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That Girl: Emma French of The Space

This week’s That Girl is the gorgeous Emma French, PR and events coordinator for The Space and The Cat Street Gallery. We’re always amazed at how The Space transforms into something so different every time we see it, whilst Cat Street Gallery has been a Sassy fave for many years now… so who better to give us the lowdown on all things art-related in time for ART HK, which is in town this year from 17-20 May.

We get Emma’s tips on vintage shopping in Hong Kong, find out about the Banksy hidden in her attic and see why she defines her style as ‘Future Cat Lady’!

Can you fill us in on your background and how your family ended up in Hong Kong?
My mum is Japanese and my dad is English. I was born in Bangkok and did my primary schooling in the UK (before moving here at age 11) but my parents first met in Hong Kong back in the 70s, so I think for all of us, Hong Kong feels like home.

Where do you live? How have you made your home your own?
I live in a teeny flat in Shek Tong Tsui. I’m not the most house-proud person (actually I’m a secret slob, I’m all about the floordrobe), but everyone who comes over loves the gold ‘egg lights’ that my boyfriend made (he’s a designer). What little wall space I have I try and fill with art; my newest piece is a photograph by one of our artists Denice Hough, she has an amazing eye for symmetry and finding beauty in ruins. The first work I ever bought was a Banksy, it was a decade ago and I was just out of uni in my first proper job. At the time, 45 pounds was a lot of money to me so I agonised over buying it, my mum thought I was a total idiot when I did… she doesn’t think so now! Well to be fair she does, but for a myriad of other reasons.

How do you describe your personal style? How does it evolve and change?
I’d describe my style as Future Cat Lady – I adore bright colours, retro prints and a pattern clash, which is a dangerous mix and the enemy of minimal chic and good taste! I love people who don’t take their clothes too seriously and I’ve never been able to get my head around dropping huge amounts of cash on clothes. Style and spend aren’t the same thing – London teenagers epitomise that for me, there’s something alchemic about the mixture of self obsession and desperate need to be noticed combined with a limited budget that creates pure fashion GOLD.

Where do you shop in Hong Kong? Any secret finds you can let us in on?
Most of my clothes are from second-hand shops but when I’m not in the mood for wading through other peoples castoffs, I go see Paola from Tangram – she and I share a passion for prints. I also like Roomi on Staunton Street, which stocks pretty vintage looking clothes, sans the musty vintage odour. I’m currently having a boater hat made by milliner Awon Golding; you can buy her hats from Hatwoman and since she’s based between Hong Kong and Hoxton, she does Skype consultations if you want one custom-made too. I get almost daily compliments on my VOID watch, which is by Hong Kong based designer David Ericsson; go see him and Alexis at their shop on Square Street, they are painfully cool.

I know you love your vintage clothes! Where do you get them from in HK? Any tips to help us rummaging?
Me and Gee [also known as Me and George; locations include Tung Choi Street in Mong Kok and Li Yuen Street West in Central). Buying second-hand clothes means I can indulge my shopping habit minus that pesky middle class guilt over capitalist consumer culture. It’s rare that something fits perfectly but tailoring here is such good value… often it just takes a couple of darts or a new hem and ta-daa! You have something unique and lovely that nobody else has.

The downside is that you spend your life hand-washing; vintage fabrics tend not to machine wash or tumble dry too well so my terrace is perpetually swamped with damp dresses. For a more civilized vintage experience, Select 18 on Bridges Street is always fun and they stock an amazing collection of vintage eyewear.

What are your must-have beauty products? Where do you go for hair/nails/maintenance?
I’ve recently discovered beautiful Dolma for waxing and she is the BOSS. There’s no soothing music, or dim lighting or illusion of dignity but you are in and out in 10 minutes flat. Instant win.

I’ve always had ‘problem skin’ (i.e. everything gives me spots) so I tend not to be massively adventurous but I’m a big fan of Aromatherapy Associates products, especially their anti-ageing overnight mask, and I’ve really noticed a difference in my skin since getting my Clarisonic. I paint my own nails so I have a large collection of nail varnishes that I keep in my fridge, often they are the only things in poor fridge, Chanel are my favourite.

What is your favourite thing to do at the weekend?
I like making things and I tend to go through phases of little projects that I get into at the weekend. For a while, it was black and white film that I processed in my bathroom; recently I’ve been hand stitching little things out of leather (which I enjoy but lack the precision and patience to really be any good at). Next on the list is learning to cook and/or sew and once that happens, Nigella better watch herself! I think she’s safe for a good while yet though… I suck at anything kitchen related.  Cooking may as well be magic.

What are your favourite restaurants and bars in Hong Kong?
I start most days with a juice from Genie Concepts, they’re delicious and virtuous – love. I’m at Heirloom at least twice a week… I cannot get enough of their Balinese Salad… and I’m obsessed with the chai tea and ginger scones at Teakha, sometimes I’m there twice a day (but then I feel like a creepy stalker and I try and make out that I’m there buying ‘for a friend’).  Sunday night blues are regularly chased away with a festival of carbs at Linguini Fini or if I’m feeling a little fancier then TBLS.

Generally I like hole-in-the-wall kind of places so for drinks it’s usually Club 71, Sense99 or Jaa Bar. I’ve had some epically fun nights at XXX, I wish there were more venues like it in Hong Kong.

What is your favourite place in Hong Kong?
Lamma! I used to live there and the filthy hippy in me still misses it. Every sunny weekend there felt like a holiday.

Can you tell us more about the exhibition that The Cat Street Gallery has as part of Art HK? Why should we go see it?
Our booth will be exhibiting works by Sir Peter Blake (the Godfather of British Pop Art) who turns 80 this year and is still creating new art. He is most famous for the artwork on The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper album but he’s had a prolific career that has influenced contemporary British art immeasurably. What I love about his work though is that he’s always believed that art should be for everyone, not just an elite few, so his works tend to be unpretentious, joyous things and often he screen prints in high editions so you’ll be surprised at how affordable his works can be.

HK life is so busy – why do you think we should make time for art?
I think Hong Kong makes it incredibly simple to make time for art, there’s an opening practically every night of the week and many galleries are conveniently clustered around Soho and Sheung Wan which means popping into a gallery for a glass of wine with a couple of friends before dinner is just SO easy – why wouldn’t you?! Keep your eyes peeled for galleries that you pass regularly and get on their mailing lists; you’ll be invited to openings and you never know, you might even stumble across something that really moves you. Besides, at some point everyone gets too old to just have framed posters and homemade photo collages on their walls. Tick tock tick tock…

You’ve grown up and lived in HK for most of your life. Is there anything you miss about it from when you were little?
I miss the hawkers. The government have really clamped down on street vendors since I was a kid – total travesty! Street food is such a big part of the character of a city. These days I tend to buy anything I see from a vaguely illegal looking food cart, its my way of sticking it to the Man – that’s right, my gai dan jai/muffin top is fighting the power!

Do you think the arts and culture scene has changed much in HK over the past few years?
Definitely! There are galleries opening all the time in Hong Kong, from tiny local galleries to huge international players like White Cube and The Gaugosian. Next year will be the first Art Basel Hong Kong, which will put our city on the map alongside Basel and Miami as a world-class art destination.

What are some of the most memorable events you’ve worked on at The Space and why? Do any stand out for being particularly weird/creative?
I don’t think I’m allowed favourites, it feels like having favourite children, I love them all equally! But there have been a couple of events where they’ve done such an amazing transformation that I’ve walked through the door and lost my bearings – Johnny Walker Blue Label’s pop-up stands out for that, as does Fendi’s party earlier this year. But I am really looking forward to our first wedding next spring! Love’s young dream at The Space, coming soon.

You’ve been in HK a long time and changed jobs a few times… What do you think is the key for being happy in life in HK?
Hong Kong can seem pretty claustrophobic if you’re doing the typical expat thing of working in Central, going out in Soho and living in Mid Levels. It also makes you impossibly lazy so suddenly anything that isn’t ten minutes in a taxi is soooo faaaar. I’m definitely guilty of that too but once in a while I try and go somewhere I’ve never been before, even if it’s just to a restaurant in Tin Hau or a bar in Mong Kok. The city is bigger than you think.

All photos in the That Girl article above were taken by the hugely-talented Sabrina Sikora of Sabrina Sikora Photography – get in touch with her at sabrinasikora@gmail.com.

Check out the rest of our That Girls here!

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