There’s ‘French girl chic,’ and then there’s ‘French guy cool.’ Someone who knows both of these topics inside out is Arnault Castel, founder of one of Hong Kong’s most beloved independent retailers, kapok.
Named after the ‘kapok’ tree where Castel’s first store stood, kapok has grown into the go-to store for the cool crowd to get their everyday lifestyle essentials – think corduroy beanies, working shirts, sneakers and home accessories to match. The shop opened right when Hong Kong’s retail scene was limited to just high street or high-end luxury brands, making kapok a welcome breath of fresh air.
Having just celebrated its 15th anniversary last year, we checked in with Frenchman-turned-Hongkonger Castel to find out how he keeps things fresh, his personal style heroes, and his favourite spots to grab a bite in Hong Kong:
How would you describe kapok?
kapok is a store with a very eclectic mix of products from all around the world, which are chosen with a very unique perspective and clear aesthetic that’s classic without being boring. We care about discovering hard to find brands and products, which, right now, is probably the next best thing to actually travelling.
You started kapok in 2006 – how do you manage to keep things fresh?
I love retail because it’s always changing. There are new brands to discover, new ways to present them visually in-store and all the tinkering with the team to make the experience better. I feel fresh every morning and this then translates to the stores.
It’s also important for me to listen to those who are passionate around me, including my team and our customers – they’ve contributed so much to the kapok story and mood!
Describe your personal approach to fashion?
Nothing loud, but wearing the right fabric and cut can make you look just that much better. When you put on a fresh outfit in the morning, fashion brings you comfort and confidence.
Who are your favourite designers?
I’m not trying to hard-sell but my personal favourites are obviously at kapok, including sneakers by Spalwart or Common Projects, modern workwear by Arpenteur, fashion essentials by O.N.S or Norse Projects and a touch of preppy French by Maison Kitsuné. It would be hard for me to sell brands that I don’t love!
And style icons?
I’d have to say our customers. When we finalise the buy for our store each season, we have an idea in mind for the looks, but our customers always surprise me by how they mix and match our new arrivals with their own outfits. They are iconic, indeed!
Your best-ever purchase?
My first plane ticket to hong kong. But more recently, I got a set of Jean Prouvé standard chairs and an EM table by Vitra. They’re perfect for working from home or small committee dinners.
Favourite restaurant and bar perches in Hong Kong?
For a Cantonese roast meat fix, Kam’s Roast Goose, which is located inside a bowling alley near Causeway Bay. Closer to my office, I enjoy the Middle Eastern food at Francis. And if I want to splurge, I’d go for The Chairman.
Must-follow Instagram accounts?
Besides @kapok, of course, I’m obsessed with home decoration and architecture accounts on Instagram, including @ideat_magazine, @oshdesign.eng and @milk_magazine.
Where do you take visitors when they come to Hong Kong?
A long walk from Causeway Bay to Sheung Wan gives them a good feel for Hong Kong, both old and new. Of course, I’d also make sure that we have a lot of food and snacks along the way. For something a little healthier, I’d take them on a hike through one of the sections of the MacLehose trail near Sai Kung.
Where do you go to escape?
The beach, because it relaxes me. I’m very fortunate to have just moved into an old building in Causeway Bay right on the seafront. Thanks to that, I don’t even feel the need to escape anymore!
What’s on your travel wish list?
Simply traveling is on my wish list! Just the thought of boarding a plane fills me with so much joy. Obviously though, the South of France and the Mediterranean are at the very top of my list!
Follow Arnault Castel on Instagram @arnaultkapok and shop on ka-pok.com (yes, they ship internationally)!
Get more insider tips from our LUXE Hong Kong guide: