Hong Kong can probably and justifiably claim to be the best-dressed city in the world. If you are an avid people-watcher like me, then an exhibition is the best vantage point you could possibly get into the lives of people as they pass you by. As in most Southeast Asian nations, the air-conditioning in Hong Kong ensures that people find it as comfortable to walk around in jackets and stoles as in off-shoulder dresses and sleeveless shifts. Because it’s raining, the umbrella is a fashion statement too. Not for Hong Kongers the effeminate, collapsible umbrella: their preference is for large, old-fashioned versions that they carry elegantly like walking sticks.
But, mostly, it is the shoes that you can’t but help notice — the most bewildering variety of footwear that you’re likely to see in any one concentrated spot in the world. The Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre this May saw INTA delegates (mostly lawyers) and Art Basel crowds (let’s say, art promoters and collectors) gather in more numbers than would seem possible in even crowded, chaotic Delhi or Mumbai. And what spectacular feet they put forward, these teeming masses that walk in insouciantly out of the rain into a congregation of cavernous halls and meeting rooms.
Hong Kong is, without a doubt, a walking city but, even so, you hardly expect to see the red undersides of Christian Louboutins flash in and out of puddles. The local citizenry worships its shoes, but it clearly prefers to wear them instead of merely lining them up on the racks at home. In the course of only a few minutes, you can catch the most tapered stilettoes keeping company with wedges, platforms, flat-soled pumps and keds. Sports shoes aren’t merely white or black or coloured, they can be fluorescent or glittery or silver or gold or even Swarovski-ed and worn with flowing gowns. That’s when the pumps aren’t nude or the heels glinting with sheaths of steel or ribbons of glass. West Asia likes its shoes fussy with bling; here, they’re sexy and made for walking, even though you’d hardly imagine so from what’s on display in the store windows.
It helps that every brand worth its name can be found in Hong Kong. Are those Manolo Blahniks? Gucci or Dior? Fendi or Miu Miu? Impossible though it might seem, you can spend days playing footsie in the city without ever seeing a pair being repeated on the well-shod feet of its citizenry. Nor is the fetish limited to the women, the men being as fussy about their footwear. You’ll see them putting their best foot forward in soft and hard leather, canvas, suede or some synthetic compound that is a sign of something futuristic, but not one of them in boring black because, even when in suits, their shoes and laces are likely to be coloured, whether from Marc Jacobs or Harvey Nichols.
The line between being sophisticated and adventurous is a fine one, but almost no one gets it wrong in Hong Kong. Why this should be so is a mystery, but if styling is Italian and couture is French, then there’s no denying that footwear fashion is Hong Kongese. And if you don’t mind spending then the city you need to come indulge your foot fixation in is the island the British departed from reluctantly in 1997.
The author is a Delhi-based writer and curator