Although it is spring and you would expect to see new blooms, this Hong Kong adventure was purely nocturnal so the only flowers I managed to see on this trip was a cluster of lilies at Giorgio Armani’s (Fiori) florist near the city’s Landmark shopping precinct. By the time my daily meetings ended the sun had gone down and the city streets were alight with the neon haze of oversized billboards, backlight malls and luxury boutiques like the ones that line Canton Road, one of Hong Kong’s many shopping havens. This neon landscape really feels like something from Ridley Scott’s movie, Blade Runner. Retailers stay open as late as 11pm every day making shopping a favourite after dinner pastime for locals and tourists. It is an easy city to navigate and Hong Kong ‘s train system is one of the most efficient in the world; within minutes you can surface from the subway in a different part of the city.
I have my favourite spots I always return to and each visit I try to discover something I previously didn’t know. I start at Landmark, a shopping area adjoined to Central Station because this is one area that does not stay open until the late hours of the evening and most retailers here close at 8.00pm. Since my last visit a new men’s area has been developed in the basement level that leads into the subway. On this level you will find a number of men’s grooming boutiques that carry perfume as well as vintage eyewear from Londoners Culter & Gross and prêt-a-porter by Lanvin, Marc Jacobs and Italian brand Etro who are famous for their silk printed paisleys. I recently read a post by a fellow blogger, Memory of Scent who reviewed Etro’s Messe de Minuit and Vetiver cologne. Christos’ post inspired me to revisit some of my favourites from the range so a visit to Etro was a must. Close by you can find Joyce Grooming, a dedicated boutique for men by the Hong Kong department store of the same name. The boutique carries a range of stylish men’s grooming tools, shaving brushes, razors and skincare, as well as a masculine edit of brands such as Frederic Malle, Diptyque and Francis Kurkdjian. For those who prefer to have someone else tend their grooming needs, the men’s beauty spa Gentlemen’s Tonic can be found on the opposite side of the building. This is the perfect place for a wet shave or facial if you have some time to spare. Moving up to the street level I was happy to see Dior Homme had finally returned their cologne range to a selection of their Asian boutiques. After the launch of Collection Privee, Dior limited the availability of their boutique exclusive scents to Europe and the Americas. Dior’s Vetiver is one of my favourite new fragrances containing this scented grass.
Walking a line of corridors that leads to the International Finance Centre (IFC) Mall I stopped at Prada. I recently recalled the Exclusive Collection of parfums the brand launched almost 10 years ago. These small apothecary styled bottles, each scent individually numbered were once available from Prada in Australia but this is no longer the case. I was particularly interested in No. 4- Fleur d’Oranger and I was curious to see if these perfumes were still sold in Prada’s global flagships. My search came up empty however the boutique was carrying the latest from the Exclusive Collection, No. 11 Cuir Styrax. Authored by perfumer Daniela Roche-Andrier, Cuir Styrax is a modern and easy-to-wear oriental leather scent. The simple medicine styled bottles challenge even Coco Chanel’s interpretation of minimalism. A Saffiano grained leather case can be purchased at an additional cost.
Speaking of Chanel, I was attracted into the brand’s IFC beauty boutique. How can you resist when you are faced with a litre of No 5 parfum presented so beautifully in crystal right? The notion of parfum for men is interesting as it has traditionally been a feminine expression of perfume. When you look at how perfumes were made in the golden age of the 1920s, bottles were often made in smaller sizes for perfume concentrates or extrait de parfum. Are today’s decadent consumers being lead to believe that less is not more? Perfume bottles seem to have outgrown their 100ml casings and it is common to now find perfumes presented in 120ml sizes or bigger. In decades past many perfumers offered their products in sizes as small as 7.5ml. Chanel has continued this tradition by offering extrait de parfum versions of their top sellers and some historic scents now part of the Les Exclusifs de Chanel collection. I have a small number of Les Exclusifs, all eaux de toilettes but I have been keen to experiment with wearing a parfum version. One of Chanel’s historic scents is Bois des Iles created in 1926 by Ernest Beaux. This is the perfection of an oriental scent with classic Chanel flowers and precious sandalwood said to evoke a walk through an autumnal forest. With rose and jasmine oils from Grasse and sandalwood oil from India, Bois des Iles seemed like the natural choice to try in a higher concentration. While the eau de toilette version is radiant and spacious, the parfum version I came away with feels denser and has a beautiful weight. I highly recommend it!
At the end of last year Diptyque opened its first stand-alone boutique in Asia. Located across from Chanel’s beauty boutique in IFC Mall I couldn’t help but wish the brand had chosen to have a street front instead of placing themselves in a mall setting. In any case, step inside and you may not be transported to the bohemian streets of Saint Germain des Pres, but you will feel like you have entered the black and white illustrated world of Diptyque. Of course they currently have an added a splash of colour in their artist palette as they promote their new rose fragrance. The boutique’s interior designer is the renowned Olivier Lempereur.
Of Hong Kong’s Lane Crawford department stores IFC’s Lane Crawford offers the best selection of niche perfumes. Here you will find Omanian perfume brand Amouage alongside Creed, Clive Christian, Penhaligons, Acqua di Parma and Lane Crawford have recently added New York range Odin to their offer. Odin feels contemporary and provides the right balance between lighter styles (let’s face it, most guys are still unwilling to let go of their Aqcua di Gio) and the introduction of heavier elements such as woods, ambers and spices. My favourite is 06 Amanu, which won the FiFi Indie Fragrance Award at the start of the year. It is refreshing and simple, a light galbanum and cedarleaf eau de toilette with touches of amber and moss. The greenness of galbanum coupled with cedar gave me the illusion of fig although this was not the designer’s intention. Amanu is perfect for the office or a quiet weekend.
Other discoveries were Amouage’s Library Collection. No one does decadent quite like Amouage; a perfume house that draws inspiration from its birthplace of the Sultanate of Oman. If Ali baba and his forty thieves were lodging perfume in their magical cave, it would smell like Amouage. Their Library Collection is marketed to tell parts of a larger story, like smaller yet complete journeys within one’s life. To date there are six Opuses in the collection. Some carry the Amouage DNA to the point where they feel too similar to other perfumes in the collection and two stood out to me as being much more unusual and exciting. Opus I is a beautifully spiced floral. It features a bubblegum-like tuberose note Fracas fans will love with the additional of fresh spices and a warm tonka base. The other was Opus III with its raw violet beginning that develops into a rich and woody perfume with subtle oriental references. This could have easily been an early 20th century perfume and if it were it would have been a hit.
The following evening I went for a walk around Pacific Place next to Admiralty station. I had read about a small store in this area called Kapok that carries ceramics and colognes by Parisians, Astier de Villatte. To visit Kapok you need to go to Sun Street by climbing a stairwell off Queens Road East. Fans of Colette on Rue Saint Honore, Paris will like Kapok; they carry everything from clothing to music, home ware and perfume for Hong Kong’s stylish hipster community. In addition to Astier de Villatte, Kapok also has a small range of James Heeley perfumes and a range of olive soaps from Provence. They also serve a good espresso coffee. The surrounding area may look like something out of a D-grade street fighter movie but this adds to the charm of shopping in this neighbourhood. Surrounding boutiques offer similar up and coming local and international designer street fashion and Queens Road East has some excellent secondhand furniture stores where you can find Asian retro furniture, home wares and ceramics.
Two stops down from Admiralty station is Causeway Bay. This area constantly hums with activity and has many side streets and alleys that are fun to explore. If you are not out people watching or shopping for a bargain in Times Square or Sogo department store, the up market Lee Gardens is a great place to take a break with a hot chocolate at La Maison du Chocolat. The masses of tourists seem to avoid the place so it is a nice way to recoup some energy before braving the stream of people passing by outside. Lee Gardens also boasts an elegant Hermes Maison, which holds an impressive range of all things Hermes including furniture made from fine leathers. Their perfume area was showcasing the parfum version of Voyage d’Hermes and upstairs you cannot help but appreciate the Hermessence collection of eaux de toilettes in such beautiful surrounds.
On the Kowloon side of Hong Kong, attached to China’s mainland, the pace is fast and it is touristic. Expect to line up for long periods to enter a restaurant or some boutiques and stores. Along Canton Road you won’t find many stores you cannot find in other areas of Hong Kong but one of the benefits of shopping in Hong Kong is a booming retail industry. Retailers can afford to buy in greater depth when they plan their seasonal assortments. A product that may only be bought in two colours from Australia will be available in Hong Kong in five or six. This happens with every type of consumer good from electronics to clothing. So while you may see the same store fronts along Canton Road you have seen elsewhere, it still pays to go in as the product assortment can differ. It is a different customer profile on this side of Hong Kong so retailers adapt their product offer accordingly. Harbour City on Canton Road gives the serious shopper hours of entertainment. During my evening walk-through, Shiseido had installed a stage in the atrium to promote Elie Saab, Issey Miyake and Narciso Rodriguez. This included complimentary consultations with a perfume expert who was using raw materials to prescribe a scent from the portfolio of fragrances Shiseido distributes in Hong Kong. Next to Kiehls, Joyce department store’s beauty selection includes a number of perfumes their men’s grooming boutique does not offer. This includes the full line of Frederic Malle and Francis Kurkdjian as well as Annick Goutal, L’Artisan Parfumeur, 6 Scents and Honore des Pres. After some time in Harbour City you can explore the surrounding area between Canton and Nathan Road. If you are feeling adventurous, go even deeper into alleyways filled with street vendors and night markets. But after dark a little caution may be needed.
I always like to go to the Sasa and Bonjour discount stores that are scattered throughout the city. You can often find some interesting flankers that were only released to certain areas of the world or you may find a recently discontinued perfume gem that is no longer available back in your home country.
I do not speak Cantonese but I find Hong Kong to be one of the easiest countries to visit in Asia. The people are friendly and polite, the food is fantastic and the city strikes a nice balance between Eastern and Western cultures. If you want ethnicity without trying, Hong Kong is the place. While Singapore can feel a little too westernised, Hong Kong offers all of your western comforts but go deeper and you will find cultural experiences that only the East can provide. And if you like to shop, even if the service is a little robotic, take a credit card because you will need it. Even when I try to budget, Hong Kong always takes my money and then some more!
Joyce Grooming- B26 The Landmark, Central, Hong Kong. www.joyce.com
Joyce Beauty- G106 Gateway Arcade, Harbour City, Kowloon. www.joyce.com
Gentlemenstonic- B47-B48, 15 Queens Road, Central, Hong Kong. www.gentlemenstonic.com
Diptyque- Shop 1080, Podium Level 1 ifc mall, No. 8 Finance Street, Central, Hong Kong. www.diptyqueparis.com
Kapok at Sun Street- G/F, 3 Sun Street, Wanchai, Hong Kong. www.ka-pok.blogs.com