Drama defines Hins Cheung’s look on stage. But being surrounded by lavish white wedding gowns isn’t the impression that one has on the Cantopop singer. At the launch of Sennet Frères’ first spring/summer season, Cheung sits in the four-storey boutique next to Times Square. Sennet Frères, originally a watch and jewellery brand, was relaunched with a bridal couture business after more than 70 years in December 2020. Cheung reveals that he isn’t tying the knot. “I’m like the nanny of this brand and my many projects before this,” he says, referring to his taking over the historic Avon Recording Studios in 2015, and reviving Junon restaurant in 2018, which he is no longer a part of. “I didn’t father them but helped them grow and flourish, and then I let go of my hand.”
Sennet Frères is Cheung’s latest project. Founded in 1870 in Paris by French Jewish merchant Albert Weill, it was a major distributor of luxury watch and jewellery when he brought the company to Hong Kong in the 1920s. Cheung, the heritage consultant of the relaunched Sennet Frères and a history buff on the side, conducted a two-year-long research project on the story behind this brand by digging into the archives of South China Morning Post (SCMP), Overseas Chinese Daily News and even the National Archives all the way in London.
“The Weilles were very reputable in Hong Kong,” he says. “Before Sennet Frères was sold to another Jewish businessman in the 1950s, if you wanted to get a luxury pocket watch by Patek Philippe, or jewellery by Cartier, you would go to Sennet Frères. It was their general agent. The calibres of its in-house watch products were made by Omega in France and touched up in Hong Kong. Even French and British envoys bought its products as tributes to the Manchu emperors. You can still find Chinese forcloisonné table clocks by Sennet Frères in the Beijing Palace Museum and the Summer Palace.”
For a brand to be synonymous with prestige, it only made sense for Cheung to rebuild Sennet Frères in the Russell Street location that costs a monthly rent of seventy-five million. The same street is clustered with other couture and expensive watch and jewellery boutiques, but Cheung has a special fondness for Sennet Frères. “A brand isn’t only about the product; its value lies in the history and the story of the family. There is warmth,” he says. “History tells the standards of different eras.”
Avon Recording Studios, which had been a premiere analogue recording facility in the city since 1983, was past its prime after the turn of the century. Right before its decline in 2015, Cheung took over its operations and kept it running. “There is no space for it in the contemporary world of music making,” the singer says. “But Avon represented the standard of music making before the digital age. The standard of our generation has changed, but it’s a shame if we lose what defined the era before us and know nothing about it.” Cheung has loved storytelling; history was his favourite subject at school. “Now that I’m grown and financially capable, I want to preserve history,” he declares.
So, the pop singer jazzed up Avon the same way he revived Junon, a retro restaurant re-opened in Wan Chai in 2018, which was the first revolving restaurant that flourished in the 1960s. Cheung says that these cabaret restaurants were common from the 1920s to the 1960s, but they couldn’t survive the fast-food culture that was taking over the city. “I wanted to recreate the human connection and proper sit-down dining culture lost today when scrolling on your phone is a pastime even over meals,” he says. Printed at the back of the daily menu at Junon are newspaper clippings from SCMP and Overseas Chinese Daily News on the same day in 1967, the year when the original Junon opened. “Instead of chewing on their steaks and slurping soups while gluing their eyes to their phones, I hope this would create topics for friends, couples or families to talk about, such as how they might be shocked by the cheap rent of a Kwun Tong industrial building back then. And there’s entertainment. I want the diners to share the experience with their loved ones together.”