Style By Asia

February 2016

Daughter of an interior designer and granddaughter to antiquities collectors, Laura Cheung has an eye for beauty and a respect for artisanship.

The founder of Hong Kong brand Lala Curio, Cheung is now curator of two spaces in Hong Kong – the brand's home in design enclave Sau Wa Fong in Wanchai and the new shop in the Prince’s building.

Recent projects have included the complete design and furnishing of the home of textile business heiress Veronica Chou and her husband, Russian entrepreneur Evgeny Klyucharev. The "contemporary chinoiserie aesthetic" won the attention of Hong Kong interiors bible Home Journal, which ran a spread of the midlevels apartment.

Lala Curio flagship: 32-33 Sau Wa Fong, Wanchai

Style by Asia caught up with Cheung after the enterprise was nominated as one of five home-grown social ventures forChivas Regal's The Venture competition, which supports entrepreneurs worldwide. Lala Curio did not win – that honour went to Jobdoh, "a smart screening and booking platform for temporary workers in under-served communities that plans to lessen income gaps by offering better employment options".

A lot of the artisans are very stubborn – they have their ways of doing things, and if it is not immediately monetarily interesting for them, they are not keen to do new things.

For Cheung, the pitch event was a chance to speak about a business she has grown since moving back to Hong Kong four years ago from the UK. To find the myriad of beautiful, and some somewhat quirky, products in Lala Curio, she has spent years finding artisans crafting in tiny workshops. Cheung explains: "To get access to the workshops, you need to be in the crafts industry and then you have to build relationships. A lot of the artisans are very stubborn – they have their ways of doing things, and if it is not immediately monetarily interesting for them, they are not keen to do new things."

Lala Curio flagship: 32-33 Sau Wa Fong, Wanchai

The products that she has brought back are not only unique but some carry a strong heritage. The Cloisonné tiles and vases are created using a technique that reached China in the 14th Century. However, getting the artisans to accept her new designs was a two year process. She says: "We come with all of the designs and artworks. You just need to be 150 percent prepared. You come with everything figured out. You almost have to handhold them in the design phase. It’s a wooing process. You go there and you have tea for hours and hours and hours before you can talk about what you want to talk about." Then there was the experimentation to perfect the tiles: "We tried different techniques. The first renditions were beautiful but started warping over time and the enamel started cracking. Some people actually loved this look at the Paris show. For the second iteration, we reinforced the metal plates."

Lala Curio flagship: 32-33 Sau Wa Fong, Wanchai

The brand is very much international. Cheung had an export business before she founded Lala Curio, and so has relationships with buyers she met whilst attending international home décor show, including Maison et Objet in Paris. The brand is also in talks with a big name in the US but Cheung is keeping quiet until the details have been drawn up. She admits that the Hong Kong market has been tough to whip up and interest has been far larger in France and the US. She says: "I have found it a bit disheartening as the Hong Kong market doesn't nearly support the products as much as I had imagined it would. When I show in Paris, the response is super." The pop-up store the team curated in PMQ, for example, was treated almost like a museum by visitors who came in, looked around and left. The store in the Prince's Building, however, already has firm fans among globetrotting Hongkongese.

Lala Curio Chinoserie Wallpaper

As to the future, Cheung looks to the success of a fellow Hong Kong designer, Timothy Oulton, whose store is just around the corner from her flagship. She explains: "Oulton won a Restoration Hardware contract with $60m sales per year. Restoration Hardware is a $2bn valued business. If we can get one big contract then we can breathe and continue to do what we do best, which is be creative."

Source: Style By Asia