Love at First Scent

How the sense of smell makes this couple fall in love and stay in love

Their first meeting 10 years ago started well. He, from Toulouse, was living in Paris. She, from Provence, was living in New York. They shared the same profession, the same passion for perfume – and even the same favorite scent.

“It was amazing,” said Christophe Cervasel. “Sylvie [Ganter] said her dream scent was Mugler Cologne by Thierry Mugler. I told her I had been wearing it for years.”

But their conversation quickly turned sour.

“I found Sylvie very good. And just when we were about to leave, I discovered that she is French,” said Cervasel, recalling the job interview for which he had invited Ganter.

Back then, Cervasel operated his own perfume distribution firm. Said Ganter: “He said: ‘Oh! You almost have no accent when you speak French.’ I told him I am French.”

“She was not happy,” explained Cervasel.

Ganter: “I asked him: ‘Did you not read my resume?’ And he said: ‘I never read resumes.’ ”

Cervasel: “So after this first meeting, I thought she might not call me back.”

But as it turned out, Ganter did call back.

She was then working for Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton – commonly known as LVMH – to develop Fresh, a newly acquired cosmetic brand of the luxury conglomerate.

After a long telephone discussion, Ganter agreed to become a business partner of Cervasel’s firm, helping it expand its sales network in the United States.

A year later, they met in New York again. “Maybe we drank too much at dinner, but we realized we were in love – after one year. It was not love at first sight,” Cervasel chuckled. “We decided to leave what we were doing to start a company together. It was a complete change.”

Said Ganter: “I had lived in New York since I had my children. The girls are now 12 years old. Christopher lived in Paris with his two boys. And after launching our own brand, we were expecting our child together.”

That was their sixth “child.” The fifth was their own maison de parfum – Atelier Cologne – the couple said.

The perfume brand that was established in 2009 is a project about passion and two great minds making something out of nothing together.

Like the Mugler Cologne by Thierry Mugler, all the perfumes that the husband-and-wife team created are unisex. Their perfumes are also all citrus based, and have a concentration of between 15 and 20 percent of essential oils.

Their perfumes were based on such a new concept that they could not be categorized. So the couple invented a new category for their creations, calling it “cologne absolue” – a collection of pure perfumes that lasts.

“Customers today are looking for a perfume that’s fresh and elegant, not too strong. It’s different from the 1980s and 1990s, when they were looking for a strong scent,” Cervasel said. “We were lucky to be part of that trend.”

Atelier Cologne now has six stores worldwide: three in Paris, two in New York, and one in Hong Kong.

The shop at the International Finance Centre in Central was opened in September. It’s the brand’s first foray into Asia. The brand also retails through Galeries Lafayette and Sephora.

Only recently, the maison de perfume entered Indonesia and Malaysia.

Cervasel said that he plans to expand the brand further by rolling into big cities such as Shanghai, Seoul and Singapore in the coming two years.

Cervasel and Ganter work hand in hand to manage the creative and production process of each fragrance, although he’s more in manufacturing and sales, and she’s more in fragrance creation and communications.

Most of the time, the couple agree on the final result. But when they don’t, “I always have my say,” Cervasel said. “Alors, I am more difficult to convince.”

There were a few times when Ganter got her way. One was Orange Sanguine – a fragrance that Cervasel thought would be a flop as the scent smells exactly like a blood orange.

“Every time he smelled it, a smile came to his face,” said Ganter. “So I said: ‘You should look at yourself. You have that smile every time because it’s a happy scent. A happy scent is a great way to get people to sit down with us and want to discover more.”

Turned out, Orange Sanguine was a best-seller. It still is.

As bossy as Cervasel wants to project himself to be, Ganter said he actually is a very understanding husband.

“Christophe can see my point of view,” she said. “I always like to think of myself as someone who can reach the moon. He is like me, probably even worse. He always challenges – but in a positive way – go faster, bigger and better, pushing you to always be your best self.”

The article first appeared in the Standard on March 18, 2016.

Artistic License

Expect the unexpected as Hong Kong’s iconic arts festival gets new man at helm

There is a side of Victor Cha Mou-zing that most people rarely get to see. The deputy chairman and managing director of Hong Kong-listed HKR International is a professional photographer and a highbrow culture buff.

Cha often travels to far-flung places to document the changing seasons. He would wait for hours just to capture the best light on a mountain, or a work of architecture. He also plays the violin.

“I used to play the violin for the school orchestra,” said the 65-year-old. “My mother told me you would be begging on the streets [as a musician] so that’s a statement to my talent, or the lack of it.”

The businessman loves opera and chamber music, especially when it’s played in an intimate environment by a small ensemble. It’s a taste that his high school friend – a music buff – instilled in him when he was 14.

“Somehow, he was able to get all these music scores from somewhere so I just tagged along to whichever concert he went,” Cha recalled. “We looked at the scores while we listened to the music. It was a great time.”

Cha has been “an ardent supporter” of the Hong Kong Arts Festival over the past three decades. The list of programs that he has bought tickets for this year offers a glimpse of how wide-ranging his taste in arts really is.

They include Sleeping Beauty by the Berlin State Ballet; and Watermusic, in which Concerto Copenhagen will perform for the first time in the SAR the works of George Handel and Georg Telemann.

There is also Compagnia Finzi Pasca: La Verita, an unconventional circus act, and Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov in Concert.

The Russian-born female soprano is Cha’s favorite. “She has been my heartthrob for a long, long time. I am just crazy about her. She is a beautiful and wonderful singer, and she can act as well. That’s a very rare and treasured combination. You can appreciate the opera and the music so much more.”

Launched in 1973, the Hong Kong Arts Festival enters its 44th year with a month-long lineup of performances by leading local and international artists.

This year marks special importance for Cha as he will exert an even greater influence in the next two years, when it comes to leading the festival to expand its reputation beyond Asia, while navigating some tricky waters.

In October, Cha was elected chairman of the Hong Kong Arts Festival after the retirement of Ronald Arculli. Cha had been serving on the festival’s development and executive committees since September 2008.

He was vice chairman prior to assuming the top position. “All the council members and committee members get no fees. It’s all pro-bono work, but with pleasure,” Cha said. Helping with fund- raising remains his main contribution. The festival is funded with box-office takings, yearly-reviewed subventions and private sponsorships.

Having sold 95 percent of the seats last year, ticket sales made up about 37 percent of the festival’s income source. Another 30 and 32 percent came from the government and big corporations, with the Hong Kong Jockey Club as the lead corporate patron.

“About 16 percent of our entire funding is raised. So as one of the Big Nine, we have probably the most amount of fund-raising percentage,” Cha said, referring to the nine performing arts organizations funded by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

Apart from receiving a one-off HK$16 million grant in 2010, the festival is given HK$17.18 million annually to operate. However, that amount hasn’t been changed since 2009, so the festival is struggling to deal with rising production costs, Cha said.

But the organizer hasn’t cancelled any acts so far because of lack of funding. It also has no intention of raising ticket prices or cutting back on investing in local productions, which are not always sure bets at the box office.

“We want to keep the festival within reach of most locals,” Cha said. “We don’t need sure bets. We have to take a little bit of risk as an arts festival. That risk may come as a cost, but that’s exactly the juggling and balancing that we have to do.”

The article was first appeared in the Standard on February 12,2016.

The Future is Electric

Sliding doors, tunnels, and powering all of China with solar: Elon Musk speaks in Hong Kong

Self-driving cars are no longer a futuristic idea. They will be powered by sustainable energy, and have vertical retractable doors like a falcon spreading its wings. And sooner than you think, they will freely roam our roads – and tunnels, said technology magnate Elon Musk on a whirlwind tour to the SAR last week.

The entrepreneur behind Tesla Motors and SolarCity weighed in on the future of the automotive and sustainable energy industries at the StartmeupHK Venture Forum and a company press conference.

Musk called the SAR “a beacon city for electric vehicles,” paving the way for the integration of green vehicles in major cities globally.

He said his automotive company will “expand quite substantially” in Asia in the next two years.

“Hong Kong will have, over time, the highest percentage of electric vehicles of any city in the world,” Musk said. “[It] can therefore serve as a model for how other high-density cities around the world can transform to a sustainable transport future.”

Tesla Motors, established in 2003, designs and builds premium customizable, all-electric vehicles. It recently achieved a milestone of having 100,000 cars delivered globally, and produces roughly 50,000 cars a year. The California-based firm, which opened an office in the SAR in 2010, has the lion’s share of the local electric vehicle market, with Hong Kong boasting the most number of Teslas per capita, Musk said.

According to government figures, there were 4,198 electric vehicles registered in the past 12 months as of December – up from fewer than 100 at the end of 2010. Tesla Motors Hong Kong said about 80 percent of those new vehicles are its cars.

On new models, Musk said that local customers will be able to order the Model X within this year. The seven- seater SUV will come with vertical retractable “falcon wing” doors and three self-driving features: Summon, Autopilot and Autopark.

The falcon wing doors are designed to improve access to the third-row seats of an SUV.

“We have a much bigger opening that allows you to directly step to the third row quite conveniently even if there are baby seats in the second row,” Musk said. “Parents will really enjoy the Model X.”

A partial open function of the falcon wing doors is also in the works so the new model can provide a good shield from the rain. Owners can also summon their vehicles to come to them automatically with their car keys or mobile phones.

The Model 3 will be released locally at the end of next year, Musk said. Resembling a smaller version of the Model S, it will be Tesla’s first mass-market model, priced at an estimated US$35,000 (HK$273,000).

“It won’t have quite as many bells and whistles but it will be at a much lower price point,” Musk said.

“We intend to cut the price roughly in half and I think that probably it is the most profound car we have ever made. It will be a very compelling vehicle at an affordable price.”

Tesla will open a new service center, along with the existing one in Tsuen Wan. The company will also substantially expand its charging network to address the challenges of powering its vehicles.

There are 42 public supercharging stations locally, where customers can recharge half of their car battery in 20 minutes for free. Another 75 raw connections are set up in private areas, such as clubhouses, housing estates and hotels.

“The ideal place to charge the car is at your home or office – essentially the same place you charge your phone, but this is challenging because most buildings didn’t anticipate having that level of power in the garage,” Musk said.

“And sometimes the parking spots flow around and are not consistent so it’s going to be quite important to get the power to the buildings that need it and then figure out a way for people to charge at home.”

Predicting the future of transportation, Musk said all new cars produced in the next 10 to 15 years will be autonomous and the steering wheel will probably become obsolete.

To hasten the transition, Tesla Motors opened up all of its patents to the public for free last year so everyone can create their own electric vehicles, Musk said. However, it will take time for all the old diesel engines now running on the road to be phased out.

And Hong Kong should build more tunnels. “The fundamental problem of cities is that we build them in 3D. You’ve got these tall buildings with lots of people on each floor but then you’ve got roads which are 2D. So obviously, that just doesn’t work,” he said.

“But you can go 3D if you have tunnels. You can have many tunnels crisscrossing each other with maybe a few meters vertical distance between them and completely get rid of traffic problems.”

On the future of energy, Musk said that solar can, and will, power all parts of China. Hong Kong could tap into the existing power lines that are coming in to share the electricity produced there.

“It’s true that in dense cities, rooftop solar is not going to solve the energy need. but what you can do is have ground mounted solar power,” he said.

“China actually has a massive land area, much of which is hardly occupied at all. Given that the Chinese population is so concentrated along the coast, once you go inland, the population in some cases, is remarkably tiny. So you can easily power all of China with solar.”

The article first appeared in the Standard on February 1, 2016.

Pointing Way for Startups

Wearable IoT World to launch new tech startup accelerator in Hong Kong

IoTSan Francisco-based start-up accelerator Wearable IoT World has launched a new technology venture in Hong Kong that will act as a cross-national gravity center to attract entrepreneurs to come and build their companies.

The new venture, dubbed the US-Pan Asia IoT Superhighway accelerator, will also focus on grooming entrepreneurs in Asia who are dedicated to driving innovation in the Internet of Things, wearables and emerging technologies.

“This marked a long-awaited milestone in our continued quest to build the easiest pathway to product creation, market awareness, investment and distribution for related start-ups around the world,” said Redg Snodgrass, co-founder and chief executive of Wearable IoT World.

“What we are trying to do is to eliminate the anxiety and opacity that entrepreneurs face when they look at new markets and when they build their products, from dealing with manufacturers, designers to prototyping.”

Established in May 2013, Wearable IoT World provides young entrepreneurs with support on advisory services, publishing services and conference organization.

Since inception, the accelerator has mentored 80 companies in the United States, helping them raise a total of US$85 million (HK$663 million) from investors and US$5.5 million from crowdfunding projects. About 90 percent of its start-ups are able to raise outside capital, Snodgrass said.

Its portfolio, which has an aggregated value of US$500 million, includes TZOA, a manufacturer of wearable air-quality and ultraviolet sensors, Kontakt.io, a back-end solution provider for Beacons and iBeacons, and Grush, a gaming toothbrush for children.

Wearable IoT World said it will set up an executive office and innovation lab at Cyberport, and partner with the management company to organize accelerator events and executive programs.

It also announced that three investors from Hong Kong and the United States have injected HK$35 million into its operational fund.

The investment comes from Radiant Venture Capital, which is headed by local businessmen Duncan Chiu and Gordon Yen, Silicon Valley-based Tsinghua Entrepreneurs and Executive Club Angel Fund, and New York-based private equity W Capital Partners.

McKinsey Global Institute projected last June that the Internet of Things will have a total potential economic impact of US$3.9 trillion to US$11.1 trillion a year by 2025 – equivalent to about 11 percent of the world economy.

By 2020, there will be 30 billion devices connected together, the McKinsey report says.

Snodgrass said that China and the United States will be two of the world’s largest markets for IoT.

Many companies are interested in using the SAR as a launch pad into the mainland and Southeast Asia.

The proximity to Shenzhen and Guangdong, the manufacturing hub of China, is one of the reasons why foreign companies find the SAR attractive, said Chiu, managing director of Radiant Venture Capital.

“You also find in Hong Kong top- of-the-mind designers, world-class graphic innovators, experienced marketing people, and people who understand the East and West,” he added.

“You can protect your intellectual property with Hong Kong laws, which are recognized by many foreign countries. Also, we have excellent logistics to ship products to everywhere in the world.”

With the local start-up community continuing to mature, Chiu expects more young people who are still at university to come up with different products, devices and analytic software. They will need help to expand into the markets in the mainland, Southeast Asia and the United States.

“These young entrepreneurs will need people to help network and give them strategic advice on how to go to market. And, of course, they need investors,” said Chiu, adding that his firm will further invest in companies affiliated with Wearable IoT World if deemed suitable.

Wearable IoT World announced that it has started a new round of recruitment for promising start-ups in Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Singapore and the US. It is now taking applications and up to 15 start-ups from Hong Kong will be picked for an accelerator program that starts this May.

The 15-week program in Hong Kong will provid those selected with capital of up to US$25,000 in return for an equity stake of up to six percent.

It will also provide an extensive suite of services, from customized mentorship, education, office space, networking opportunities to a demo day in the United States to meet with investors and the media.

Snodgrass said that he will try to get these entrepreneurs to meet with influential US technophiles, such as technical evangelist Robert Scoble, former Amazon.com chief scientist Andreas Weigend and Andy Grignon, one of the original creators of iPhone.

There will be chances to connect with angel investors, including Randy Haykin, Rick Wagoner and Yobie Benjamin.

The article first appeared in the Standard on January 25, 2016.

Maturing Process

A vintner who has aged well – like his fine vintage

Adam Bilbey has been on quite a ride since he broke into wine selling as a wayward youth 20 years ago. “A feral child who exhibits ostrich-like behavior” is how teachers described the boy from Amersham, Buckinghamshire.

In his last two years of high school, Bilbey chose to devote his time to working in a local wine shop, instead of studying for his A-levels.

His interest sprouted after he first tasted wine at the shop. It was Palliser Estate, a sauvignon blanc of New Zealand.

“I was a lazy student,” the 35-year- old recalls in his cockney accent. He loved English literature, but would rather read a wine encyclopedia. “If it was to do with the things I like, I’d be really passionate about it. But if it wasn’t, I’d just do enough to get by.”

Unsure about a career, he took a gap year after A-levels to visit viticultural regions, from Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand, Margaret River in Australia, to Stellenbosch in South Africa.

“When I got back, I quickly did my first and second WSET,” Bilbey says, referring to Wine & Spirit Education Trust, a professional qualification on becoming a wine master.

He also made a pilgrimage to Berry Bros & Rudd’s historic shop on St James’ Street in London. “I met the sales director and we just exchanged pleasantries. A couple of days later, I got an e-mail from him.”

At 20, Bilbey was offered a full-time job by the oldest wine and spirit merchant in England as sales manager at London’s airport. He told his parents that he would not go to university. He was excited about the job offer.

His parents disapproved of the choice, but he was adamant that he could build a career.

He did – after a frightful first day at work, serving Christopher Berry Green, the former chairman of Berry Brothers. “He was walking through and said: ‘Boy! Boy! Give this a try. What do you think of it?’ The perfume on nose I will never forget. But all I could say was: ‘It’s good.’ He looked at me, said: ‘Bloody well should be. It’s a 1961 Chateau Haut- Brion.’ ”

Bilbey worked for almost 14 years at Berry Brother’s, relocating to Hong Kong in 2010 to run the firm’s sales in the region.

Last June, he moved to Sotheby’s as its head of wine in Asia.

He looks after wine sales at local auctions, for which figures totaled HK$154.23 million last year. Bilbey also oversees a retail arm that aims to provide an added service for Sotheby’s customers. The SAR extension was set up just over a year ago after success in New York.

“On the retail, we currently stock 750 labels, focusing on burgundy and bordeaux at the moment,” Bilbey says. “We want to, and will, expand our range even further. We are already looking at wines that we will drink ourselves; wines that we think represent value.

“A wine at HK$5,000 still represents value if you know the attention to detail that is put in.

“We are not trying to compete with Watson’s Wine or our own auction business. What we are trying to do is to offer that extra level of service for our customers who come in and pick up a piece of art and couple bottles of wine for the weekend.”

Like fine wine, Bilbey has matured well. You wouldn’t think to look at him how wild he was.

Take the story of how he ended up selling instead of making wine at the late Bailey Carrodus’ Yarra Yering vineyards in Australia.

“Plowing is quite therapeutic but sometimes you can drift off. I did that once. I didn’t pull up the plow so I got stuck and lost balance. I went vroom, flying straight through two end roads. Carrodus walked over, looked at the tractor and said: ‘So the hand throttle didn’t work? Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone. We have all done it.”‘

His passion has also converted his parents, former non-wine drinkers.

He knew they had officially caught the wine bug when they uncorked a bottle of 1997 Barbaresco for a curry dinner – and told him the exquisite vintage was a bit young.

They has mistakenly opened his gift from Italian winemaker Angelo Gaja.

“My dad was absolutely right because I tried it the next day. It was a little bit young.”

The article first appeared in the Standard on January 8, 2016.