Eyes on the prize

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 October, 2011, 12:00am

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Hong Kong has two dominant English-language luxury lifestyle magazines, the types of brick-like glossy publications packed with tales of Burberry trinkets and the latest Bentleys, of Balinese pampering packages, fanciful chronographs and anti-ageing serums that most of us cannot afford.

Over the past six months I've trekked down from Shanghai to work short tours of duty on both magazines. It's been eye-opening. When starting out in the business, few journalists (one guesses) would aspire to work for publications that appear to cater solely to the idle loaded, and I was expecting to be labouring alongside a catty gang of preening journalinas and lethargic liggers. It was surprising, then, to discover the editorial backbone of such ritzy tomes- while not quite the grizzled old hacks of cliche- is provided by real journos who care about what they do.

This realisation throws up a question: if those putting together such swanky guides to opulence and extravagance are not the people one would envisage, who are the real readers of luxury lifestyle magazines?

Returning to Shanghai, I hand-carried (too heavy for check-in luggage) a copy of the monster September issue of one of these magazines, and lugged it to my local watering hole on Fuxing Lu to show folk what I'd been up to.

The place is a rough (in both senses of the word) facsimile of a British pub. There is a well-perforated dartboard in the corner and yesterday's rugby on the television. Tattooed shipbuilders come straight from their yard on Huangpu River to nurse pints and unqualified English teachers fidget in cheap suits from the knock-off market.

When the magazine hit the bar with a pleasing thud, the entire female staff became transfixed. They remained huddled for two hours, making it all but impossible for anyone to get served. These women- economic migrants to Shanghai from Anhui and Jiangsu provinces- earn less than 2,500 yuan (HK$3,000) a month, and they pored over the pages of Hong Kong socialites drizzled in jewels, of luxury Italian properties George Clooney might struggle to afford and of advertisements for the likes of Chopard and Van Cleef & Arpels.

There was not a hint of envy in their faces, just a look of quiet determination.