s and my mum and her friends would visit their jewellers almost daily. She would pick me up from school, we’d have afternoon tea and then go to the jewellery store. She’d ask one of the sales assistants to take me to the toy shop and buy me a Matchbox car, and I remember having a collection of literally hundreds of Matchbox cars.”
With such a background it’s no surprise Cheung developed an interest in precious stones and objets d’art—and within a few years finery had become his raison d’être. Roles at Versace, Dior, Sotheby’s and, most recently, Van Cleef & Arpels have earned him a flawless reputation in the worlds of fashion and high jewellery.
This month marks the beginning of a new chapter in his career as he launches his own consultancy, Peter Cheung Asia, to advise luxury brands on marketing, communications and brand strategy. Van Cleef & Arpels has already entrusted Cheung with its business, and he is in talks with numerous other brands, including a promising Parisian designer and a European producer of handmade shoes, both of which he cannot yet name.
In spite of his love for beautiful things, Cheung’s path wasn’t always clear. When he was seven, his family left the clamour of 1970s Hong Kong for Canada. “Our parents were concerned about Hong Kong’s future. The looming handover was a source of anxiety for everyone, so my friends and I became these sort of astronaut kids who were sent overseas for school and returned for the holidays.”
His family settled in Victoria, British Columbia, where he attended school and university. Classes were initially terrifying because he spoke no English, but Cheung threw himself into sport and excelled in tennis. In many ways the quaint new town felt like home. “Victoria reminded me a lot of Hong Kong because it was a British colony, and a lot of the time I think the British Columbians are more British than the British.”
He returned to Hong Kong in 1996 to join the workforce. As far as the luxury world was concerned, things were shaky. The lustre of the ’70s and ’80s had dimmed, and the prehandover atmosphere was tense. “There were so many concerns and uncertainties about the Basic Law, about what would happen to Hong Kong after China took it back, and, on top of that, Asia was going through its first recession.”
By 1998, however, things were looking up. The bright young Hongkongers who had been sent abroad were returning in droves. Brands, seeing an opportunity to tap the sophisticated and international tastes of a new generation, began bolstering their Asian operations.
It was in this context that the publishers of Hong Kong Tatler approached Cheung to be the magazine’s social editor. He was pluggedin and popular, and a contemporary of the glitterati in this flash new crowd. He took the job, which put him on the radar of luxury brands, and when the market exploded a few years later, he was poached by Sotheby’s.