Almost 25 years ago, a young Nick Jones founded his first Soho House in London with a compelling proposition: a private members’ club that would be a home away from home for a community of like-minded people, often with a creative leaning.
Since starting the journey in 1995, Soho House has gradually expanded to a current grand total of 25 Houses across the UK, Europe, North America and Asia. Simultaneously Jones has built an impressive portfolio of restaurants, screening rooms, spas, workspaces and hotels. The latest to open: the much-anticipated Soho House Hong Kong.
This month, Jones is inaugurating the space, set in a 28-storey skyscraper in Sheung Wan, with epic views over the city skyline, Victoria Harbour and green swathes of The Peak. “We’re all nervously excited,” he says. “It’s getting there, it’s been a process.”
The Hong Kong Soho House he says, has been a project 10 years in the making, so why did it take so long? “Initially it was focus, then it was trying to find the right partner and the right space and the right lease that goes with it. Everyone gets quite short leases in Hong Kong. You do it all up and then have to take it all down — so there were some delays. What we have now, it’s been worth the wait.”
What the new House has is a warmly lit Brasserie with old-world charm and dark leather chairs. There’s also a three-floor gym and great drinking and dining, along with the event spaces, a stage and music venue and a screening room. In a bid to become “a cultural and creative focal point within the city”, an events programme under development includes fashion, film, music, art, design and wellness.
The Hong Kong House, which opens hot on the tail of a new Soho House in Mumbai, is the first in East Asia. Was this part of the world always part of Jones’s grand plans?
“Without Asia as part of our network or community, it would be lacking, so I think yes, Asia was always part of the plan,” he says. “We obviously want to see how things go in Hong Kong, but Shanghai is very much part of our list, Tokyo too, as are many other cities in Asia.”
Jones hopes that the region will take to his concept, which has proved so popular in Europe (Barcelona, Amsterdam, Berlin) and the US (Chicago, New York, Los Angeles). His empire is growing: “We have Paris to come, Rome, Milan and Lisbon — we have a really interesting pipeline in Europe, a nice pipeline in the Americas. Asia is definitely an area where we want to be much more active.”
“What people want is the global-ness of the club. You join one and you get access to all of them,” he says. It all fits neatly into the new lifestyles of the creative elite: nomadic for work and for pleasure. Whether fashionistas, music producers, artists or entrepreneurs there’s constant travel, and building a community this way is partly what makes a multi-continental club like Soho House so appealing. He’s also built brands such the Cowshed spa and beauty products line, and the homeware range Soho Home.
But with an ever-expanding portfolio of spaces, how does Jones keep things intimate and relevant – in line with this original ethos of being a home away from home? “I think within the clubs we’re always evolving — and luckily all our members are at the forefront of anything creative, so they help us move in the right direction.”
As each Soho House is designed as a local club within a global network, Jones is quick to point out that Soho House isn’t coming into Asia as a London club. The key person it wants to please is the local member: “It means we have to adjust culturally to the area and the location, and we do this in each city, as the cultures are very different,” he says.
“I’d like to think that in some way, we’re helping to build a global community that’s in every major city. We’re also doing more and more experiences and resorts, and we’ve been lucky there’s a certain sort of person that likes the way we do things.”
Although Hong Kong is best known as an Asian financial capital, Jones has been watching the development of the arts and creative scene with curious fascination since his first visit.
“In the 10 years that I’ve been coming here, I’ve definitely seen that change. You see the people who’ve applied for membership and the people on our committee — many of them have that creative soul and a like-mindedness about them, which very much fits into Soho House.”
“We’re obviously aware that the city is a centre for business and finance, but also aware that it’s one of the creative hubs of Asia. I think it’s progressive and moving quickly,” he adds.
To reflect this, the permanent art collection curated by Kate Bryan, Soho House’s head of collections, focuses entirely on artists born or based in Hong Kong. This is a comprehensive and timely celebration of the local art scene, which has flourished since the arrival of Art Basel, Tai Kwun and M+. The collection features more than 100 works by the likes of Lee Kit, Tsang Kin-Wah or Firenze Lai, as well as work by historic figures such as Ho Fan, Yau Leung, Wong Wo-Bik and Choi Yan-Chi.
And amid a wave of more minimalist interiors being built around the city, Soho House Hong Kong interiors embrace more retro and old-world glamour, designed by an in-house team that’s referenced famous local films and the work of directors such as Wong Kar-Wai. Patterns, colour palettes, furnishings and fabrics echo jewel tones and the city’s rich landscape, but are mixed with design elements from other Houses around the world. Menus will include the locally inspired (siu mai and dim sum) as well as introducing House favourites such as brick chicken and the Dirty Burger. An elaborate, petite indoor pool sits snug on one floor — more for lounging beside with cocktail in hand than doing laps.
Jones’s members are very vocal about the direction in which they like the Houses to go. There’s a symbiosis there — a natural process in which members feed the ideas to the House and vice versa. In Hong Kong, where identity, politics and creativity are clashing and evolving at unprecedented pace and intensity, that might be extra critical for the club.
“Hong Kong is a big city but it’s also a village,” says Jones. “There’s such an evolution on the creative scene here, there’s a lot of young interesting creative people, locals who haven’t been provided a place where they can work, hang out, have fun, watch movies, meet. I hope we’re finding lots of these people and that lots more will appear.”