Bonnie Gokson

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 November, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 November, 1997, 12:00am

A COUPLE of months ago, when Chanel announced Bonnie Gokson was about to become its Regional External Relations Director for Asia Pacific, there was much raising of plucked eyebrows and significant tapping of expensive noses around town. The rumour-mill decided internal relations between Gokson, who is in her early 40s, and her older (by 15 years) sister, Joyce Ma, must be on the dodgy side if Bonnie was disassociating herself from the Joyce Group in such a public manner. Naturally, people in the fashion world adore a good falling-out, especially when the protagonists are as stylish as these two, so here's the bad news: Bonnie and Joyce still see each other, support each other and are happy with each other's chosen paths.

This is what Gokson said, 'I still have lunches with my sister and she wonders if I have enough food to eat. She's so excited to see me. It's very, very sweet. A lot of people don't understand that, for four years, I'd already come out of Joyce and set up Bonnie Gokson Creative Concepts. My biggest client was Joyce Cafe and, okay, she happened to be my sister and what not, but then there's always a timing for things in life, right? And there was a certain moment, a few months ago, when I had lots of ideas and I was working on this plan to set up gourmet takeaways in Hong Kong with a partner. He was in Thailand, he was totally wealthy, and then he totally collapsed financially. And then the headhunters called me.' Which is how we came to meet in Chanel's conference room late one Friday afternoon. Gokson went off to find me some tea and came back with it in her own cup and saucer because she couldn't bear to serve anything in the plastic beakers which the office provides. We're talking major perfectionism here; I've no idea what she's like to work for (though I suspect she's not exactly the world's easiest boss) but she is fantastically aware of how things should look, including herself. She has grasped the concept of simplicity which all those tai-tais, perambulating like Christmas fairies around Hong Kong's social scene, would do well to emulate.

For this encounter, she wore navy Chanel trousers and a navy twinset and looked great; she announced blithely that she was allowed to take whatever she liked from Chanel's lines and that she'd chosen lots of twinsets. 'But I mix 'n' match and it's no big deal, right? Who in this day and age would be all plonked up? I like to break it up - even my own sister would die to see how I was wearing things. It's always been fashion with a twist. I'm that type of girl.' As she was saying this, Claudia Shaw d'Auriol, who also works for Chanel and is usually hailed in Hong Kong Tatler as 'the most beautiful woman in Hong Kong', briefly entered the room and what with the prevailing pulchritude and the expensive labels, a female reporter could feel sort of dazzled and ill and, frankly, a bit twisted too. But after a few minutes, the pangs of envy diminished in tandem with the self-esteem, Claudia left and Bonnie went on chatting in her tiny, faintly American - despite the fact that she studied in Australia - voice.

'A lot of people asked me, 'Why go corporate?' but I'm still the adviser to all the Joyce Cafes, like I'm one of the advisers to the Red Cross. I want growth in my career and personal growth and this is a very, very small town. I thought, what if I stay, still do the same thing? I'm no longer getting younger, that's the reality. Doing this takes me out of Hong Kong a little bit more.' She can say that again: she reckons that at least 70 per cent of her first year will be spent in transit between Chanel's Asian outlets and Europe. 'So far, so good. It's like - wow! I only wish I had much more time to do my exercises and work out, and I wish my hairdresser could come along. I never wash my own hair.' What, never? 'I have been trying, that's what I have to get used to. But those are the little things. It's a big challenge because I've been very, very protected. My daddy spoiled me - I could twist him round my little finger - and my sister was like my mum.' The daughters' stupendous style apparently came from Auntie Daphne, their father's 80-year-old sister and offspring of the Wing On department store founder, who sounds so wonderful - she dated Cary Grant, and believed in big chandeliers, chignons, duchesse satin sofas - that the fact she now lives in San Francisco is the only reason you won't be reading an interview with her here next week. 'When I went into Coco Chanel's apartment in Paris, it reminded me of going up to see Auntie Daphne's penthouse flat in our home in Stanley. It's funny, Chanel was a Leo, I myself am a Leo; her lucky number was five, my multiples of lucky numbers include five. I said to Joyce, 'Hey, it's like I'm living in her spirit, whatever'.' But I still wasn't quite sure where Gokson was going with Chanel, apart from all over Asia, so I said to her, 'Let's pretend it's five years from now and I've come back to interview you - what would you hope to be saying then?' ' And she immediately replied, 'That I'm married, that I've found my soulmate and we're in business together and we've discovered places together. That's my goal in life. I'd like to tell you that. I don't want to tell you that I'm worked to death.' That seemed an impressively honest answer. A little later, she remarked with a smiling shrug: 'Even if I don't have a personal life right now, maybe I'll meet my man through my travels - Jesus, who knows?' She is, like her sister, a committed follower of Gurumayi who has an ashram outside Bombay, which is much frequented by Hong Kong's upper stratum of truth-seekers. Gurumayi's picture is about the only object, apart from some Chanel bags and a curious pebble with the carved command LAUGH, in Gokson's exceptionally sparse ('I've been travelling since I started here') office.

'I still stick to my spiritual path. In the mornings, I take about two hours to get into the day - I do my prayers, I do my ritual. I need that time to have a cup of tea and to think. In hotels, I bring all the things I'm used to in Hong Kong - cassettes and CDs - so that I wake up to harmonious music.' She paused, evidently determined to prove to herself, if not to me, that nothing too vital had changed in her life. 'I do the same thing. It's all the same. Except for the exercise. The only thing I miss is my exercise. Really.'