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Asia’s New Tastemakers


T+L asks five design talents to pick their favorites, from Singapore street stalls to Beijing boutique hotels

Published on Aug 26, 2010


“I sound like Paul Smith, but I really do find inspiration everywhere,” says Jo Soh of Singapore-based fashion label Hansel. After training at London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins, Soh returned to Singapore in 1999, just as Asia’s creative industries were coming into their own. Four years later, she launched Hansel, named after her beloved Jack Russell terrier, and since then, she’s gained a devoted following in Singapore and beyond for her whimsical but meticulously cut designs. Last October marked another milestone: the opening of the first Hansel boutique
But Soh isn’t one to rest on her laurels. The new shop also features costume jewelry, printed canvas bags and T-shirts—all part of Soh’s long-term plan of developing a lifestyle brand. Next stop? Japan, which Soh confesses to maintaining a long-running fascination: “The goal is to have a permanent Hansel shop in Japan in five years’ time.”—DAVEN WU

#01–02 Stamford House 39 Stamford Road, Singapore
+65 6337 0992


Ah Hua Bak Ku Teh in Singapore “I love the herbal pork soup here. It’s served piping hot and I always ask them to add slices of fresh liver into it.”

#01-01 Isetan Office Building, 593 Havelock Road, Singapore
+65 6235 7716

Kanazawa “I am absolutely fascinated by Japan. Their culture is so strong, unique and inspirational. Kanazawa is a picturesque city with lush greenery and a bubbling brook that runs through the city. It also has a fantastic contemporary art gallery and galleries that showcase their traditional art forms.”

Andaman Sea “I just love being out on a boat in the middle of the ocean. My favorite holiday was the time we sailed in the Andaman Sea from one island to the other. Each evening, we dropped anchor in Phuket, cracked open the beers and dived into the cool waters.”

Jenggala Keramik in Bali “The last time I was here, I wished I had a large home to fill with their lovely ceramic ware. They now have a branch in Singapore, but the original in Bali has a relaxed cafe, a large retail area and a place for customers to try their hand at making their own ceramic ware.”

Jalan Uluwatu II, Jimbaran, Bali
+62 361 703 311



Few designers in Asia have experienced as meteoric a rise as Hong Kong–born wunderkind Andre Fu. A Cambridge graduate, Fu returned to the city in 2004 and quickly gained attention for designs that seamlessly married an Asian aesthetic with international sensibilities (his list of inspirational places span from the Tate Modern in London to Ben Brown Fine Arts in Hong Kong).

After a slew of high-profile projects including the Shangri-La Tokyo’s Nadaman restaurant and agnès b.’s Hong Kong flagship store, Fu undertook his biggest challenge: The Upper House, the latest boutique hotel by Swire, the Hong Kong property firm behind Beijing’s acclaimed The Opposite House. Four years in the making, the 117-room property perfectly achieves Fu’s vision of “a small, intimate hotel reminiscent of a private residence” with its muted color palette, oak and ash floors, and lacquered bamboo panels. Fu’s foray into hotels continues with the Fullerton Bay Hotel in Singapore.—L I L I TAN

Island Tang “It’s great for dim sum. In particular, the oven-baked bun pastry stuffed with char siu—the outside is crispy while the filling stays moist and juicy.”

The Galleria, 9 Queen’s Road, Central, Central, Hong Kong
+ 852 2526 8798

Da Domenico “The grilled squid at this unassuming dining room is truly authentic and a genuine Italian treat.”

Sunning Plaza, 8 Hysan Avenue, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
+852 2882 8013

M at the Fringe “The classic Pavlova at this establishment in the historic Fringe Club building is my all-time favorite!”

2 Lower Albert Road, Central, Hong Kong
+852 2877 4000



“People wonder how we do it,” admits Beijing-based husband-and-wife design team Harrison Liu and Jehanne de Biolley. “We both have very strong personalities, but we go along with each other’s inspirations.” The couple attributes their success to diplomacy (“that’s interesting” versus a flat-out “no” to ideas) and a clear division of labor (“you do the exterior, I’ll do the interior”).

Belgian-born de Biolley, who trained as a jeweler, prefers the details, while Liu, a former actor, likes contemplating the big picture. Both, however, share a passion for China and its myriad traditions. When they landed the design job for the DuGe Courtyard, a boutique hotel located in a Beijing hutong, they stayed up all night feverishly sketching, creating what de Biolley calls “a contemporary interpretation of life in the hutong.” Each room has a different theme, inspired from the couple’s travels in China: the colors in the “Tibetan Kingdom” room are inspired by monks’ robes, while the main dining room recalls a trip to Guizhou, combining the luster of the Miao minority’s traditional headdress with the sharp greens of rice fields.

The Opposite House “I often drop by to have coffee,” de Biolley says. “Although it’s a hotel, it’s nice to be able to use it as a [Beijing] resident as well since they have a good pop-around place.”

The Village, Building 1, 11 Sanlitun Road, Chaoyang district, Beijing, China
+86 10 6417 6688

Home “The best thing about Beijing is our home,” Liu says of the pair’s abode and connecting gallery showroom, which they converted from a Ming dynasty temple library. “I love going from one room to another.”

Hohai Lake, between Deshengmen City gate and Gulou Drum Tower, Beijing, China
By appointment only

Noodle Bar “I like the combination of the outdoor, laidback atmosphere and the big earthen bowls of beef noodle soup,” de Biolley says. “It’s country-style food, but clean and simple.”

1949 The Hidden City, Gongti Bei Lu, Chaoyang district, Beijing, China
+86 10 6501 1949


Though he’s only 26, Alvin Tjitrowirjo has some serious ambitions for his fledgling brand, alvinT. “You know how you can see something and know it’s Italian? I’d like to achieve the same thing with Indonesian design,” says the Jakarta-based designer.

Educated in Australia, Tjitrowirjo was lured into furniture design after attending the Milan Furniture Fair in 2006 as one of a handful of students picked by distinguished architect and designer Kjell Grant. Since then, he’s been creating for discerning clients strikingly organic, limited editions that subtly hint at their origin; an otherwise austere metal coffee table, for instance, displays a laser-cut batik pattern.

Canteen “The design is simple—it’s low-cost but it looks well-made. And that’s really the essence of what design is meant to be.”

Level 4, Pacific Place, SCBD, Jalan Jend Sudirman Kav., Jakarta, Indonesia
+62 21 5797 3742

SHY Rooftop “A nice rooftop bar during the night, and a perfect place to have coffee or tea during the day.”

The Papillion, 45AA Jalan Kemang Raya, Jakarta, Indonesia
+62 21 719 9921

Salsa Food City “An outdoor food court with plenty of different kinds of food. It’s a nice getaway from the typically jammed and stressful malls in Jakarta.”

Next to the Summarecon Mal Serpong, Jakarta, Indonesia



The creative force behind Saigon’s Sexy Valenciani brand, Adrian Nguyen is constantly on the road in search of source material for his glamorous designs. “A lot of Vietnamese can’t afford to go overseas and buy biggest brands,” says the fresh-faced Bangkok-trained designer. “I get a lot of inspiration from the street,” he says, adding that during regular trips to Paris and Hong Kong, he’s always armed with a camera to capture eye-catching looks. His formula of slinky evening wear and day-into-night outfits has proven a hit so far with Saigon’s fashion crowd: with two stores under his belt, he’s planning a third in April at the massive, new Vincom Center on Dong Khoi Street.

The Deck “Really beautiful sunsets can be viewed from your table and the food is great.”
38 Nguyen U Di, An Phu, Saigon, Vietnam
+84 8 3744 6632

The Refinery “My favorite lunch and dinner place. We eat here probably more than five times a week.”
74 Hai Ba Trung, District 1, Saigon, Vietnam
+84 8 3823 0509

Q Bar “Nowhere else to go if you’re a visitor or a local. We’re here every weekend — it’s the place to see and be seen.”

7 Lam Son Square, District 1, Saigon, Vietnam
+84 8 3823 3479

Hoa Tuc “My favorite modern Vietnamese food. I’m loving their grapefruit salad every day a little bit more.”

74/7 Hai Ba Trung, District, Saigon, Vietnam
+84 8 3825 1676



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