This week’s That Girl is our very own Managing Editor of Sassy Media Group Dervla Louli. The Irish-Egyptian hybrid with a background in business, law and finance began her career in luxury publishing and hasn’t looked back since.
We chat with Dervla about why family comes first, doing what you love, kitting out an empty apartment in Hong Kong and how to find a balance amidst the skyscrapers and back alleys of this hectic city she calls home.
Fill us in on your background and where you grew up. How did you end up in HK?
I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia to an Egyptian father and Irish mother. I went to boarding school in Ireland and I stayed there for my Business and Law degree and Masters of Finance. After a stint in Venture Capital I realised I couldn’t continue on a career path I wasn’t passionate about and hopped on a plane to Hong Kong to get a job in publishing. I had never been to Asia before but figured if it didn’t work out I could slowly work my way back to London where a lot of my best friends live. It took me about three months to find my feet, meet some great friends and find a job.
Ireland and Egypt are two totally different countries, how has your background affected your personality?
Irish and Egyptians are more similar than you think. Both cultures are warm, funny, inquisitive and love to feed people… between my mum’s scones and my nana’s crème caramel my childhood was full of amazing food. Irish Catholics and Egyptian Coptic Christians are also both very religious… I played Mary, Angel Gabriel, a shepherd and a wise man in nativities four years running when I was a child. Blessed to say the least!
How did you end up in publishing and any tips to get into the industry?
I worked as an intern at a luxury publishing company when I first arrived in Hong Kong. I was promoted to Editorial Assistant and then became a Senior Editor and Fashion Director. I worked every hour under the sun when I first began in publishing and I loved every minute of it. I think I was so happy to find a career I genuinely enjoyed and was good at.
My top tip is to work hard, be passionate every day about what you do, and have integrity in your work. I like that my job overlaps into my life and vice versa. In fact I write best over the weekend, in the middle of the night and at random early morning intervals. The work ethic that former bosses have instilled in me is monumental. Treat everyone with respect, be humble and never ask anyone to do something you are not willing to do yourself. I also constantly read magazines, books and blogs for inspiration.
Any exciting plans for the Sassy and Sassy Mama sites?
My main aims for the sites are threefold. Increase transparency so readers can more easily know whether content is paid for or not, continue to build on Sassy’s integrity by adding in community features, and grow the style sections across all websites. You will see new features cropping up each month such as Sassy Gives featuring charities, Super Styler showcasing fashion industry leaders, What Sassy Wants, and What Sassy Mama Wants and much more.
I’m also looking forward to getting back to basics. Our stellar contributors will continue to uncover secret spots in Hong Kong and if you know of any we always love to hear from you. Photographers, videographers and anyone else who would like to work with us are always welcome to get in touch. I’d love a fashion illustrator too but they are hard to come by! Another section I’m looking to launch is street style, if you’re a photographer please send your fashion snaps to firstname.lastname@example.org. Hong Kong fashion is amazing and I’d love to show some Sassy support via awesome images on site.
You’re not a mama yourself, how are you planning on getting in touch with your maternal side for the Sassy Mama sites in Hong Kong and Singapore?
I may not be a mama but I grew up in a very maternal household. Not only is my dad an Obstetrician/Gynaecologist who specialises in high-risk delivery, IVF and infertility (he’s already offered to answer any readers questions so send them on in!), but I was also planning on becoming an Obstetrician myself for a while. I spent a summer interning at a maternity clinic and have seen a natural delivery and caesarean section first hand… and am in awe of any woman who has had a baby!
My mum was the head of the Women’s Group in Saudi Arabia and I loved helping her out and getting involved. She was very proactive in the community and was always organising fun parties for mums and their little ones. I also spent two summers working at a kiddies camp in Ireland and definitely know how to keep children entertained in the rain!
Where do you live? How have you made your home your own?
I live in Soho in a five-floor walk up with a green and cream tiled floor… random to say the least! As with all Hong Kong apartments there wasn’t a scrap of furniture when my boyfriend and I moved in and I was a bit lost on where to begin. I started off with a very impractical cowhide and just kept looking for bits and pieces I loved. The finished look is a combination of giant broken clocks and distressed metal coffee tables but I think it works… a bit of high and low is the way to go with these things I guess.
My mum quilts and the sofa is covered in her creations, it makes me feel closer to her when she is so far away. To be honest it is my boyfriend that makes this apartment feel like home… and the huge Slim Aarons framed print on the wall that we fell in love with during a trip to Paris.
How would you describe your personal style?
I have never been a slave to fashion labels. I love items that are classic and well made but appreciate a bit of humour in my closet too. I can’t pinpoint my style, but I like to wear clothes that make me happy. One day that might be a black pencil dress and the next it might be jeans and a t-shirt.
I am addicted to Sass and Bide jackets, statement sweaters, printed trousers and Cos white t-shirts. I wear Lululemon, 2XU and Nike when I workout at Bikini Fit or run on Bowen Road. I find it tough to stay motivated and the bright colours help. I have a lot of crazy stilettos but 99% of the time you will catch me in a nude or black 3.5-inch pointed pump. If I’m not in heels (which is often), you’ll find me in men’s slippers or Superga 2750s… Electric Sekki introduced me to the Italian brand last year and I’ve been a convert ever since. For special occasions I never leave the house without a clutch from Kotur. The New York born Hong Kong based brand creates seriously cool accessories that pack a punch.
Tell us about your beauty regime, what products do you swear by and who takes care of your hair.
I stay out of the sun and use la Prairie dry oil, I tanned myself to oblivion growing up in Saudi Arabia and figure I have some making up to do. I’ve used MAC, Bobbi Brown, Laura Mercier and Benefit products for as long as I can remember, and tend to stick to what I know. Double extend L’Oreal mascara is the best in the world and my favourite perfume is Hypnotic Poison by Dior. I’m a bit of an Aesop addict as they don’t use any chemicals in their products and I’m a sucker for their packaging and scents. Rach raves about The Oxygen Facial at Bliss Spa at the W and her skin is perfect so it’s my next port of call. For any serious skin problems I put my face in the hands of Dr. Winnie Mui.
I go to Freeda’s on Caine Road for eyebrow threading, Samuel So at Mandarin Oriental for pedicures and Nails 88 for manicures, but only when I have time… which is not often. My hair is hectic as I have a natural Scary Spice style afro that requires a lot of maintenance. Henri Ramos is my Hong Kong hair God… he works at essensuals, Toni & Guy on Wellington Street and is perfection. I find the pampering directory on Sassy really useful too if I’m ever in need of a bit of salon scouting.
What are your favourite restaurants and bars in Hong Kong?
The Upper House hotel has the most amazing restaurant, Café Gray Deluxe. Chef Joey makes a mean steak, and the Swiss chocolate chunks are the best in HK. Spices in Repulse Bay is incredible and I’ve tried most of the miso cod available in Hong Kong and Zuma wins every time. On a day-to-day basis Dandy’s Organic Café in Sheung Wan is nice and healthy. I’m also a big fan of a Sushi spot on the corner of Jervois Road near Sheung Wan cooked food market. For $50 you can get California rolls, salad and miso soup… what’s not to love?!
If visitors are in town I bring them to Sevva for the view, Yardbird for the chicken and Boujis for some dancing. Solas and Rula Bula are two fail safe spots that are guaranteed to be full of fun at all times too. The owners are friendly and the bar staff are fast.
What are your top tips for affordable living in the big city?
Eating out can drain your bank account in Hong Kong. Try to buy fruit and veg from markets and don’t be scared about getting fresh fish from vendors. Take advantage of happy hour and remember that hanging out with friends doesn’t have to be expensive, Bowen Road is a great place for a catch up. You can’t beat a good house party either and I like to entertain on my rooftop a lot. I’m not a fan of being in debt but sometimes a credit card is necessary (even if it’s just to book the cinema). My boyfriend set up a site called www.moneyhero.com.hk
What are your most memorable experiences in Hong Kong so far?
My favourite moments have happened at Hong Kong airport. I love having visitors over and my family and friends from Saudi and Ireland have all made a big effort to see me. My parents have come over many times in the short time I have lived in Hong Kong. I have a very special friend over for Chinese New Year in a few days, more visiting for The Sevens and my brother has promised a visit in 2014. I’m an Instagram addict so most of my Hong Kong memories are documented there.
From a professional point of view the best thing that has happened since arriving in Hong Kong was getting the phone call to say I had gotten the job at Sassy Media Group. That put a huge smile on my face! The team are incredible from sales and marketing to editorial and digital, and I feel very lucky to get to work with such inspiring people every day.
What are your interests and hobbies?
My interests and hobbies totally blend into my career, it’s a very blurred line and I’m happy about that. I love to write and It’s not often that you get a chance to do what you love every day of the week. On the weekends I write fashion articles about brands and designers, my 2014 New Year’s resolution is to build up an A-Z of brands… fingers crossed.
Travelling is my biggest indulgence and I try to go away as much as I can, there’s a little Reggae bar near Banyan Tree in Phuket which you just can’t beat. I also like to shop… a little too much.
How do you stay organised?
I’m fanatical about keeping up to date with my e-mails and like to keep my inbox at zero unread messages at all times. I’m good at multi-tasking and following through on projects which means that nothing builds up. If I start something I like to finish it pronto too. I take on a lot, and work much more efficiently when I’m constantly on the go. Pretty notebooks help me stay organised… and Smythson ones are the best. Oh, and I don’t sleep very much, I figure there’s time for that when I’m old and grey!
How do you strike a balance living in Hong Kong?
I have a lovely group of friends here, a job I’m head over heels with, and a wonderful boyfriend who doubles as my best friend and makes me laugh a lot. I make sure I go home to Ireland and see my family at least two or three times a year, and always have friends and family visiting me in Hong Kong. I’m a very down to earth person and try to take the rough with the smooth, so despite liking a cocktail or two in a bar above the clouds, my two feet are firmly planted on the ground.
Photos taken by the wonderful Thurstan Redding, check out his website here!
Check out the rest of our That Girls here!