Close-up

As he cel­e­brates the open­ing of his new cul­tural space in Quarry Bay, Alan Chan tells Chloe Street about the ir­re­sistible force of cre­ativ­ity and his drive to col­lect all things vin­tage

Hong Kong Tatler - - Contents -

De­sign and brand­ing guru Alan Chan tells of the ir­re­sistible force of cre­ativ­ity and his drive to col­lect all things vin­tage

If the club i have just de­signed could be recre­ated in Paris, Lon­don or New York, it could change how Chi­nese cul­ture is per­ceived. It’s about time we ex­ported Asian cul­ture back to Europe.” So says de­sign and brand­ing guru Alan Chan of a VIP space he has cre­ated for the 100 high­est rollers at a casino in Gent­ing, Malaysia. “Chi­nese cul­ture can be su­per so­phis­ti­cated,” says Alan, and his lux­u­ri­ous China-in­fused art deco de­sign for the casino’s elite re­treat shows “deep-rooted Chi­nese tra­di­tions can be­come in­ter­na­tional.”

Alan is ex­pound­ing on his Re­sorts World Gent­ing project, due to open early in the new year, as we sur­vey his lat­est ven­ture in Hong Kong, a 7,000-square-foot Quarry Bay cen­tre for ex­hi­bi­tions and events. Space 27, which opened in Novem­ber af­ter a two-year ren­o­va­tion, “is about art, cul­ture and de­sign,” says Alan, and, like his long-es­tab­lished Gallery 27 in Wan Chai, will be “a plat­form for young Asian de­sign­ers.”

The 65-year-old en­tre­pre­neur is pas­sion­ate about nur­tur­ing young tal­ent and ex­tend­ing art’s ap­peal be­yond the usual in-crowd. At Gallery 27, he cu­rates a dif­fer­ent art show ev­ery three months to pro­mote emerg­ing lo­cal artists. And with Space 27, he wants to democra­tise art “so it’s not ex­pen­sive and ex­clu­sive; so that peo­ple can get closer to art.” He will per­son­ally cu­rate the col­lec­tions and events to show­case brands, artists and other cre­atives, mostly from Asia, whose work he deems of in­ter­est.

Alan knows his stuff, possessing an aes­thetic knowl­edge and lan­guage honed by a 45-year ca­reer in graphic de­sign and brand­ing. His sharp eye and cre­ative bent were in­her­ited from his fa­ther, who came to Hong Kong from Guangzhou in the 1940s to run a small fruit stall in Wan Chai and would ap­proach even the sim­plest of tasks with imag­i­na­tion: from fur­nish­ing the fam­ily home with pieces he crafted from dis­man­tled fruit crates, to en­thralling cus­tomers with beau­ti­ful carv­ings he made from his fruit.

The first 10 years of Alan’s pro­fes­sional life were spent work­ing in ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies, learn­ing about brand iden­tity and graphic de­sign. Other than a 10-month course, he had no for­mal de­sign qual­i­fi­ca­tions when he and his wife, San­dra, launched Alan Chan De­sign in 1980. Es­tab­lished be­fore the ar­rival of such icons as G.O.D. and Shang­hai Tang, it was the first ma­jor de­sign brand to come out of Hong Kong. It has over­seen brand­ing, prod­uct de­sign and pack­ag­ing for more than 1,000 clients—in­clud­ing Hong Kong In­ter­na­tional Air­port, the Fair­wood restau­rant chain and the Evian Spa in Shang­hai—and its East-meets-west aes­thetic has won more than 600 lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional awards.

With a back­ground so con­nected to de­sign and the art of ev­ery­day life, Alan is fas­ci­nated by the past and col­lects “al­most any­thing on earth.” From ob­jets d’art, old post­cards, hand­i­crafts, an­tiques and even vin­tage clothes from Parisian mar­kets, he has amassed such a vol­ume of ephemera that he bought a 4,000sqft Chai Wan ware­house to house it. This trea­sure trove is the source of the cu­rated col­lec­tion on sale at Alan’s re­cently opened life­style store in Shang­hai, Gar­den 27. (The num­ber 27 re­curs in the names of Alan’s ven­tures as it does in his life; it’s the date of his and his wife’s birth­days, the num­ber of his first apart­ment and his lucky num­ber.)

“Vin­tage ob­jects are very warm to me,” en­thuses Alan as he demon­strates how an old Louis Vuit­ton trunk opens into a wardrobe. On the ta­ble in front of us are wooden glove forms (tall, hand-shaped sculp­tures used in the making of gloves) and a 1920s shop dis­play cab­i­net con­tain­ing Bri­tish shirt col­lars of the era that Alan dis­cov­ered in In­dia—just some of the many cu­riosi­ties with which he sur­rounds him­self.

“THE REA­SON I HAVE KEPT SO YOUTH­FUL, SO PAS­SION­ATE ABOUT LIFE IS BE­CAUSE OF CRE­ATIV­ITY”

Alan be­lieves the key to a city’s suc­cess is its abil­ity to re­spect cul­ture and the past while in­no­vat­ing for the fu­ture. He sees the long-awaited open­ing of the M+ mu­seum repo­si­tion­ing Hong Kong as the cul­tural hub of Asia. He cites Ja­pan—the place he would chose to live af­ter Hong Kong—as a good ex­am­ple of a mod­ern na­tion whose in­hab­i­tants “pay a lot of re­spect to the cul­ture of ev­ery­day life, from a piece of fur­ni­ture to a tem­ple.” He also greatly ad­mires Lon­don, which he says has al­ways been a cre­ative hub be­cause of its re­spect for cul­ture and the past.

When it comes to the dig­i­tal cul­ture of the in­ter­net, Alan has some con­cerns. “It’s making the world ho­mogenised be­cause ev­ery­one is see­ing the same in­for­ma­tion. This wide­spread dig­i­tal ad­dic­tion has ru­ined so much of hu­man in­ter­ac­tion.”

He also laments the ad­vent of con­tem­po­rary artists whose highly tech­ni­cal “fac­to­ries” churn out works by the thou­sand. “In the good old days, when you bought an art­work, you would meet the artist and fall in love with their at­ti­tude as well as the art. To­day, with the in­ter­net, it’s dif­fer­ent; it’s so im­per­sonal.” Pressed on whether dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy might be democratis­ing art, Alan is clear: “If the in­ter­net was making qual­ity art af­ford­able, that would be great. But in re­al­ity th­ese artists that mass pro­duce their work price it too high, while they them­selves be­come su­per rich.”

At 65, could Alan Chan be look­ing to slow down? “Cre­ativ­ity gives me a lot of pas­sion to move on with my life. The rea­son I have kept so youth­ful, so pas­sion­ate about life is be­cause of cre­ativ­ity. I’ve done so much and yet it’s dif­fi­cult to stop,” says the man who un­veiled his in­au­gu­ral fur­ni­ture col­lec­tion ear­lier this year—“fur­ni­ture just came along, I didn’t even plan to sell it.” He’d like to step back a lit­tle from ev­ery­day busi­ness to fol­low his heart, and he sees Space 27 as a “new episode” that will al­low him to fo­cus more on the cre­ative as­pects of his work—“all the lux­u­ries that are my hob­bies.”

Alan re­cently took up smok­ing cigars as an ex­cuse to sit back and re­lax for 45 min­utes ev­ery now and then, but some­thing tells me this cre­ative dy­namo won’t be smok­ing all that of­ten.

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