Pop, rock and soles
It's a grey, hangover-ridden Saturday morning when we drop in on Ben McCarthy's loft-like apartment in Sheung Wan. McCarthy has just stumbled out of bed and greets us wearing a pair of Izzue jeans and a women's raincoat from Jack Wills.
'I have a yearly policy on jeans. I only buy one pair a year. They should be utilitarian, the one thing you wear all the time,' he says. 'And girls' clothes just fit better. When I shop, I don't rule out the possibility of finding something in the girls' department.'
A Sydney-born senior designer at Michael Young's Hong Kong studio and lead singer/guitarist of the band Poubelle International, McCarthy treads that fine line between prep school-inspired geek chic and down-and-dirty rock star.
'I'm a designer who also does rock'n'roll, and there are a lot of cliches within those two things,' he says. 'I want to do new things fashion-wise, and being a musician gives me the confidence to actually try those things out.'
His wardrobe is experimental, but pared-down. A subtle, single rack sits in the corner of the room, holding pieces as varied as shirts and jackets from such international brands as Paul Smith and Ben Sherman, to local retro favourite Playlord and peculiar items from Kowloon night markets.
But unlike style mavens eager to build a collection from Hong Kong's numerous luxury brands, McCarthy takes advantage of the city's other clothing claim to fame: its endless selection of affordable and skilled tailors.
'I go to this Mong Kok tailor. He's fantastic and turns things around quick. And he often surprises me with the odd detail,' he says, pointing out delicate stitching embellishments on a military-style jacket. 'He doesn't speak any English, so I have to sketch a lot.'
McCarthy isn't the type to cherish material goods, but he does appreciate a good pair of shoes. His small closet by the front door is filled with a number of colourful styles, ranging from his favourite beaten-up pair of Patrick Cox leather lace-ups to sneaker-like slip-ons and some vintage loafers.
'For all the cheap, market-bought clothes I seem to acquire, shoes are a good thing to spend money on. Most clothes come and go, but shoes tend to last,' he says. 'When you wear a T-shirt, if it's $10 or $10,000, it's not going to change how you feel. But you feel better in good shoes. A nice pair of shoes changes how you walk and how you present yourself.'
McCarthy's design background gives him an advantage when it comes to expressing himself through his clothes.
'I get to control my sense of style more than most, because I get to work on things for myself,' he says. 'Being a designer gives me a bit of flexibility within quite a controlled system.'