Ahlaiya Yung is tired. When I pass through a golden door into his studio, he tells me he was up all night, working until six o’clock that morning. I know Yung as a fashion and interior designer, the founder of Metasus Design and owner of the intimate bar Salon 10 in Central. Now he has a new creative venture and I’m eager to hear about it.
Yung and I are standing in Studio 9, on the ninth floor of an old warehouse building in Wong Chuk Hang, the south side neighbourhood that is the unpolished gem of Hong Kong’s creative community. It’s a large, open space set out like a living room, filled with an eclectic and colourful assortment of period and vintage contemporary furniture. New editions of the 19th century Campanino chairs sit next to contemporary Pearson Lloyd’s lime yellow Galleria modular bench and Claesson Koivisto Rune’s crimson Kelly lounge chair. A soft light filters through the terrace door, lush mountains rising behind. Yung is busy setting the scene. He has just put on melodic classical music and he now fetches wine and glasses. He ushers me to a seat at a long communal table. Yung is dressed casually in black and beige, and he is softly spoken, with a calm considered manner despite his lack of sleep.
We begin to chat. Yung tells me he has lived a nomadic life, moving from Harbin to Hong Kong with his mother and sister when he was five years old. When he was 13 years old, his mother sent him to boarding school in the US. It was just the latest step in an already itinerant life; all told, Yung has studied at a dozen different schools, including a stint at a Waldorf school, which is known for its emphasis on critical thinking. After high school, he studied apparel at the Rhode Island School of Design, then completed his fashion training in London at Central Saint Martins. It’s a nomadic and unconventional background that certainly transpires through his many endeavours.
Yung says his mother did not influence his choice of career and he feels lucky not to have had a cookie cutter education. “I did go to very liberal schools in which I was able to pursue my own interests freely,” he says. “For me, it came down to a choice between fashion design and architecture. I thought fashion was easier to find gratification and to realise ideas. [It’s] a choice I don’t regret as I’ve met a lot of architects and you have to be unyielding and very lucky to be in a position where you are your own master.”
After Central Saint Martins, Yung remained in London for ten fashion seasons, designing and producing collections before travelling to Shanghai to set up his own production company. “I loved the idea of being part of China rising in the world,” he says. “But unlike everyone else, who saw only the economic benefits and who were thinking in the short term, two to three year period, I was thinking in a 10 to 20 year period.” Yung wasn’t able to find a suitable space, though, so he returned to Hong Kong to take over Chez Moi, a restaurant his mother was closing down. He rechristened it Salon 10.
“It is inspired by the French tradition of cultural salons in Europe,” he says. “A nightly gathering place for creatives, intellectuals, anyone who has a curious mind and is willing to engage without prejudice. Everyone is welcome to our salon and our clientele is very mixed with both local and overseas guests whom in general are very open and sociable.”
Despite several ups and downs, the bar has been open for more than five years and it is still keeping up with its original concept. “Many people have met each other in the salon and have become friends, lovers and partners, including myself,” he says. “I’ve met many of my great friends through Salon 10. It’s the thing I am most proud of – that I have been able to build the bridge for people to be themselves with each other. For me, it’s not about how much money I make or how famous I become. Salon 10 was not a paying job.”
It also wasn’t enough to fulfil Yung’s ambitions. He wanted to take his concept of a community space one step further by creating a daytime space where “culture and commerce harmoniously balance together. Hence Studio 9. “I’m an entrepreneur who also happens to be a designer,” says Yung. “My motivation, very simply, is to apply art and design aesthetics to everyday life. I’m interested in how people live, in what they do, in how they eat, sleep, study. I think that is the purpose of art and design. It would be terribly sad if art existed only in galleries and museums and design only in glossy publications and was used only for commercial purpose.”
Hong Kong doesn’t lend itself to the perfect community space, of course. It took Yung more than 5 years to find the 4,000 square foot warehouse space he now occupies. It has had many guises over the years. Yung likes that it has a feeling of permanence. “I hate the general trend and convention in Hong Kong where you create a space for two to three years only to tear it all down and start it all over again,” he says. “It’s like making a movie, building a set that looks good from a distance or in a magazine but has no real soul, its hollow, a façade. This practice was killing me. I knew if I do something here it had to be meaningful and authentic, and hopefully not transient.”
Studio 9 is mean to provide a space where design lovers and professionals can get together, where social events foster an appreciation of creativity. Yung has already put together a range of live events, music, talks and seminars, all of it supplemented by cocktails, fine tea and aromatic coffee. Imagine your living room, only on a much greater scale, with high-quality furniture and lighting design. “I believe that carefully designed products that embody high levels of craftsmanship and durability and convey timeless aesthetics are much more likely to be valued and treasured than disposed of or replaced,” says Yung.
All of the furniture and home décor products in the studio can be purchased, but Yung says the space is more than a simple shop. It’s also a backdrop to the cultural activities. Both blend well together.”The selling part is just a part of the whole. I have seen how this kind of business in Hong Kong struggles. I don’t want this to be a simple shop – there is no point in having another one. There are thousands already.”
Studio 9 opens on October 13, 2016. 9/F, Union Industrial Building, 48 Wong Chuk Hang Road, Wong Chuk Hang.