Retail in Asia

In People

Kapok founder Arnault Castel on how it all started

From a small, quiet village in southern France, the Chungking Express transported retailer Arnault Castel to the busy cosmopolitan city of Hong Kong.

While he was at university in Paris, he popped into an old-school neighbourhood movie theatre, thanks to a colourful poster. Chungking Express, a 1994 film written and directed by Wong Kar Wai, the acclaimed auteur of Hong Kong cinema, was showing.

Never mind that he did not understand the mainly Cantonese or Mandarin dialogue (there were French subtitles) of the film set in and around Hong Kong’s seedy Chungking Mansions.

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By the end of it, he had fallen in love with the city. Still on a high from the movie, he asked to be posted to Hong Kong for work during a job interview the next day with Banque Indosuez.

He arrived in the city in 1996 to start work at the bank, but the keen shopper was disappointed by the bland offerings in Hong Kong’s cookie-cutter malls.

“I want people to constantly travel to kapok to see what’s new. I want to create an experience that’s not gimmicky.” – Arnault Castel

It set the wheels in motion for the launch of kapok, a multi-label, design-driven store that opened its first outlet in 2006.

A decade later, the 43-year-old has five kapok stores in Hong Kong and two Singapore offshoots – a space in Tangs at Tang Plaza in Orchard Road; and his biggest store, a 200 sq m shop space with a restaurant at the National Design Centre in Middle Road. He also runs French lifestyle label Maison Kitsune’s store in Hong Kong.

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Kapok stocks a wide range of clothes and accessories, such as bags and jewellery, as well as homeware items. In both countries, it is also a strong champion of homegrown brands, which sit alongside recognisable names such as Stockholm-based accessories brand Sandqvist.

From gigs as a DJ to launching Lomography and distributing Moleskine products in Asia, read more about Castel’s personal journey to starting Kapok here.

(Source: Straits Times)