In a world of passing celebrity, Kai-yin Lo radiates an aura of timeless elegance. A jewellery designer-cum-cultural historian, her distinct personal style (she is famous for wearing mismatched shoes) and characterful Mid-Levels home perfectly reflect her captivating personality.
When she greets me at her apartment, I am struck by her powerful charisma, part enveloped in a glamour from the past, part modern in both outlook and awareness. She wears an asymmetrical burgundy blouse and red cashmere skirt, both of which she made herself, with two layered necklaces generously strung with keshi pearls from her jewellery line, Kai-Yin Lo Design.
“Come, sit,” Kai-yin says, pulling a chair out from a dining table, no doubt an antique. The number of artefacts and collectibles on display is astonishing—and most of her belongings are in storage. Kai-yin has recently downsized from a home she lived in for more than a decade on nearby Garden Road. Books are stacked everywhere, in between carefully curated carvings and cabinets brimming with ceramics from the Song dynasty (960-1279). Her desire to educate is palpable as she talks me through several hardcovers that have inspired her penned by such scholars as Peter Frankopan and Simon Kwan.
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A Storied Life
Kai-yin herself has edited five influential books that examine a range of subjects, from Chinese furniture and living patterns to Hong Kong’s design culture, but this month a far more personal project comes to fruition. Kai-yin’s autobiography, Designing A Life: A Cross-Cultural Journey, is to be released in English, and a traditional Chinese edition will follow in mid-November.
It’s a raw and revealing portrait that provides fascinating insights into both her luxurious social life—imagine bathing in the glittering Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle, California, with the Hearsts themselves—and the struggles and sorrows that have coloured her life. So it’s no surprise that when asked whether she had any concerns about writing her autobiography, her reply is an emphatic, “Yes.”
Kai-yin’s grandfather was an ambitious entrepreneur who came to Hong Kong in the 1890s from a backwater in southern China. He joined a merchant bank and later became a comprador, the Chinese manager of a European business. His son, Kai-yin’s father, followed in his footsteps, and the family built an opulent home on Kennedy Road.
One of four children, Kai-yin studied European medieval history at Cambridge. It was around this time that her family faced financial ruin. “It was a very challenging time. I suddenly had to make my own living. My eldest brother had to be rushed home. My father became sick. We had to sell our belongings.”