Creatively inclined find a home at PMQ

We take a tour of PMQ, the bold new hub for creativity in the heart of the city

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 May, 2014, 11:14pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 May, 2014, 11:52pm

It started out as the city's first Western school. Then it provided housing for married junior police officers, thus becoming the Police Married Quarters, better known as PMQ.

That moniker is still in place today, but the historical site's latest incarnation has morphed into something completely different: a hangout hot spot for designers, artists and hipsters.

With its old-meets-new architecture, the revitalised heritage project is hard to miss on Hollywood Road - its images already a regular trending topic on social media.

PMQ comprises two main buildings named Hollywood (H) and Staunton (S), which are connected by a modern bridge on the fourth floor, dotted with landscaped gardens and outdoor seating. While it isn't officially open until June, parts of the complex are already buzzing with activity. The most popular of these is the Night Market, a collaboration with Hong Kong Markets Organisation. This outdoor event, held every weekend until July 27, features food and merchandise stalls, along with live performances.

"You need interaction with the public, so we are trying to organise programmes and events to achieve one or more of our objectives, which is to attract good quality traffic, being able to inspire in terms of design and content, and finally to generate revenue to sustain the project because we are non-profit," says PMQ's creative and programme director, William To.

Before you enter either building, you'll find commercial retail spaces at ground level, which are dedicated to local brands such as Bread n Butter, Vivienne Tam, G.O.D. and kapok. They are much bigger than other outlets in the city, especially Bread n Butter, which has a cafe.

In contrast, the units on the upper floors, consisting of boutiques selling art, homeware, children's accessories and food and beverages, are smaller but arguably more interesting. Most are run by locals, or Hong Kong-based expatriates, and for many of them, it's their first retail outlet in the city.

Fashion is a highlight for brands such as Aly & Rachelle (S411) run by Central Saint Martins graduate, Christine Lam. Her label was previously sold online and features classic feminine pieces ranging from long silk dresses to lace trimmed tops.

Down the corridor is Smith & Norbu (S404), founded by Hong Kong-based Belgian designer Benoit Ams, which stocks a unique collection of optical frames handcrafted from Tibetan yak horn (each takes about six hours to make). Hak (H202), the brainchild of local designer and London College of Fashion graduate Ling Won, features minimalist separates with a cool fashion edge.

Better-known designers with studios in PMQ include Harrison Wong (S206) and S.Nine by Susanna Soo. Hong Kong retailer Joyce also secured several units that will be dedicated to showcasing the work from design students in Hong Kong, highlighting subjects such as sustainability through exhibitions and other programmes.

While many boutiques operate as regular retail outlets, others offer more interactive experiences free of charge or for a nominal fee. Accessories brand Pomch (S204), known for its industrial leather bags featuring imprints of tools, is offering workshops for customers to create their own designs.

There are also several food and beverage outlets such as bakery Levain (H105) and cupcake cafe Natural Chiffon & Cream Art (H104). This month sees the highly anticipated arrival of Aberdeen Street Social, Jason Atherton's first full-scale restaurant in Hong Kong. Also opening soon is Vasco, a fine dining Spanish restaurant led by chef Paolo Casagrande.

Design buffs can visit popular interiors stores Lala Curio and Bamboa Home (S304), which carries a collection of sustainable kitchen and homeware. Mall852 (H313) offers knick-knacks inspired by Hong Kong's past; think Jacobs cream cracker tins and photo frames decorated like a traditional Chinese opera set. Open Quote (S401) is a concept store selling art and lifestyle products and books, including its own notebooks and cards. Studios such as Yiline (H301) and Stylus Studio (S514) offer fully fledged design services.

Spaces such as the 6,400 sq ft Cube are designed to host events such as fashion shows, while several units in the buildings are reserved as pop-up spaces for temporary projects or shows.

Upcoming events include an exhibition highlighting the work of French product designer Andree Putman and an art installation sponsored by Swarovski featuring the work of furniture designer duo Fredrikson Stallard.

Aside from the many brands and shops, PMQ also offers plenty of history. Take a 20-minute guided tour through the Underground Interpretation Area, which features the actual foundations of the old Central School, accessible only through a special tunnel.

For its official opening, PMQ will host the finale of conservation project "1600 Pandas World Tour in Hong Kong: Creativity Meets Conservation" featuring 1,600 pandas crafted from recycled paper.

Looking ahead, To also has plans to launch a creative exchange programme in which he will invite designers from around the world to visit PMQ for extended periods so as to promote dialogue between local and international talent. The programme kicks off with a visit by renowned industrial designer Naoto Fukasawa, who will host several workshops.

"We are looking at the possibility of bartering spaces with other creative institutions outside Hong Kong in countries such as Denmark, Japan and Belgium, to inspire not only our tenants but the community," he says.


PMQ must-sees

The Refinery (shop S410)
This multilabel fashion boutique is curated by British blogger Elizabeth Lau. Stocks international brands and Lau's own line of quirky knitwear.

Tong Chao (shop H304;
Opened by husband-and-wife duo Claire Wong and Alvin Tsui, Tong Chao features modern and chic separates for children designed by Wong. Highlights include peplum tops with chunky necklaces for the girls, and neon knitwear for the boys.

513 Paint Shop (shop S513;
The first of its kind in Hong Kong, 513 Paint Shop stocks non-toxic paints from France (colours range from olive oil to pashmina).

Stitch Paperie (shop H307;
This lifestyle store uses traditional embroideries to create a range of innovative greeting cards, all made in Hong Kong.

Obellery (shop H311;
Fashion meets art at this contemporary jewellery gallery and studio. In addition to showcasing unique jewels from Asian artists, they also host regular jewellery and metalwork workshops.