Hong Kong's historic shop­ping site

Tim Richards vis­its Hong Kong’s PMQ, a historic site of small stu­dios and spe­cialty shops.

Paradise - - Contents -

“Cus­tomers can see my work and know about the cul­ture be­hind it. I use real pearl be­cause it’s not just for one sea­son. Good things last longer.”

De­signer Coney Ko is talk­ing about the jew­ellery she cre­ates in her com­pact Hong Kong shop Coney & Co, but she could equally be re­fer­ring to the de­sign hub it’s housed within: PMQ.

The name of this cre­ative com­plex has been short­ened from its orig­i­nal ti­tle: Po­lice Mar­ried Quar­ters. Con­structed in 1951, when the city was un­der Bri­tish ad­min­is­tra­tion, it housed the fam­i­lies of po­lice of­fi­cers in a cen­tral lo­ca­tion off Hol­ly­wood Road, now part of the arty SoHo dis­trict.

The two hous­ing blocks with their 168 apart­ments were a typ­i­cally aus­tere prod­uct of 1950s ar­chi­tec­ture, though the open walk­ways with steel rail­ings added a touch of mod­ernist stream­lin­ing. After the han­dover to Chi­nese rule, the quar­ters fell va­cant for more than a decade.

Re­cently, how­ever, the blocks were re­fur­bished and fit­ted out for use by de­sign­ers. With two orig­i­nal seven-storey wings linked above ground by a new glass­walled sec­tion known as the Qube, it opened in 2014 as a hot­bed of work­shops, gal­leries, pop-up shops and food out­lets.

The re­sult is at­trac­tive to both de­sign­ers and shop­pers. For cre­atives such as Ko, it gives her a shopfront in a hip neigh­bour­hood that would oth­er­wise be un­af­ford­able.

“In the past Hong Kong had fewer of these places, and this area was more about malls and chain stores,” she says. “This is a good place for small de­sign­ers.

Within the con­nected wings, there are a num­ber of places to eat and drink, in­clud­ing cafes, tea­houses and bak­eries.

“I don’t have a big busi­ness be­cause it’s all made by hand, but I en­joy mak­ing some­thing that’s not in bulk. I can de­cide how dif­fi­cult the crafts­man­ship will be, and I don’t have to rely on a fac­tory. What­ever I want to ex­press through my jew­ellery, I can do through this store.”

The court­yard between the two wings, used for spe­cial ex­hi­bi­tions, is an at­trac­tive open space that draws in peo­ple from the sur­round­ing busy streets. There’s plenty of op­por­tu­nity for re­laxed brows­ing in the mul­ti­ple out­lets, but also for chill­ing in its qui­eter ar­eas.

Atop the Qube is an open-air ter­race with a gar­den and seat­ing, a tran­quil space for such a vi­brant city. Within the con­nected wings, there are a num­ber of places to eat and drink, in­clud­ing cafes, tea­houses and bak­eries.

For a more sub­stan­tial meal, there are restau­rants rep­re­sent­ing both strands of Hong Kong’s history – Aberdeen Street So­cial, serv­ing mod­ern Bri­tish dishes; and So­hofama, us­ing or­ganic in­gre­di­ents to cre­ate what it calls Chi­nese com­fort food.

But it’s the shop­ping pos­si­bil­i­ties that are the main high­light of PMQ. A ca­sual stroll through its wings re­veals a wide di­ver­sity of em­po­ria.

There’s Eone Time­pieces sell­ing its cool fu­tur­is­tic watch; Mode­ment with glam­orous uni­sex gar­ments; Taste Li­brary’s books ex­plor­ing in­ter­na­tional cuisines; Mon­dovi, which sells de­signer lin­gerie; Obellery with its con­tem­po­rary jew­ellery and met­al­work; and the funky home­wares of Glue As­so­ciates.

Over the other side in the Hol­ly­wood wing are the premises of Ye­ung Chin. This young award­win­ning fash­ion de­signer sees cloth­ing as giv­ing ev­ery­day peo­ple the chance to per­form in pub­lic.

“Our la­bel re­lates to art, which in­spires the ideas in my col­lec­tion,” he ex­plains. “We once did an in­stal­la­tion called Indigo Rain, in which we had 1000 bot­tles on the ceil­ing to drop indigo dye on fab­ric. We also had a col­lab­o­ra­tion with a chore­og­ra­pher, with per­form­ers danc­ing un­der the indigo to dye their clothes. Then we cre­ated a col­lec­tion about indigo-dyed pat­terns.”

It sounds cut­ting-edge, but that’s what PMQ is about. Not just pro­vid­ing an af­ford­able space to work, but artis­tic cross-pol­li­na­tion.

“The rent was cheaper than other places and the lo­ca­tion was good,” says Ye­ung. “Then we re­alised we could col­lab­o­rate with dif­fer­ent artists and de­sign­ers here too. Over three years we’ve had many col­lab­o­ra­tions, in­clud­ing with il­lus­tra­tors and leather­work artists.

“We can also share some­thing with the pub­lic here; our ex­pe­ri­ence, as they ask ques­tions about our work. It’s good.”

Ko also val­ues the artis­tic co­op­er­a­tion that PMQ en­ables. “De­sign­ers in the build­ing like to pool their pas­sions.”

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