Fashion in Hong Kong and China

House of Siren: best of Hong Kong store’s fabulous party outfits as they come up for auction at closing sale

Charity auction by costume hire and event space that’s closing its doors after 25 years is a chance to bag a piece of Hong Kong social history. We run our eyes over the treasure trove of amazing outfits created by the late Greg Derham

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 December, 2017, 12:48pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 December, 2017, 12:47pm

House of Siren – the colourful costume hire and events space founded by the even more colourful Greg Derham almost 25 years ago – closes its doors at the end of this month, forced out by soaring rents.

Australian-born Derham died in 2012, but his House of Siren lived on after creative director Eckhard Lieber took over the business. It was still the go-to place for party people and big brands wanting to stage a flamboyant event.

Wandering through the Mid-Levels space that shimmers with sequins and feathers is like hitching a ride in a time machine: there are outfits fit for a queen – and a king – as well as costumes modelled on designs worn by Cleopatra and Marie Antoinette, as well as chunky metallic gladiator armour.

The shelves are crammed with ornate headdresses (think Chinese empress, ’20s flappers) that almost blind you with their bling. There’s chunky jewellery everywhere.

But some outfits (literally) shine more than others. Take the sequenced lace cheongsam featuring the Chinese flag, handmade for the “One Country, Two Parties” handover party in 1997, or a millennium-themed dress featuring images of 20th century icons from Mao Zedong and Marilyn Monroe to Bruce Lee and the Beatles.

“Greg spent a lot of time on this dress,” says an emotional style director Charlot Kryza (Charlot K), unravelling a giant skirt. “It was for a millennial party at the [now closed] Regent Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui. The theme was ‘Heroes and Icons of the 20th Century’. Greg picked out all the faces … It even had LED lights sewn into it so it lit up when the model walked out at midnight.

House of Siren, Hong Kong party-scene institution, to close after 25 flamboyant years

“Greg had a team of seamstresses who spent hours on each outfit and the pieces were fitted and each sequin and button sewn by hand, not like the cheap costumes you find today that fall apart after one wearing. Greg was a creative genius.”

Derham, a country boy from Victoria, and his tiny dog Astro were a fixture in SoHo He arrived in the early ’90s, bringing a flare for the fabulous unknown to Hong Kong at the time when homosexuality had just been legalised.

His midnight shows at the now-closed Post 97 in Lan Kwai Fong pushed the boundaries with his impersonations of Greek singer Nana Mouskouri, his own character Babette Basonova, as well as crazy renditions of Shirley Bassey cabaret classics.

House of Siren also organised many parties, including the 10th anniversary bash for the China Club. The lampshade costumes were such a hit that the club’s owner, the late Sir David Tang hired them for the opening of Shanghai Tang in London.

Kryza walks over to a mannequin wearing a black and gold velvet dress made with Veuve Clicquot champagne tops, the image of Madame Clicquot, the “Grand Dame of Champagne”, sewn on the bodice like a tapestry.

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“Every Halloween Veuve Clicquot hosted ‘Yelloween’…. they gave us hundreds of bottle tops featuring Madame Clicquot to make this.”

Pulling back the wardrobe doors – which also have significance, having been salvaged by Derham from hospitals in the ’80s – Kryza pulls a coat off a rack. “It’s so heavy it’s almost breaking my fingers. And this one is the Leaning Tower of Pisa.”

Other goodies include ornate dresses and headpieces commissioned by Hong Kong-born international gallerist Pearl Lam. “A lot of Chinese tai tais wore our gowns and custom-made outfits to balls.

“We also have a beaded flapper dress, a popular Gatsby 1920s hire which was made for actress Anita Yuen and an outfit made for Canto-pop star Kelly Chan.”

An auction of some of the more than 700 couture costumes will be held at the venue at 7pm on December 14 with 25 per cent of proceeds going to Aids Concern, one of the many charities supported by Derham. In true Siren style there will be a drag performance by veteran House of Siren performer Coco Pop and a mini catwalk show of outfits.

“When I first met Greg in 1992 we immediately clicked. We ended up dressing up for many parties and events. Nothing was too outrageous. Clearing out these fabulous items is a very emotional time,” says Kryza.