Hong Kong – Globally, it’s pretty hard to imagine modern culture without the pragmatism of blue jeans, the vanity of Barbie and the fantasy of Disney: dollar-wise, Texas is the United States’ primary exporter, but no other state can top California in the exportation of ideals.
It’s a major explanation for the success of a brand like Milan-based Palm Angels. In 2014, Italian designer Francesco Ragazzi – also the art director of Moncler – published Palm Angels, a photobook that captured Los Angeles’ skateboarding scene. The Golden State’s beaches might call to mind shaggy-haired blondes in barrel waves, but they’ve been home to the sport’s concrete counterpart since the 1940s. And it’s skateboarding – seen through the lens of a foreigner – that inspired Ragazzi to turn his images into a clothing brand, one now complete with its first flagship in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay.
Developed in collaboration with Milan-and-Los-Angeles-based Studio April, the shop would fit without a second glance into Santa Monica’s Abbot Kinney district. In Hong Kong, though, Ragazzi doesn’t rest his laurels on simply importing by-the-book Los Angeles skate culture and Milanese concepts to the Asian market. Rather, the space ambiguously interprets a Venice Beach vibe and an archetype of the art world – it’s based on a white cube gallery. A painting and neon artwork by Canadian artist Thrush Holmes help sell the façade.
Palm Angels’ brand of cashes in on the fever dream of streetwear-obsessed drop culture. Luxury is a fast-growing sector in Hong Kong – especially products endorsed by Western celebrities and influencers. The flagship imports retail elements that have exhausted their social-media currency in the U.S. and Europe: marbled floors, neon fixtures, brushed aluminium and digital panelling. But in Causeway Bay, this is an advantage: it allows Palm Angels to give local consumers an ‘exotic’ shopping experience otherwise limited to e-commerce.
Round-trips from Hong Kong to LAX are typically in the thousands, and take nearly thirteen hours one way. Thirty minutes in the Palm Angels store might cost just as much, but at least there’s a blue sky projected overhead to make you feel like you’re driving down Highway 1.