Born in Paris, raised in Brussels, residing in Hong Kong and celebrated all over the world, the designer and artist Jonathan Riss, who goes by the phonetic spelling of his initials Jay Ahr, continues to be enthralled and inspired by the energy of Asia, particularly in his creative base. Here, he shares with us his favourite things about life in the Fragrant Harbour.
“Hong Kong, as a city, has changed almost beyond recognition since I first started coming here ... but in many ways, it has remained the same. I have been travelling and living in Asia for the past 20 years, including many years spent in Beijing. But I have always loved the energy and open business culture of Hong Kong. As [it is] an international hub, I am always meeting people and hearing their interesting stories, which serve as inspiration for my work. At its heart, Hong Kong is and always has been and will be an ever-changing landscape of cross-cultural influences, and the constant transformation is an endless source of inspiration.”
Jay Ahr’s studio is in the neighbourhood of Wong Chuk Hang, in the southern district of Hong Kong Island. “What I love about Wong Chuk Hang is that it is an industrial area surrounded by mountains and the sea. I was able to find an amazing space for our studio but I also like the fact that we are surrounded by nature, which allows me to design without the chaos of being in the middle of the city. If you come, you would find Wong Chuk Hang to be a very entrepreneurial and creative hub.
"The large industrial spaces are perfectly suited for creative studios and start-ups. Although it is much quieter than other parts of Hong Kong, there is definitely a buzz in the area with all kinds of different businesses: fashion designers, photography studios, food kitchens, wine importers, furniture designers, creative agencies and, of course, artists. The south side of Hong Kong is seeing a lot of development, which is good as it will hopefully bring more interesting businesses in. More than anything, though, Hong Kong is a city of people, and it is their continuously evolving stories that inspire.”
“I usually wake up early in the morning and have a quick breakfast. An espresso is a must while I prepare for the day ahead: design and production meetings in the morning, a bike ride to Deep Water Bay for lunch by the beach, designing through the afternoon, a late afternoon massage just before client meetings in the early evening on our terrace with a few glasses of good wine, followed by dinner with a view over Victoria Harbour. If time allows, I like winding down with a classic film before bed. For inspiration, I like visiting the Taschen bookstore in Tai Kwun. I especially like their books on thangkas, and I keep The Book of Symbols on my desk in the office. Symbols are universal and can be understood across cultures, which I find important in creating narratives.”
It’s no secret that Hong Kong is a magnet for travellers. When friends come to visit, here’s what Jay Ahr suggests: “The first would be to get out on a junk; ideally, you should leave just before sunset and head over to Po Toi for dinner and then back to Central via a cruise in Victoria Harbour. Next, head to Soho to hit a few of the speakeasy-style bars like Old Man and Salon 10. A late breakfast of the signature Hainan chicken rice at the Mandarin Oriental will cure any hangover while a trip to Victoria Peak to take in the sweeping views is a must. If time permits, Victoria Peak Gardens is a lovely quiet spot right at the top of Hong Kong and, depending on the friend, perhaps a visit to a south-side beach, a shopping trip or even a stroll through the many art galleries.”
EAT + DRINK
“There are so many great places at which to eat in Hong Kong, so my favourites tend to be linked to people. The private sushi counter at Okra is always a fun evening while lunch at La Petite Maison is a regular part of my week. I love the view from the old Cafe Grey at the Upper House but I also really enjoy simple beachside places like CoCoNuts in Deep Water Bay. There are some great little hotpot places in Causeway Bay but I like being surprised by new places as well. When it comes to drinks, I am mostly a wine drinker so I make sure to keep a few bottles on hand in the studio. We are very lucky to have an amazing space in Wong Chuk Hang and a beautiful terrace where I like inviting friends over to. So, if it’s drinks, you will usually find me here — amongst good company, of course.”
Hong Kong is not short on charming places you can visit to escape its frenetic hustle and bustle — from the quiet charm of Peng Chau, one of the outer islands, to Taoist temple trails, there is much to explore. Jay Ahr, however, has his favourites. “It depends on my mood. Sometimes, I love getting on my bike and going for a long coastal ride out to Shek-O or Big Wave Bay. Otherwise, there is nothing quite like taking a boat out and spending the night anchored in a quiet bay in, say, Sai Kung and waking up surrounded by the South China Sea.”
JAY AHR x MALAYSIA
No stranger to Malaysia, Jay Ahr has, in fact, created two iconic limited-edition custom-designed Louis Vuitton Keepalls as part of his ongoing collaboration with One&Only resorts around the world. Ten global resort destinations, Malaysia’s One&Only Desaru Coast included, boast their own bespoke bags inspired by their unique heritage and provenance.
Only two bags, each completely distinct, have been designed for each resort and are available for purchase only on-site. Each is made from signature monogram canvas by Louis Vuitton but modernised with Jay Ahr’s inimitable touch and craftsmanship. “Malaysia offers so many inspirations,” says the designer.
“There is the local batik technique, the beautiful Desaru coastline, the lush jungle, ancient statues and carvings and, of course, the Malaysian flag. People always give me the greatest impressions and I find Malaysians to be friendly and generous. The country’s lush landscapes and incredible islands will bring me back for an inspiration-filled trip which, of course, will include Desaru Coast.”
The Jay Ahr x One&Only Desaru Coast Jungle Bag is priced at RM70,000 and available exclusively at the Neo Boutique, One&Only Desaru Coast.
This article first appeared on Apr 19, 2021 in The Edge Malaysia.