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10 Minutes with…Arnault Castel, Founder of Kapok

An interview with Arnault Castel, Founder of Kapok

A Little Background…

Born and raised in France, Arnault moved to Hong Kong in 1996 as an investment banker, then founded Kapok in 2006 as a quirky lifestyle brand with a core focus on emerging designers and brands from all product industries. Arnault selects his brands based on quality, craftsmanship, and creativity and has now grown to a network of seven stores in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Image courtesy of Arnault Kapok

But that’s not all. Arnault continued to pursue his interest in the creative industry, by developing the Lomography brand in Asia in 2001 and co-founding the distribution company working unit in 2005 which brought in brands like Moleskin, the Michelin Guide and Daniel Wellington to Asia. Now, Arnault continues to head Kapok, and also operates Maison Kitsuné, Universelle Officine Buly, and New York menswear brand O.N.S stores in Hong Kong where he launched his clothing brand Future Classics.

arnault kapok

Image courtesy of Arnault Kapok

The Questions

1) Can you tell us about yourself?

I’m Arnault Castel. I was born in the countryside in the South of France and I am now a long-time Hong Kong resident. I founded the select shop Kapok 14 years ago and this baby is taking a lot of my time.

2) What is your inspiration behind Kapok?

I always loved shopping when I was travelling, especially when I would visit Tokyo and Paris. I love finding hidden stores with a true personal selection of brands, many of which I had never heard of before. Hong Kong was supposedly a shopping paradise, but not for me. It was all luxury or fast fashion in malls that looked the same. So I started small with a hidden store and gallery and what was first a hobby became my job and vocation.

Image courtesy of Arnault Kapok

3) How long have you lived in Hong Kong? What do you love about it?

I’ve been living in hong kong for 24 years, so more than half of my life. I love the freedom it gave me to invent my life and I also love the organised energetic chaos of the city.

4) Are you a designer yourself?

I am not a designer but I work well and often with designers. I know exactly what I want and like, and I am always happy to collaborate with designers that are so talented to understand me and produce something more beautiful and useful than what I could imagine.

Look around you, be inspired by nature, history and other designers. but please never worry about trends and be too impressed by so-called trendy creatives. This will help you find your voice and never become a follower. —Arnault Castel, Founder of Kapok

5) What are your favourite design brands?

It’s changing all the time. Right now, I love the beautiful products launched by Belgian brand Serax. I will always feel connected to the beautiful ceramics, candles and incenses from the very Parisian brand Astier de Villatte.

6) How do you choose your vendors at Kapok?

I like to be impressed by their ideas, and also make sure they will have more ideas in the future so that the brand can keep evolving. Also, the natural fit, almost as a low-key friendship, is important as it will make working together in the long term much easier.

7) Who are your favourite artists?

For music, it has to be Björk and Elliott Smith. For visual and conceptual art, I have always been fascinated with Sophie Calle—her craziness, precision, and unexpected emotions catch my attention. Recently, Do Ho Suh has also been a favourite and I admire how he wonderfully interprets the ghost-like fabric mock-ups of the important places of his life.

Image courtesy of Arnault Kapok

8) How was growing up in France?

Nature is wonderful. The smells and the sights—I miss all the time. It was good for a kid because there were many places to play in the countryside. As a teenager though, I wanted more, and I needed to explore the world and the big cities. Now I am very happy and I appreciate it every time I come back home.

9) Favourite food in Hong Kong?

Yellow chicken is just great in this city. Even in cha chaan teng’s, you can get perfectly-cooked flavourful chicken. I am also very partial to a good dim sum and the occasional french toast.

10) Advice for aspiring creatives?

Look around you, be inspired by nature, history, and other designers. but please never worry about trends and be too impressed by so-called trendy creatives. This will help you find your voice and never become a follower.

Follow Arnault & Kapok on Instagram

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