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VM Choice: Chinese New Year at Pacific Place, Hong Kong

Mall decoration for Chinese New Year (CNY) in Asia is mandatory, as good VM installations increase footfall and therefore retail and restaurant revenues.

Most malls are designed to accommodate large-scale changing displays, as is Pacific Place mall in Hong Kong. It is located at Admiralty, a major transport interchange mid-way between Central, Hong Kong’s Central Business District, and Wanchai, now a fashionable nightlife and residential area on Hong Kong Island. It is perfectly positioned to attract Hong Kong residents’ attention.

With 711,000 square feet of retail and dining space, four premium hotels and an apartment block, the mall customarily features eye-catching displays that are widely covered by local press, television and radio. Social media draws crowds of thousands to revisit the familiar mall to see the displays.

For CNY 2016, Pacific Place has scaled up a number of Chinese tropes and given them a contemporary look. The Chinese art of knot-making is celebrated by Australian macramé artist Natalie Miller, working in red, the traditional Chinese New year colour, to create an installation in the three-floor atrium space. Below this are giant Chinese baskets and giant red balls – the ball itself is an auspicious Chinese New Year shape.

Each ball is decorated with a giant version of Chinese knot work. Usually found as small decorative wall hangings, tassels, fastenings for clothing or jewellery, Chinese knotting is a decorative handicraft and a popular folk-art. The qipao or cheongsam, the ‘Suzie Wong’ dress, is traditionally buttoned with ‘flower buttons,’ a very refined form of knotting. The knots are usually symmetrical and double layered, their meaning to romantically bind two people together employing the ‘true love knot’ or the ‘double happiness knot.’ They are frequently seen, in various forms, at weddings.

Peeping over the giant balls are two plum trees, each contained in a giant Chinese basket with a handle. The fine art of judging that the blossom will auspiciously open on the first day of Chinese New Year is one of the most stressful jobs that mall staff and VM professionals undertake each year. This is particularly difficult to judge as the tree is selected while wrapped up, much as Christmas trees are often purchased. The tree must also have an even distribution of branches and lots of buds. Unseasonably warm or cold weather can delay the opening flowers, even in air-conditioned spaces. Decoration with red packets - envelopes especially printed with the character of the year and a greeting of good wishes - help to conceal any slight imperfections in the plum trees’ appearance.

In Asia in general and in Hong Kong in particular, numerology is of paramount importance. The giant macramé installation therefore has eight diamond-shaped panels, as eight, baat (the ‘t’ is very short), sounds almost identical to the Cantonese word for fa, meaning lucky, wealth, success, or prosperity. Lucky days are chosen for weddings, store openings, mobile numbers and even funerals.

The main arm of the mall houses a pop-up TWG store at present, selling tea - a Chinese specialty - in a red drum-like, tea caddy. Singaporean company TWG now has four stores in Hong Kong, including one in Pacific Place.

Red is both literally and symbolically the colour of fire, and this will be the year of the fire monkey making its use doubly appropriate. Red symbolizes good luck and happiness and is believed to protect against evil. It is a very popular colour (past research has shown almost every Hong Kong woman possesses red underwear) and symbolizes both China and the Communist government. In Cantonese, the colour pink translates literally as light red, making its use relevant as well as exciting given the large clean shapes we see here. Pink, orange, and golden yellow are also linked to Chinese New Year.

Celebrations at the Swire Properties-owned mall include knot-making activities, special discount promotions, Chinese orchestra performances, parking discounts and a lion dance, complete with an eye-dotting ceremony on the 12th of Feb. The two-man lion, which leaps and contorts energetically accompanied by a drum, is thought to confer good luck and the visit of a lion is common practice for most offices and many apartment blocks at Chinese New Year. The lion is ‘fed’ a lettuce, and the remains distributed to the office workers for extra auspicious fortune for the coming year.

Bring on the lions.

Photos: Alvin Yeung, YMK Design