Time in a Bottle

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 June, 2010, 12:00am

Oval Atrium, IFC Mall
Until Jun 15

Like all collectors, Leon Ko Sai-tseung has a major obsession - antique perfume bottles in his case.

'I can't explain it,' says the prolific composer, whose works include the award-winning scores for The Actors' Family musical The Good Person of Szechwan (2003) and Hong Kong Arts Festival commission The Legend of the White Snake (2006). His theme song for the film Perhaps Love (2005), co-written with Peter Kam Pui-tat, won a Golden Horse Award in 2006.

'I want to have them all ... bottles from a particular period or of a particular brand, theme or colour. [My obsession] is almost like a fetish,' he says with a laugh.

Now on show at the IFC Mall are 100 antique perfume bottles, some dating back to the 1920s, from his vast collection of 2,000. 'I want to introduce these bottles to the Hong Kong public because they are very rare and beautiful works of art,' Ko (above) says.

And to give the exhibition a dramatic twist, he has divided it into 13 'scenes', using his collection of perfume bottles to tell the story of a search for true love.

'I don't want this to be just a showcase of what I have. Instead, I'm taking this opportunity to combine my two passions - theatre and perfume bottles - to create a journey,' Ko says. 'The story is very romantic ... but we are dealing with perfume after all.'

One of the highlights of Time in a Bottle is the last piece, for which Ko went out of his way to complete his narrative. 'When I started writing the story, I had no idea how it would develop - whether it would have a happy or sad or bittersweet ending ... but I knew it definitely would not be an obvious one,' he says.

'As I came to the end, I realised I didn't have the right bottle to conclude the story, so I began searching for it in the US and France. Extremely fortunately, I located it in California.

'[French] designer Paul Poiret [1879-1948] is not my favourite, but the bottle is perfect. You'll have to look at it closely to see why I've chosen it to end the show,' he says.

Ko was exposed to a wide range of perfume bottles at a young age - there were plenty of them lying around on the dressing table of his mother, Lucilla You Min, a famous actress in postwar Chinese cinema. But he didn't start to collect them until 15 years ago.

'I like smelling them, but I don't actually wear any cologne,' he says. 'I am still trying to find the root of my obsession and to find the connection; has that to do with fragments of arrested memories from the past?'

He says the rarest item on show is probably Le Bracelet Miraculeux by the vintage brand Parfums de Marcy. 'It dates back to 1928 and is made up of five small bottles. Some of them remain unopened. This is probably one of the very few complete sets that still exist.'

Also on display are Dralle's Illusion (1908), the oldest bottle among the exhibits, Bryenne's Chu Chin Chow (1918), named after a British musical from 1916 based on the fable Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and numerous bottles by Lancome including the Crescent Moon edition (1957) of Magie.

Podium Level 1, IFC Mall, 8 Finance St, Central. Opening hours: 10am- 10pm. Inquiries: 2295 3308