Luxury communications expert Peter Cheung talks travel, tennis and Hong Kong's can-do spirit
The luxury communications expert has worked in the industry for decades with brands such as Versace, Dior and Van Cleef & Arpels. He recently launched his own strategic marketing, communications and branding consultancy
"I was born in Hong Kong, but left at the age of seven to move with my mum and sisters to Victoria, British Columbia. For the rest of my youth, I travelled back and forth, always spending my summer breaks in Hong Kong, which I loved.
It was my childhood friend and jewellery designer Mara Hotung Khan, then an expert at Sotheby's, who introduced me to her boss for what I thought was a social lunch. The lunch was actually an interview and I was flown to New York the next week. That was the start of my career in the luxury sector.
The transition from Sotheby's to Dior also happened through a friend's connection. I had over 15 interviews and even flew to Paris to experience my first Dior couture show. After the show [CEO] Sidney Toledano said to me: 'This is couture. Not just fashion. This is a business … Are you ready for this?'
When I joined Dior in 2001 many brands were consolidating their Asian operations and it was a great time to be in the industry. We were achieving many firsts… designer visits, flagship openings, large-scale events and even fashion shows. It was so competitive but in a fantastic way. I think we were the generation to really challenge ourselves, to come up with ideas that were original, strategic, and creative. This has changed as strategies are much more structured and developed, sometimes cautious, especially for big brands.
In 2003 I planned John Galliano's first trip to Hong Kong and China. It was amazing to watch him take inspiration from so many aspects that I didn't even notice as a Hong Kong person. John loved meeting people and people watching - he would talk to everyone.
I've always been a huge fan of Gianni Versace, so I was excited when I started working there after Dior. Donatella is very funny and when she is comfortable with you, she treats you like family. When I left Versace to join Van Cleef & Arpels, she insisted that I travel to one last fashion show in Milan to say goodbye to her in person. She said to me: 'I can't believe you are leaving the rock'n'roll for the rocks.'
I've been in the business for more than 20 years and have witnessed many cycles from the first recession in the late '90s and Sars to the incredible rise of China and Asia as a leading global market. The experience has been amazing, but I recently decided that it was time for me to go in a new direction and open my own strategic service/consultancy called Peter Cheung Asia Limited.
The industry has completely changed in the past six months and it is now time for all brands to rebalance, re-strategise, and rethink their direction. I feel that there are opportunities in challenging and changing times. I provide services for a variety of luxury sectors. Van Cleef & Arpels is my first client. I am also working with Parisian designer Gaspard Yurkievich on his One Piece collection, and also managing the career of Asian American male model Philip Huang in Asia.
I disagree that it is the end of luxury in Asia, especially China. The sophistication of the market has developed in light years over the past decade and now the consumer's appetite is for authentic luxury. I would even say the word luxury now is so overused that it is passe. Non-recognisable luxury, whereby true craftsmanship, design, quality, value, and rarity is the next stage. The industry will pick up and I think in this new direction.
Hong Kong is special because of its energy and can-do attitude. It has a system of efficiency unlike anywhere in the world. Hong Kong values professional network and relationships that foster a unique community spirit … it is a place where you can always ask someone to help or advise, which is why I love it here.
If I wasn't working in fashion, I would be a professional tennis player. It was my childhood dream, but I stopped playing and teaching in my early 20s to pursue my luxury career. If I was not doing this, it would be great to still be in the sport and perhaps to help develop the next top Chinese tennis professional after Li Na. Actually, maybe I should consider adding that to our services, too."
As told to Divia Harilela