Freestyler: The Interviews Part 3

Reebok teamed up with a cutting-edge stylist and up-and-coming photographer in the trendsetting cities of New York, London, Munich, Hong Kong and Paris. Hong Kong was the only Asian city to host the global event and JUICE was on the guest list. We managed to squeeze in a chat with HK’s Reebok Global Freestyle Series chosen tag team, stylist Davena Mok and photographer Douglas Young.

DAVENA MOK

What does it feel like, to be the only country in Asia to be picked by Reebok and to represent?
I think that it’s a real honour to be part of this project. I feel like Douglas and I were a good couple to work together and so I think it gave us a great opportunity to expose Hong Kong and Asia to the rest of the world. Everybody really loves the Hong Kong shots.

It looks like a lot of hard work. How long did the shoot take?
Each shoot took tow to three hours but what people don’t realize is that we only had one pair of shoes and in the shot everyone is wearing a pair. We had to shoot everyone and then re-shoot everyone with the Reeboks on. We also had to make sure that everybody was doing something like eating, talking or drinking.

How did you and Douglas come up with the concept?
The Reebok Freestyle sneaker in itself is such a heritage piece. It really represents the legacy of Reebok during the 80s, so for us it was a good opportunity to play on that idea. Both Douglas and I are Chinese people who grew up overseas, we both just love Hong Kong and its history and we both are quite saddened by the modernization of this city so we thought it would be good to mix the heritage of the shoe and of Hong Kong.

But there’s this common fascination for Asians to want to be like their western counterparts, why do you think that is happening?
You always want to be what you’re not, right? I think when I was younger growing up in Australia I thought I always wanted to be Australian but when I came to Hong Kong in 1996 I came to love my ethnicity more. I feel like people learn to love their culture more when they’re grown up.

How do you think locals will react to the Global Freestyle Exhibition?
I think they’ll find it kitschy because art in Hong Kong is usually seen as an investment as its all about the money, but the exposure to street art is growing.

Describe your personal style?
My personal style is very ‘freestyle’. It’s basically expressing yourself and your personality. My style is actually quite casual and relaxed. As with Douglas, we’re both happy to go to work in flip flops and not get glammed up. Both of us work very hard so we don’t really have time to think about what we’re going to wear that day.

Do you have a favourite Reebok Freestyle?
I actually want to pick the Wonder Woman ‘Super Chic’ (Freestyle Femme Fatale). I really like strong colours that catch your eye and I feel that pair is a real tribute to the 80s as well. But as everyone is picking that pair anyway, I’ll pick the Freestyle ‘Naughty Chic’ from the Femme Fatale collection. It’s not really my style yet I like it because it has a lot of detailing from the stitching, the lace and the ribbons.

How many pairs of sneakers do you have?
I have about only 20 pairs. Is that a lot? That’s not a lot right?

What is your fashion crime?
As a fashionista you only wear things once or twice, but I re-wear my clothes all the time!

Who is your favourite designer?
I really like Martine Sitbon’s line Rue Du Mail. I say that because she’s actually one of our clients (laughs) but she really has that avant garde clothing style. I also really love the ‘plastic-ness’ of Chanel handbags. I think every girl loves a Chanel handbag.

What do you remember most about the 80s?
Back in the 80s before the internet our main form of entertainment was TV and iconic TV shows like Happy Days and Wonder Woman and even cartoons! It’s so kitsch and retro now but back then I just remember being so fascinated by the idea of things like this happening in the other side of the world because we weren’t exposed to other countries as much.

People would most likely ask what’s great to eat in Hong Kong but what local food do you hate to eat.
I definitely can’t stand stink tofu. I really love tofu and all, but I really can’t eat that.

Lastly before we wrap up, what institution is in most need of change?
The environmental department, because being environmentally conscious is something that needs to be done. Right now HK doesn’t use plastic bags but we could have easily done this 3 years ago.

DOUGLAS YOUNG

How long have you been a photographer?
I’ve always liked photography, but I’m not a photographer. I run this company called GOD (Goods of Desire), but I’m an architect by training so people know me more as a designer.

Tell me more about GOD?
It’s first and foremost a Hong Kong brand. I think there are a lot of aspects about Hong Kong that are very special but sometimes they’re not presented in a way that is modern or cool. So I decided to make things that are local and cool (laughs). So that’s GOD’s “quest”. I suppose you can see the same thing running through ‘Hail Heritage’. I wanted to present a very local image and yet fun.

What camera equipment did you use?
Believe it or not I used a small, basic digital camera because I needed something that was very portable because everyone was dancing away so I actually had to move really fast in order to capture the moment. Something light and handy so I could dance around with them! So again, it is very primitive equipment compared to professional photographers. I used regular film rather than digital stuff so that every frame doesn’t quite match. Back in the 80s we didn’t have that technology, nowadays you can use computers to make everything perfect. I think if you do that you lose the edginess. That is what I think Freestyle is all about – doing things as you like and being yourself.

How did you choose your locations?
I was conscious of the fact that the pictures had to travel to Paris, London, and Munich. Because a lot of foreigners think that Hong Kong is about sailboats, fishing junks and Chinese operas, I wanted to avoid all so we (and Davena Mok) decided that these final 4 scenes would best repreesent HK in the way that is local yet recognizable to foreigners. Karaokeing and taking the ferry, these are the things genuine Hong Kong people do.

One of the locations you use don the shoot was demolished? How do you feel about that?
We didn’t know if we were going to use that location in the beginning but after we heard that it was going to be demolished, if we didn’t shoot there by next week it was going to be too late. It’s sad come to think of it. We tend to take a lot for granted and that things are going to be there forever. Before you know it, its gone. That’s the downside of living in Asia. The upside is that you always get variety because things keep on changing, but the downside is that you lose a lot as well.

Define your style.
I’m always casual. If I can help it I’ll always be in shorts and tees, especially in this weather. I wouldn’t call myself a socialist but I hate class systems and elitism. Idealist-hopeless romantic maybe? Everyone should wear whatever they want.

Own a lot of sneakers?
Oh I have a lot. What I’m wearing now are my Reeboks x Basquiat. I think they’re next year’s. I like the idea of it being unique. If I were to spend a lot of money on clothing products, I want it to be quite special. It’s not always the case since luxury goods are so in demand, everyone ends up owning the same thing.

Which are your favourite Freestyles?
Unfortunately none of them are for men but I love the Wonder Woman ones.

Name four living people would you like to have dinner with?
(Long pause) I’m limited to just four? I would like to have dinner with Matt Damon because I am a big fan of The Bourne Identity series. Madonna because I would like to ask her what her secret is to staying young and to be able to still be relevant for generations already. The leaders of China because China is going to be a major force and I would like to know more about their cultural policies. How do we have a new China that won’t become just a copy of the West? And Damien Hirst, he’s an artist yet he’s not. He’s really changed the medium of art from painting on canvases to producing products with marketing hype.

What institution is in most need of change in Hong Kong?
Asians have a very conservative mindset by nature. They don’t like complication, they don’t like to be cutting edge and they like to abide by the rules – that’s taught in our education. We are taught to do things according to conventional means. We should break rules and break boundaries. Our education needs to change.

GOD sells mooncakes. How come nobody’s ever thought about it? Brilliant idea!
Mooncakes are an Asian tradition and with a lot of our other Asian traditions they’re rarely updated so for us its old fashioned. We thought we should be crazy enough to change it! “Moon” as in the bum is the same meaning throughout the West and the East, so we thought to try out this happy coincidence. The hard part was finding somebody who would actually make the moulds so I ended up having to make them myself. As they say “Inspiration is only 5% of the work, the rest is perspiration.”

If GOD decided to make fortune cookies, what message would you stick in it?
“Don’t believe in superstitions, or this message.”

For more, including behind-the-scenes Freestyle footage, visit www.reebok.com/freestyle. You can also go to www.reebok.com and www.reebok.com/women.

Interviews Miranda Yeoh