fashion / interview

Step inside the Liger’s den

Words by Emma Do, photos by Aimee Han

Hilary Tsui’s facebook fanpage stands at 26,350 fans. Currently, it’s wall is filled with hundreds of birthday wishes, punctuated by love hearts and other symbols of adoration. One post reads “you are my style icon”. Hilary Tsui is indeed a style icon. Although a supernova of style would probably be a more accurate description to her ardent fans. A former Hong Kong actress, Tsui now runs the eclectic retail store Liger which she founded alongside stylist Dorothy Hui.

Both are famed for their bold sense of style. Their online outfit diaries detail taking visions of furry boots, tassled jackets and electric jolts of colour. On paper it all sounds like an unfortunate 80’s revival, but on them it is a higher plane of fashion. Their two stores (one situated in Causeway Bay, the other in Tsim Sha Tsui) are another realm altogether, merging their collective vision and offering a worldly mix of high and low labels for an adventurous Hong Kong clientele. We spoke to Hilary and Dorothy about their partnership, the Hong Kong fashion scene and finishing each other’s sentences.

How did you meet each other?
D: In D-Mop [the boutique where Dorothy worked].
H: Maybe ten years ago?
D: I just told her I worked there. Of course she [Hilary] is a fashion icon. She shops everywhere!
H: Not before! But of course I like shopping, so that’s how we met.

When did you both realise you wanted to start Liger?
H: I think probably after four or five years [since first meeting]. She [Dorothy] left D-Mop and opened her own small boutique. I still went up there and bought clothes-chatted a lot.
D: Yes, yes.
H: Then she quit her business so I asked her to start again with me.

Who is the tiger and who is the lion in the partnership?
H & D: Both of us!
D: We are both born in the year of the tiger.
H: And we are both lions!
D: Hilary was watching the discovery channel and saw a program –
H: They were talking about ligers,
D: We were thinking of a shop name,
H: And that was in my mind when my friend said “You should call your shop Liger!”
D: And when she told me I said, yes I like that too!

When did you open the first store?
D: I forgot. May or March?
H: 18th of March, 2009!
D: Yeah still very young, just two of us doing the buying.

Has it grown quickly?
H: So quick! It’s grown really fast.
D: Oh yes! We didn’t expect it but it’s now pushing us! Our customers- they are always calling us and we have to buy more but we’re very happy doing that. Most things just go really quickly.

What’s a typical day like for Liger?
H: We don’t do things at the office. We just do things when we are free. I will make time.
D: Maybe she doesn’t know this but we trust each other. If she likes something, we just do it.
H: We are both very similar. We’re very laid back, not like 9-5. Sometimes we might only do one thing in a day, then discuss at the end of the day. Very chilled. Then at night we have a sip of wine!
(both laugh)
D: Yes I’m happy now!

You know, Melbourne is laid back.
D: Haha people just lie down!

What are your favourite cities?
H: Hong Kong and Paris.
D: Hong Kong is where we live.
H: And my family is here.
D: I like Tokyo and Paris.
H: Same!

Your shop stocks many up and coming designers. How do you end up finding all these names?
D: The internet.
H: Yes. I do a lot of surfing online! Haha. It’s one of my forms of entertainment. After I put my daughter to sleep, I’ll just search anything-food, clothes, online shopping…When I find something interesting, I SMS Dorothy right away. We email the brand then say we are interested in stocking them.
D: I guess everybody is doing the same thing.

When you first started out, was it your intention to support young designers?
H: Young talent, new labels. We prefer a kind of mixture.
D: Yeah I like new things and having things before anyone else does and I want to bring that excitement to our customers.

How many labels have you stocked since opening the store?
(discussion in Cantonese)
D: 60 something?
H: Maybe 60, 70. Some are new to our shop and some we let go of and some don’t let us stock them anymore. There is a big market out there; it’s very competitive in Hong Kong. It’s such a small place. We already have Lane Crawford, I.T, and D-Mop. When you try to stock the brand, the first thing brands need to consider is the location conflict. If we [and other boutiques] are really close to each other, they have to choose one [over the other].
D: It’s the way of business. It’s the same with us I guess. I wouldn’t want too many of our brands being found in department stores.

So your personalities are pretty similar?
H: Taste and interests, yes.
D: We are always picking the same things in shops!

Best friends?
H: We are! Well in Hong Kong we don’t talk much because I need to focus on my daughter but Dorothy and I understand each other. When we go travelling we talk a lot.
D: And I just said to her, on the last trip in Paris, ‘We are spending so much time together!’.
H: And I think we understand each other very well.

You are finishing each other’s sentences.
H: We’re helping each other.
D: Before I started doing business I didn’t realise we –
H: Could get along so well. Maybe we’re old… maybe we’ve matured.
D: I think so.

Hilary, you have just one daughter?
H: Haha yes and that’s already made me too busy!
D: I wouldn’t mind having my own, but my boyfriend…
H: Her boyfriend doesn’t like kids! They enjoy being-
H: Romantic!
D: Safe.
H: Haha.
D: He doesn’t allow accidents.
(both laugh).

Do you dress your daughter much?
H: Yeah I do!
D: She’s one of the fashionable kids now!
H: Yeah but because of me!
(all laugh)
I try to dress her up as I like, not the way she likes.

Has she ever wanted to dress her own self up?
H: No she just wants to be pretty.
D: Pink and princess-like.
H: She’s still very young. No taste at all, apart from anything colourful.
(all laugh)
She doesn’t really appreciate what I like.

Both of you are massive style bloggers in Asia. How do you feel about people emulating your style?
D: I guess we don’t mind.
H: For me, if I go out to see the press then I care just a little bit- ‘who wore this first?’- And I think you need to know because you don’t want to cause any unnecessary topics for the media. I don’t mind. On the streets I don’t mind as Hong Kong is small.
D: When I see other girls wearing our brands and clothes, of course I am happy and when they dress like me I’m happy they like my style!

Do you blog for the readers, or for yourself?
H: For myself.
D: We do sometimes post stuff from our customers if we think that it is good.
H: I think it’s mainly for the-
D: Fans.
H: For me it’s more difficult as every day I have to go somewhere to pick up my daughter and I can’t really dress up so I try to stay low key but I need to have the urge to do the blog photos for my fans- not for myself. If it wasn’t for the readers I’d pick up my daughter everyday in my MBTS but I can’t show the readers that same shit.
D: The audience of our website…when there’s something with our server… if it stops running, customers will ring us up and ask us!
H: Yes like they’re chasing a drama!
D: Haha, yes.
H: So now it’s become like a duty to update, not every day but at least 3 times a week.
[Dorothy’s blog is here, and Hilary’s here]

Do you plan what you wear?
D: I think it depends on the mood.
H: Yeah and I think we’re the same type of person.
D: I like dressing up because it makes me feel good.

Do you think customers seek interaction after they leave the store?
H: Yeah there are people, and especially the people in our circle, who like to have their blogs for show. I think before someone buys the product they expect someone else to demonstrate the product so they have the confidence to make the purchase.

When would you say you really developed your own style? Around what age or time would you say you acquired this kind of taste?
H: I think since I left the entertainment industry- when I was no longer shooting anymore. I always liked to shop.
D: Yes! You can meet her at different shops.
H: Until maybe…D-Mop opened, and –
D: When I was there! 1999, 2000? And when they wanted to focus on their fashion-
H: Yeah when they wanted to sell their new type of designers and those designers made me forget DKNY, CHANEL and all that commercial stuff.
D: Around the same time I made the change.
H: And that was really good; in that era. The best time was from 2000 till-
D: Nothing will be quite as exciting.

Do you have a style icon yourself?
H: I think we affect each other a lot. We don’t really look up to other people. Even like Kate Moss- we both like her but we can’t really wear her clothes the way she does. Or Chloe Sevigny, I like her a lot but you can’t really wear what they wear. I like Faye Wong, Maggie Cheung…We used to look up to them but now we just look up to each other.
D: Yeah we’ll read a magazine and like what a model is wearing but we don’t see them as an icon as such.
H: I think we’re quite weird compared to other bloggers, I mean, do you know Weibo?

No, is that a girl?
H: There are a lot of Chinese bloggers who have come out since Weibo- Oh it’s a blog website. It’s like Twitter- you can post one picture for each post and just a few sentences.
D: It’s very popular.
H: The Chinese fashion bloggers dress very much like western bloggers. They look nice but it’s not our cup of tea. They do like copying western people.
D: Yeah! Kate moss, Agyness Deyn…
H: And the way they dress: ankle boots, stockings, camel coat or blazer with clutch. They really like that kind of style but both of us are so different from that.
D: Oh and I don’t have a Weibo.

Do you think Hong Kong shoppers embrace new labels?
H: The high fashion ones are mainly for the Chinese. I think Hong Kong people like new things.
D: I think new designers make them think they are fashionable. I think Hong Kong people do like that.
H: I think Hong Kong people are very forgetful. You can see the street stores, just like the bubble tea, just run for two years. They make lots of money and then they close down. Then other trends come up – like baked potatoes.
(everyone laughs)
Hong Kong is like that. They accept new things quickly, they forget, but they keep looking for new things. Even us! That’s what Hong Kong people do.

What’s the most exciting thing in Hong Kong fashion right now? How would Hong Kong compare to other big cities like Paris and Tokyo?
D: Hong Kong pretty much stocks every brand now. We’ve got many shops so you wouldn’t miss anything.

Favourite brands?
D: Blast from Berlin.
H: Cosmic wonder.
D: Most of the things we stock in our store are our favourites.
H: Yes, I also like Celine, Chanel, Miu Miu.
D: I also like Chanel; their styling is very cool.
H: If they have nice things we will take a look. Oh and Toga! That’s our number one maybe.
D: Oh yes! We wear that brand a lot.
H: Almost every day we find something we like by Toga. That’s our number one.
D: It became many people’s number one after us.
(all laugh)

Where do you see Liger in five or ten years?
D: We’re always planning,
H: We need more space, more staff. We need to update our website and get extra stock for an online shop.
H: I really hope we will have a street store other than these two shops.
D: Maybe Central.
H: One more store and we might think, yeah that’s done.
D: I don’t really have an image of what we’ll be doing five or ten years later. We don’t really have that time to think as we’re busy every day.

Thanks for your time, it’s been great speaking with you. All the best for all your future plans!

This interview was first published in in Pocketto Vol.1 (2011)