Alan Chan, one of the city's most renowned designers, talks to Perspective about forging a Hong Kong design identity, East-West directions and the cultural connections of tea
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Alan Chan is one of the city’s best-loved creatives. In his almost 50 years working as a designer and brand consultant he has seen Hong Kong go through many changes, influenced first by the West and then by China. Now, he says, it's time for today's homegrown designers to forge their own identity.
Chan's academic training in graphic design was limited to a 10-month evening course in Hong Kong in 1970, but that didn't stop him and the company he set up in 1980 with his wife Sandra from winning more than 600 domestic and international awards. Not one to be pigeonholed, Alan Chan Design Company has tackled a wide variety of projects from brand identity and packaging to interior design.
When he began his career in the 1970s the Hong Kong creative community was made up of expats, largely from Europe, Australia, New Zealand and some from the United States. "I learned from them and that sensitivity went into my blood in everyday life. I learned not by studying but by living everyday life," says Chan.
The fusion of Asian and Western cultures in contemporary graphic design has been one of the defining themes of his work. Drawing on the spirit of each, he has reinterpreted them to create his own style.
"Hong Kong carries the DNA of East meets West. It sounds clichéd, but it will always be true. Hong Kong is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world," he says. His keen interest in Asian cultures and looking to his roots appealed to a Japanese audience and he's had a strong following in Japan since his early days. "When the Japanese look at my work they feel very warm because Japanese culture came from the Tang and Sung dynasties and that is my dialogue; even though I don't speak a word of Japanese it's how I visually and mentally communicate with them," he says.
Alongside his "Oriental Passion, Western Harmony" design philosophy has been a love of tea and tea culture. In the early 1990s he established teahouses in Hong Kong and Japan and designed for tea brands such as Mr Chan by Kirin. More recently, in 2016 he collaborated with Louis Vuitton in Paris to create the Journey of Tea travel trunk, complete with tea wares and accessories he designed.
"I love tea and believe it will always be part of our culture. I have met so many people because of my tearooms here in Hong Kong and in Osaka," says Chan. He recalls the heady days of the 1980s when China's big advertising agencies were filled with Hongkongers from the creatives to the management. And the territory was the benchmark for design and advertising in China.
"In Hong Kong we followed everything completely European; that's how society grew. But then you look back to who you are. You are Chinese, so where is your aesthetic? It's gone," he says.
This is an excerpt from the “Cultural Evolution" article from the October 2017 issue of Perspective magazine.
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