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Ten minutes with…Vivienne Tam

Since it opened in late 2011, Hotel ICON, an audacious combination of five-star luxury hotel and hospitality training facility has won a clutch of awards for its unerring style and quality of service. A star-studded team of local and international designers were commissioned to translate the concept of an iconic Hong Kong hotel into reality with innovative interiors by Hong Kong-based architect and artist William Lim; refreshingly chic branding by local graphic artist Tommy Li; and a stellar art collection curated by Hong Kong artist Freeman Lau. In June this year the hotel added to the all-star cast when it launched its 80 square meter premier suite on the 27th floor – one of three prototype rooms intended for experimenting with creative ideas – created by renowned fashion designer Vivienne Tam.

Born in Canton, China, Tam moved to Hong Kong when she was three years old. After graduating from Hong Kong PolyU, Tam moved to New York where she launched her signature East-meets-West style and controversial “Mao” Collection (now incorporated into the permanent archives of the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, PA and the Museum of FIT in New York City). Nearly two decades on Tam’s creativity and sense of excitement is as infectious as ever as LOFT discovered when we met to talk with the designer about the inspiration behind her eponymous suite.

What made you take on this design project?

It is something that I have been thinking about for a long time. Apart from fashion I have always been fascinated by decorating. I love textiles and materials and how the way you create different patterns or combinations has exciting results. When PolyU asked me to design the suite I knew it was something I would love to do but that it would also be a good way for me to give something back to the school that nurtured my interest in fashion design.

How much design freedom did you have?

I was given a free rein although I had to convince the hotel about not having blinds or curtains in the living room and bathroom. But why would you cover such a wonderful view? I never just accept it when people say you can’t do this or that. When I published my book, people told me that I couldn’t use a red colour but sometimes you have to insist on what you have in your mind. That is what makes it exciting.

I want guests to have a sense of something different to where they usually stay. Hotel rooms are all the same. I wanted to create something that would be a home-away-from-home. I also wanted to clear away many of the things people don’t really need in a hotel room like all those drawers and cupboards that you never use.

What is it about the suite that sets it apart?

I want people to come in and enjoy it so much they want to touch everything like the ‘Ploum’ red sofa [by Bouroullec Brothers] or the smooth Japanese cherry wood coffee table. The different textures like marble and wood are exciting. I wanted to create a space where guests feel joy and comfort with a special sense of space and light. Even details like hinges or the way doors go all the way up to the ceiling are designed to create space. This is what is very important. I’ve also tried to make the space very personal. Even the books are from my own collection, so it is like a personal library in the suite.

Tell us about the art work you’ve selected.

The art is not necessarily from a named artist. For example, the porcelain plaque is from my home in New York. I chose it because it is beautiful and just works here. An interior designer recently asked me who artist is and I replied, ‘Nobody’. The’ Opera Girl’, a portrait made of Swarovski crystals was specially created for the bedroom and goes well with the red velvet carpet and purple bed.

How would you describe your design concept?

The harbour view is an original artwork so I laid out the bath and bedroom to give as much space as possible for the living room to maximise that view of Hong Kong. I also think the bathroom deserves a fantastic view. Why not? Incorporating feng shui is a natural part of whatever I do so here it was not a conscious effort for me. It is all about a natural flow of energy.

What do you dislike most in a hotel?

I think people are now looking for a more personal style and experience. I especially don’t like the standard bathroom; I want one that is open and light. I also see a lot of hotels using chrome which I don’t like. I also avoided using a lot of plastics and metals.  I really don’t like when hotels put a television right on top of the desk. Of course in a small room you don’t have a lot of choice but at the very least you should avoid having a television right opposite you when you are in bed.

What is your favourite element in the suite?

The openness, materials and the warmth. The colour of the sofa and the lamp are like flowers and they, together with the rich wood and marble, make you feel like nature is close – like you are in a garden.

How has your style changed?

Style is always evolving; it depends on the time and the moment. Even this room is evolving. I hope in a few years it will be different.

Where do you get your inspiration?

I love travelling, especially to places like India and ethnic minority places in China. Inspiration can come from anywhere. My last spring collection was inspired by Japanese gardens while another collection was inspired by Shangri-La. I also love art books and exhibitions.

Would you like to continue designing interiors?

I’d love to design an entire hotel from start to finish – the whole concept. That would be really exciting. I’d also love to investigate a new modern way of Chinese contemporary living. The Chinese are always looking to a western way of living and have forgotten about their own beautiful culture. I’d like to explore how to make it modern in a relevant way.

17 Science Museum Road, East Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, 852 3400 1688,


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