Kapok's owner takes us around Hong Kong

Arnault Castel, founder of select shop Kapok – Roomorama blog

City guide: Hong Kong

Born and raised in France, Arnault Castel founded the select shop Kapok in 2006 - 10 years after moving to Hong Kong. Pledging to bring "future classics" to Asia, Arnault's store has grown from a lifestyle shop to a widely recognised alternative success in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taipei and more recently, Tokyo and Osaka. His selection for Kapok is driven by research for newness, passion for discovery and taste for the unpretentious. We ask him to tell us more about his adopted city.

Do you live in Hong Kong full time? What do you love and hate about the city?

Yes, I've been living in Hong Kong full time for 19 years now. I love the crisp autumn days, the energy of the city and the people. I hate the rainy season and I'm still not used to the noise.

What are some of your routine things to do in Hong Kong?

I have dim sum almost every Sunday and coffee several times a day. I also play tennis 2 or 3 times a week.

What are your favourite dim sum places?

A new discovery, Mott 32 in the former storage basement of Standard Chartered bank. They have fantastic dim sum and to-die-for char-siu (barbequeue pork).

Mott 32 Pictured above: Mott 32 (credit: Dim Sum Diaries)

Where do you go for casual dinners/meals in Hong Kong? What are some of your regular spots?

I love my neighbourhood - Tai Hang. It has a mix of narrow streets and old style low-rise buildings. Ping Kee is a very casual dai pai dong (an open air food stall) where workers from the nearby car shops eat together with Hong Kong hipsters. Most people order the stall's most famous dish - the pork ramen.

Where are some favourite bars you would recommend for a good cocktail/drink?

My current favourite is Ping Pong 129 Gintoneria. It's an old ping pong hall on the remote streets of Sai Ying Pun turned into a stylish Spanish gin bar. This sounds very random, but it works!

Ping Pong 129 Gintoneira Pictured above: Ping Pong 129 Gintoneira (credit: Boom Magazine)

Where can a fashionable guy go in Hong Kong to shop? What are some of the good boutiques for guys?

Kapok is an obvious choice. For a more elegant or formal look, I would recommend The Armoury in Central.

Kapok The Armoury Pictured above: Kapok (credit: Rookie Creative), The Armoury (credit: A Continuous Lean)

What non-touristy things would you recommend for a friend to do in Hong Kong if the had a few days in the city?

  • Do a hike on the 'dragon's back'.
  • Visit the new emerging districts of Hong Kong, such as Tai Hang or Sai Ying Pun.
  • Go on a hike and discover a very nice beach at Tai Long Wan.

You are often on the look out for brands, and travel is obviously a big part of that. Tell us your process - how do you identify brands, how do know they will be interesting in the Asian market, and how do you introduce them into a new market?

I guess... my team and I developed a certain Kapok style - but it's difficult to pinpoint the details. We love nice materials and nice techniques but done with a sense of modernity. We like well-thought out details and a design that is neither minimalist nor maximalist. A touch of playfulness doesn’t hurt either.

Our role is also to be able to help young and small brands to reach an audience in Asia which is receptive to well-made beautiful objects.

Finally it’s very important for me to work with pleasant and nice people. I spend so much time interacting and working with our brands that I have lost the patience and energy to deal with “difficult” designers. Ultimately, I like the idea of helping in our own way, genuinely nice and talented people.

Share with us some of the stories of your brand-hunting. Are there any crazy/funny/memorable stories of how you've come across a brand or brought it to market?

I was in Copenhagen for fashion week and connected with a really cool brand of Norwegian jewellery and fashion called Tom Wood. They invited me to their showroom. It was in the middle of Winter, and the showroom was in a very remote part of the harbour in a desolate industrial complex. To reach the showroom, I had to climb a very long and scary staircase along the building. I felt it was true dedication. Luckily, once I arrived, the brand owners were delightful and the collections are a great fit for Kapok. It really felt like true brand-hunting!

I understand you recently helped to open a restaurant in Paris - tell us about that. Is that the reverse of what you usually do, bringing West to East?

It was not really a restaurant. But for 4 months, I opened a Kapok pop-up store in Paris. After running stores in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taipei and Tokyo, we got to know and connect with really talented designers in Asia. It was a really unique experience to showcase Kapok in the middle of Paris.

Do you find that there is a trend of bringing East to West?

This is not really a trend as it has been going on for a long time. There has been a strong interest in Paris amongst Japanese designers since the 80s and France helped launch the careers of Comme des Garçons, Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake. More recently, the focus has been on China. But I think Kapok's role would be to shine the light on designers from smaller countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore or Taiwan.

Comme des Garçons Pictured above: Comme des Garçons (credit: The New Order Magazine)

Stylish places to stay in Hong Kong

This spacious, family-friendly apartment in Causeway Bay has a sizeable kitchen and living room, as well as nicely-furnished bedrooms.

Short term vacation rental apartment in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong – Roomorama blog Holiday rental apartments in Hong Kong – Roomorama blog

Located close to the MTR and Convention Center, this modern apartment accommodates up to 8 guests.

Short term vacation rental apartment in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong – Roomorama blog Holiday rental apartments in Hong Kong – Roomorama blog

Going to Hong Kong? Check out more places to stay in Hong Kong on Roomorama.