Ace of Space: Led by owner Rasheed Shroff, social consciousness and sustainability flourish at Banyan Workspace

Rasheed Shroff’s co-working space is located in a three-decade-old industrial building in Quarry Bay. But inside, it’s a blueprint of what a modern office should look like, with a feel of zen and a killer harbour view. As we ring the bell, Shroff joyfully hops into the office’s cavernous foyer. There’s something undeniably adolescent about his demeanour – like that of a teenager left alone in a grown-up’s house. Throwing open the door, he says hello, and leads us past a marble reception counter and a hard-to-miss framed letter B – the company logo, Banyan Workspace.

“I guess this is what a positive working environment does? Less stress means looking young?” he laughs. “At the peak of the pandemic years, there was a time when I was the only person in this space. That was hard and mentally exhausting. Thank god that’s over!”

As a visionary entrepreneur with a deep understanding of the evolving landscape of work and business, Shroff recognises the limitations of traditional office spaces. Thus, he set out to create a new paradigm that fosters collaboration, creativity and productivity. With a clear vision and an entrepreneurial spirit, he and his wife, Amy, founded Banyan Workspace in 2019 to offer a fresh, socially conscious perspective on shared workspaces.

Knit V-neck gilet in two-toned dove grey geometric jacquard by Emporio Armani, Melange wool blazer and wool pants by SANDRO and watch by Zodiac Watches

Amy Shroff stays close during our photoshoot in the space’s sumptuous library and lounge – ideal for companies to hire for their own sessions – and ably fulfils her role as Head of Creative by suggesting how her husband should pose and smile. “The whole idea of Banyan Workspace is to come to work with a smile,” he says with gusto. “It’s always a first-name basis here with an enthusiastic good morning and/or hello. We strive to provide a comfortable working environment that feels like it’s a home.”

Apple and the tree

Rasheed Shroff’s family has long been recognised in the city. His grandfather fled from Shanghai with his family during the Second World War, beginning a profound bond with Hong Kong spanning four generations. His path of success left an indelible mark on the commercial landscape and ultimately shaped the destiny of the family. For Rasheed personally, this meant a law degree at the University of Sussex in the UK, two decades in the brand and marketing corporate world, then co-founding his own brand- distribution company, Dragonfly Asia-Pacific, the year before Banyan Workspace was born.

Knitwear top by ZEGNA and Alpha wool-twill suit jacket and trousers by SANDRO

“We call it Banyan Workspace for a couple of reasons,” he says. “Banyan trees were historical places where merchants traded goods while traversing the old Silk Road. Both my grandfather and father ran a trading company which started with sourcing silks in China and shipping them to India, so we thought that was very analogous to us.”

Sustainable force

As a true-blooded Hong Konger with deep roots in and love of his birthplace, Shroff not only showcases the city’s spirit through the design of the co-working space but also embraces a noble cause – giving back to the community. They have officially partnered with five local non-profit organisations to date.

Companies have been drawn to the allure of the space for their offsite meetings and events, captivated by a sustainable luxury office that seems to defy convention. This served as the catalyst for the Green Office Project in 2022, a Banyan Workspace undertaking that encourages companies to embrace sustainability.

“Its purpose evolved beyond a mere educational initiative,” he explains. “This project is for companies to understand the consequences of the decisions they make every day, and to show decision-makers that viewing each decision through a sustainability lens is good for their company, their customers, their business and our planet. We would love to take our impact beyond the four walls of our workspace and inspire and support the next generation of entrepreneurs.”

Words to work by

Shroff also possesses a rare sense of discipline and drive for perfection, qualities that were born perhaps of his awareness that he has a name to live up to. In the corner of the office pantry, three placards hang on a rattan board: ‘Inspire Impact, Engage Minds, Transform Action.’

He adds: “It’s absolutely critical to be in an environment that you are comfortable in and that is conducive to being as productive as you can be. This is not about the set-up, though obviously it’s important that the technology works, whether that be the wifi, the printer or the lights.”

50 and beyond

He is entering his sixth decade and a new phase of life, but behind a youthful visage that only shows wear when a smile draws minuscule wrinkles around his brow, his humility and his honesty are what shine the most.

“Almost every interaction is an opportunity to learn and develop. The key is staying humble, being open to learning, growing, developing and being self-aware,” he says. “Setting up two distinct businesses across three countries is probably my most significant achievement career-wise. But honestly, I don’t feel we have accomplished what we set out to do yet. I am cautiously optimistic about what 2024 will bring.”

Settled into an equilibrium, Shroff appears to have a genuine enjoyment of his place in the ecosystem. His most overwhelming and rewarding job seems to be as a family man – a husband and a father of two. “Parenthood is a gift, but it is also something that nothing can prepare you for,” he shares. “It makes you want to be better and show your kids the very best that you can be, while striving to give them every opportunity to become the best version of themselves.”

Valuable support

He adds with a knowing wink: “But the young need to make their own mistakes and learn from them – finding that balance is not always very easy. My parents always encouraged us to work hard and play hard. I worked hard yes, but I played harder! “My family as well as my team are an incredible support system and they allow me to do everything that I love to do. Nothing that I do today would be possible without them,” he confesses.

It was the desire to give every child the support system they deserve that saw Shroff accept an invitation to sit on the global board of OneSky, an NGO providing early childhood care and safety environments for vulnerable children.

Space, the future frontier

There is an earnest, sometimes quivering sense of excitement in his voice when he discusses what lies ahead. His mindset retains an ethos that anything is possible. Sustainability has been a core value of the co-working movement since its inception, and while this commitment is not always easy, it is a crucial step towards creating a more equitable and sustainable future for all.

“I firmly believe that resiliency is one of the most important qualities an entrepreneur needs to have,” he stresses. “The last few years have certainly taught me that being resilient, staying in the game and putting one foot in front of the other is the only way to progress.”

Ultimately, the right blend of autonomy, resources and community lies at the heart of an empowered and happy team — one that wants to come to work, wherever that happens to be.

Interview, Text & Art Direction: Joseff Musa Photographer: Jack Law Videographer: Jack Fontanilla Venue: Banyan Workspace Brands: Emporio Armani, ZEGNA and SANDRO Cover: Chore jacket by ZEGNA, Neil cotton-twill suit pants by IRO and shoes by ZEGNA

Fashion Conscience: Vipop founder Lenia Pérez radiates sustainability vibes while joyfully revealing her second pregnancy

Lenia Pérez is one of the best-dressed women in the city, in part because she’s so willing to try everything. “I’ve prepared a total of 19 outfits for us to play around with, but I’m not sure if some of them still fit me,” laughs the Latin American fashion entrepreneur, rubbing her four-month baby bump with just a slight touch of embarrassment.

It’s an unconventional pregnancy announcement – and a surprising moment of awkwardness for someone who photographs so well and telegraphs such confidence. Whether she’s going to the gym or the hottest parties, her style is obsessively chronicled.

Embarrassment, though, is different from regret. “I’m never afraid to try anything,” affirms Pérez, who is thrilled to be expecting her second child with husband Ziad Korban. “I think that just goes to show that there’s a moving evolution in my style. It just keeps growing” – like her baby bump – “which is kind of how I want to be in all areas of life.”

Black Flora Deep V Maxi Dress by Daniella Batlle Earrings by Vipop

It takes a certain sort of boldness and a certain level of shimmering magnitude to establish your own time zone, especially while being pregnant. Yet the co-founder and CEO of Vipop, a Hong Kong-based sustainable fashion brand, has done just that. It’s exactly 8:45 am on a typical Hong Kong gloomy Monday, yet Pérez is all set for a day of photoshoot and interview. Her ease and her vibrant full smile suggest this is all very normal and time really is just a construct.

From the get-go, she also expresses her opinion on maternity wear: “I’m hoping that we are able to redefine what’s considered ‘decent’ for pregnant women. I am proud of my body for the amazing things it’s doing right now. Minus the morning sickness, I think I am at my happiest. Heels during pregnancy? Go for it. Who made such rules anyways?”

Sustainable values

As a self-confessed collector, Pérez travels to fashion shows across South and Central America in search of resort-wear designers to represent, pinpointing those whom she believes will appeal to Asian customers. What started as an internet business with co-founder and fellow Venezuelan Fabiana González, now occupies a cosy white shop called Artezano by Vipop and is reaching customers in the US and Europe.

Her parents are artisans, so she has always liked fashion and handicrafts. Additionally, clothing created by Latin American designers, who historically use sustainable weaving and dyeing methods, felt appropriate for a market where ethical consciousness is growing in importance.

Red Percy Dress by Palma Canaria

“Vipop brings together a community of international designers making bags, jewellery and clothing in unique designs like the ones I’m wearing,” she says. “Our designers take care of the ethical or eco-friendly values behind the pieces and we also take care of the value of each piece. So it’s this community we’re building in the new fashion industry. We’re offering new ways to be sustainable. It’s not just ‘sustainable’; it can be very fun too.”

Vipop builds partnerships based on sustainability practice. Designers and collaborators are chosen by the effort they put into one or more of the following clean fashion criteria: handmade, locally produced, carbon neutral, use of vegan or organic materials, low waste, longevity, recycled materials and fair wage.

Damage limitation

“It’s very important to put attention to how the pieces we buy are actually made, who is making them and how it affects our environment, the community around us and the planet, because we can see so much damage in the world from the fashion industry. This is something very special for me and all the team, and this is why we selected this subject to build a fashion brand and e-commerce platform.”

Black Cher dress cut pleated skirt with top by Nabel Martins

This combination of focused strategy with faith in humanity and the occasional flight of fancy seems a winning formula, especially when matched by an unstinting gusto for whatever challenges her fashion career or an impending new addition to the family will throw at her.

Calming vibes

Despite her hypermodern appearance, not to mention the permanent arts on her skin, her style is very traditional. As seen on her Instagram, whether it’s a friend’s wedding or a trip abroad, she creates distinct ‘vibes’ (to use her favourite phrase) for each occasion. Indeed, her process is true fashion-icon behaviour.

“We’re still right on time. I cannot emphasise more the importance of working with the right people. It will really get the job done and produce output that you want to have,” she reflects as she changes for look no.9.

Pérez seems unfazed by the fame in the fashion world she is currently experiencing. She is seemingly without ego: calm and reflective with a slightly starry professional glow that makes her the ability to inhabit someone else’s mind look easy. During and in between takes, she is compellingly unselfconscious.

“But that’s the work of it,” she shares. “In reality, you have to be aware of what you’re feeling, what the team in the room is feeling. Once the camera clicks, you have this third level of awareness – your mark, the light and which way you should be facing. And it’s like you are constantly having to juggle those three things the whole time. She pauses and adds knowingly: “Pretty much like pregnancy huh?”

Dressed to express

Fashion for her is about the moments of pure enjoyment, of just letting go to the point that she can be surprised. It represents the most acute version of fun. “Which is why I love it so much. It’s my playground. I love it,” she admits giddily.

Emiliana pants and bared back top in paillette by Nabel Martins

“Clothes allow us to show off our unique personalities. Many of us care about how we seem in public, which is cool and just right. But some of us experience pressure to follow the newest trends in fashion,” she reminds, throwing in a note of caution.

Mother load

One trend she is happy to embrace is her pregnancy. These days, the word ‘Mother’, without the preceding article, is present everywhere, as not just a regular word but a colloquial term and part of this generation’s slang; fans, brands and occasionally even mums themselves use it. It is also affectionately applied to prominent women who have a devoted following. And Pérez is surely mothering the fashion game.

Blue one sleeve cut out dress by Baobab Accessories by Vipop

“My body is going through so many changes again, but I ’ve grown to respect it so much that I look past the physical. I fully embrace it for serving a much deeper purpose, something far bigger than myself and anything I ever gave it credit for. I’m so grateful for, and amazed by, what my body is capable of,” she states, flashing a smile.

At the end of our shoot, she swaps her stilettos for platformed boots, saying with a wink: “It’s time to be more comfortable.” Whatever tomorrow brings, Lenia Pérez will have the right attitude – and look – to take it on.

Interview, Text & Art Direction: Joseff Musa Photographer: Jack Law Videographer: Jack Fontanilla Venue: Qura Bar – Regent Hong Kong Brands: Daniella Batlle, Baobab, Nabel Martins and Vipop

Peter Piper: PR visionary Peter Cheung is entrusted by the brands to lead them out of the box

It is nearing 1 pm at the Mandarin Oriental Tamar Suite. Peter Cheung has long since arisen and absorbed himself in the morning rituals of the modern CEO: email, energised with his go-to coffee, and in this instance, employing a full glam team to ready him for our cover shoot. He is a person who uses your first name in conversation. When he walks into a public space and sits down, no one scatters. He is very approachable, and one can easily sense the warmth and vibrancy of his personality, and his fondness for all things luxurious and glamorous.

“Hi! Nice to meet you all!” he cries, without glancing up, as he greets us midway through typing an email on his phone. Once done, he looks at us immediately, winning us over with a sincere smile of apology, and continues his breezy welcome: “Nice to meet you all. Do you like what I’m wearing? I’ve purposely chosen these looks for you guys. Where do we start?”

The man who is Peter Cheung Asia, the strategic marketing and communications consultancy, had a very colourful childhood, as he would describe it. The youngest of six children and the only boy in the Cheung legacy – he was born and raised in Hong Kong until his mother relocated to Victoria, British Columbia, where he became a competitive junior tennis player; at 16 he was ranked in the top 10 of under 18-year-olds in the province.

Gold tuxedo by Dries Van Noten

“It was my childhood dream to be a professional tennis player,” says Cheung. “Whenever we were back in Hong Kong, our parents would send us to the Hong Kong Country Club daily from 9 am to 9 pm. I fantasised I was an international tennis player, training at the Club by day and back to a five- star hotel at night. I really enjoyed my suite life.”

Safe to say, Peter is literally in the wealth of biographies and hagiography.

Cheer Leaders

His early teenage years, including being picked up nightly by his posse in a motorcade of chauffeur-driven cars to visit multiple hotspots, afforded him a glimpse of the luxury lifestyle. “Being here every summer in the most decadent times of the late ’80s and early ’90s, it became my mission to return permanently to the only place that I could only live that dream life – Hong Kong,” he says.

Once back, early stints in fashion merchandising and media led to senior PR roles at Sotheby’s, Dior, Versace and Van Cleef & Arpels. His father, a successful entrepreneur in the insurance field, was his most trusted adviser, even though the paths they trod in life couldn’t have been more different.

Shiny black jacquard funnel neck cape coat with padded hem and cuffs by Barney Cheng Couture

“I sought his advice always and I never made a professional move without discussing it with him,” says Cheung. “And he always said to me, you know what? You help the brands, you help your bosses, why don’t you help yourself and be your own boss? He was definitely my biggest inspiration to start my own business.”

On the other hand, his mother was his inspiration for fashion and style. His appreciation of clothes, jewellery and aesthetics from a very young age stemmed from her. “She had this amazing personality, character, beauty and style in that Shanghainese chic of a bygone era,” he shares.

“My parents, together with my five sisters and my friends have shaped me into what I am today. Shoutout to you all!” he cheers from the suite’s velvet couch.

Outside the Box

Peter still sometimes channels the kid from Canada that he once was: slightly wide-eyed and a little surprised to find himself as a marketing trailblazer in the region, more influential than most nine-to-five bankers. He defends his record as a creative leader in his own right and he elaborates on how he deals with his rivals and competitors.

“If my father did not put it on the table, I don’t know what I would be doing today. He made me realise I was in a unique position with my background, experience and expertise in that I worked in multiple product segments,” he explains. “This position is what I think sets Peter Cheung Asia apart from traditional agencies.

Black sequined jacket by Barney Cheng Couture

“We are a strategic consultancy offering unparalleled experience and strategies in marketing and communications services on a variety of luxury levels for developing strategies that are unique, creative, out of the box, surprising, in an ever-changing and competitive industry, but stemming from the unique and invaluable experiences through my now nearly 30 years of expertise, network and know-how.”

A natural affinity for beautiful things and love of the natural world makes him a credible messenger for a values-led company. Even as Cheung has reshaped the marketing business, he is reluctant to supply a list of his own creative achievements with the company he launched in 2015. These include steering clients in the fields of fashion, jewellery and watches, expanding into the hospitality industry (maybe inspired by the prodigal son of hotels), media, art and culture and education, and offering skills and time to several nonprofit organisations and charities.

Power Forward

His wavy silver hair is neatly maintained – oftentimes blown by the wind as he poses for the camera. He is wearing an all-black ensemble, with glittering studs and sequins from top to toe. His perception of himself, with the position he has achieved in life, remains anything but simple.

“I’ve been described as a lot of things, but probably normal is not among those. I love having ‘crazy’ ideas. What is most exciting is having an original idea, something very abstract in the beginning, and to be able to hone it, work with it, shape it, edit, add or subtract elements, evolve it, looking at it comprehensively from every angle, and then to be able to launch this idea, by now a solid strategic plan, put it in motion with maximum impact and energy, with hopefully successful results and impeccable timing, and to see something concrete come into fruition,” he says, all in one breath with a deep sigh at the end.

Jacquard and embroidered gold coat by Dries Van Noten

“Was that too much? In life, there’s nothing too much. As they say, there’s always more to life.”

And the future is complicated. Today, Peter Cheung Asia is a dominant marketing company in Hong Kong, having emerged from the pandemic relatively unscathed and prosperous, and also at a crossroads: perpetually on the brink of the discovery that will change the PR dynamic again, while at the same time fending off constant challenges to its existing business.

“We don’t really look back very much at all in history,” he says. “We’re always focused on the future and trying to feel like that, we’re very much at that starting line where you can really dream and have big ideas that are not constrained by the past.”

Clearly, as the visionary that he is, Cheung has the knack of turning doubters into followers and further emboldening his daring creativity through an innate curiosity about, and connection with, people and society. As we near the conclusion of our time together, an oscillating net of polite communications folks leading the way, he exchanges hellos, sorrys and thank yous with whomever we pass and are temporarily blocked because of our photoshoot. He makes this a habit, always acknowledging the goodness in people.

We pop the cork on a bottle of Champagne and raise a glass to a smooth afternoon’s work. His next move? Anywhere the wind blows.

Interview, Text & Art Direction: Joseff Musa Photographer: Jack Law Videographer: Jack Fontanilla Venue: Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong Brands: Barney Cheng Couture and Dries Van Noten Cover: Black silk organza multilayer cheongsam with gold thread Chinese pine tree motif hand embroidered embellishment by Barney Cheng Couture

Harvest Queen: Every day is bountiful for tireless PR maven and sports mentor Esther Ma

Esther Ma makes her entrance at one of her favourite Chinese restaurants so quickly and quietly that few realise she has arrived until she is tucked away in our makeshift dressing room. Rocking black from head to toe, she appears almost to the minute of our agreed call time – a rare feat for personalities of her stature.

“I was just built like this; discipline has always been with me, especially with time,” she says. “I always make sure that every minute of the day is used to good purpose.” Flashing a brilliant smile as she hangs up her clothes and lays out her accessories and makeup, she adds: “I do my cardio religiously first thing in the morning – I guess this is what makes me feel young, energetic and alive.”

Esther Ma is best known as the PR genius behind Prestique, an agency she created almost 30 years ago that has represented, practically from A to Z, the world’s leading names. In fact, she wrote a book on the subject – one of five she has penned – called, simply, The A to Z of PR. She also co-founded Harvest Sky in 2016 with her husband, Harvey Lee and good friend Christina Gaw. The sports management company takes care of 30 of Hong Kong’s best athletes, including Olympians and Asian Games medallists, in a venture that leverages her long-held passion for branding and mentoring.

With all her strengths reflected in an impressive resume of professional projects that distinguishes her colourful career in PR and marketing, one can’t help but wonder what, if anything, is Ma’s weakness? “My daughters. I definitely give in to my daughters,” she answers sincerely. “On one hand I do things to inspire them; on the other hand I let them manipulate me.” She and Lee have two teenage daughters who are both attending boarding school in the U.S.

Then, switching almost instantly to laughter, she says: “I don’t know. Is it wishful thinking that I still hope they will take over my business by the time I retire? I really hope so. But see, as a parent, our job is to support them whatever their dreams may be. So I won’t pressure them to become my corporate successors. I want them to pursue their real passions.”

Middle Riddle

As the only girl and middle child in a traditional Chinese family, Esther had to be self-sufficient to become the woman she is today. Born in Hong Kong and raised in a Christian household by parents who were doctors, she quickly learned to negotiate a very rigid living environment.

“At home, it was all about having proper etiquette. After dinner, I would go straight to my room to do more studying. I know this is weird to hear now, but back in the day, only my two brothers had tutors. I didn’t. I excelled academically on my own,” she confesses.

“Whereas at school, it was a totally different story. I always found school to be an escapade, like the fun haven that I escaped to. Sometimes I can be very mischievous – it’s kind of like a therapeutic outlet for me.”

It is a Ma signature to deliver telling insights in a self-deprecating package. But press a little and she states plainly what her legacy will be. “Confidence and self-belief,” she says. “Even during my formative years, I made my own decisions without consulting my busy parents. Is it a middle-child thing? Maybe. But I guess it all worked out in the end for me.” She laughs: “Even when I applied to boarding schools and universities, I only told my parents that I got in because I needed their financial assistance. I never discussed my school list with them”.

Her Cup of Tea

Creativity is the very essence of her being and it extends to using a teacup to hold a mirror she needs while doing her own makeup. Multitasking as ever, she recounts her success story in the world of PR. Initially, she worked at an investment bank in New York after gaining an economics degree from the University of California, Berkeley. However, the long hours and number-crunching didn’t inspire her to continue along this path.

“I worked 16 hours every day. So one day I just said I had enough of this. I took the subway to Columbia Business School and talked to the admissions director. I told her I really wanted to switch careers and I didn’t think finance was my cup of tea. And given that I’m such a personable girl, I really wanted to get into something more related to human connections and interpersonal relations.”

She took an MBA in management and marketing at Columbia and then she got herself a summer internship with Procter & Gamble. Winning them over, she was offered a permanent position in Hong Kong and was assigned to lead a Japanese beauty brand called SK-II. That was when P&G bought over Max Factor and the brand was renamed SK-II.

“That job required a lot of PR skills,” she recalls. “I was so excited to write press releases and come up with gimmicky, creative ideas for the campaign. I had to train the team and I really loved it. I was very proud to be called ‘the woman behind SK-II’ and ended up receiving the Regional SK-II Brand-Building Award from Procter & Gamble.”

Additionally, she co-chaired the Women’s Committee at the Columbia Business School and built a fundraiser for the Pan-Asian confererence room at the new campus.

Spin to Win

As Ma’s career evolved, so did her interests. As she is a self-taught interior designer and cook, she designed her own ‘Harvest Menu’ – a play on the couple’s first names, Harvey and Esther – and is an avid golfer, a singer and an art lover among many other hobbies. She spins the lazy Susan on the table as a means to explain how she finds the time for the multiple accomplishments and diversions in life. Mimicking selecting dim-sum delicacies from the turntable, she elaborates on the rewards of doing so much.

“Balance and time management! You have to find your balance and prioritise. This is explained in my book Harvest of the 7 Human Vines,” she says. “Similar to having different dishes, you just have to keep on spinning it all the time to make room (and time) for each one. Family, career, hobbies, spiritual, personal – all of it. Have a little bit of everything. With this kind of purposeful mentality, none of my dishes will ever be empty.”

Although she constantly replenishes the bowl of life, she is still hungry for more. “For me, it’s that inner drive to live a fulfilling and purpose-driven life,” she adds.

Asked which rule she would secretly love to break, she draws a final metaphor of life and sports. “I think every golfer should be given two free mulligans on every hole. You can play another tee shot, because sometimes, you know, people should be given a second chance, so they don’t repeat the same mistake,” she explains.

It would be easy to assume a confidence like Ma’s is innate, but that would be a disservice to the maternal side of her character that has matured over the years. It enters the scene as soon as the interview ends: “Should I get some food for all of us? The dim sum here is fantastic. Let’s eat together; I’m starving!”

Interview & Art Direction: Joseff Musa; Photographer: Jack Law; Videographer: Jack Fontanilla; Venue: The Summit; Brands: Shiatzy Chen, Versace & Chloe; Cover: Black shirt and black skirt by Versace, Purple fur edge coat by Shiatzy Chen

2023 Power List: The 300 Most Powerful People in Hong Kong

These are the people who will be shaping the next century and leading the city to heights unprecedented. Check out who made our 2023 Power List 300 here.

Dream Reality: The TV show may have ended, but Deborah Valdez-Hung’s glitzy world is only getting bigger

Standing in the airy foyer of her Residence Bel-Air home, Deborah Valdez-Hung looks exactly like she does in the Netflix reality show Bling Empire: New York – better, actually. With her signature configuration of bronzer, highlighter, contouring, full red lips and skin-tight designer garb, the media star is a natural standout from the handful of staff in the room, or in any room, in fact. Surprisingly, she is softer and daintier in three dimensions than she is in two. If anything is true of Valdez-Hung, it is her endless talent for optical illusions and posing for the camera.

“Let’s get straight right into it?” she asks jokingly. “Welcome. Come right in. Feel free to roam around the house and see which location we should work on for the photos. Everything here is inspired by surrealism and avant-garde.”

She leads the way to a living room containing all things maximalist, from the blue dangling light fixtures to the red velvet walls and unconventionally heart-shaped couches. All these reflect the passionate nature the jetsetter has carried from her humble beginnings in the Mexican desert to the international cities and countries she now calls home from time to time.

Model mission

A former model herself, Valdez-Hung is the owner and chairperson of Dreamodels, one of the city’s and Asia’s premium full-service modelling agencies. She is also somewhat of an influencer, given her high position and glamorous, fast-paced lifestyle that whisks her to fashion shows and other events across the globe. It appears from her Instagram, which has 772,000 followers to date, that she is still modelling and rarely short of a prominent party or exotic location to pose at.

“I have been interested in fashion since I was young,” she shares while adding another row of bling around her neck. “I did not go to a fashion or design school, but my friends have a fondness for fashion, and from there, I learned about the construction of clothing. However, my interests were beyond that, to be completely honest. That’s why I decided to become a model. It is a very competitive industry and everything changes very fast. You have to be creative and daring.”

Food for thought

An employee offers a bottle of Coca-Cola in addition to the already massive spread of branded cookies and fresh fruits prepared for the day. One cannot help but wonder, is this a way to counter the famous scene in the pilot episode of Bling Empire: New York where she was accused of not serving any food? Maybe. Or maybe not. She confesses that she just enjoys food and snacking in general, contrary to what the majority of people might think of models’ dietary habits.

Laughing while munching on lychees, she says, nonchalance personified: “I knew this would be brought up. But yes, oh my gosh! I love snacking, especially at midnight.”

She’s svelte and looks fresher and more vulnerable than she does. From the word go, Deborah is unflinchingly honest and not afraid to tackle the heavy stuff. On the other hand, her beauty is both striking and earthy.

“Modelling was also an opportunity for me to travel the world. As a kid, and up to now, I am always amazed on how rich culture can be of a certain country. The modeling stint was offered to me, and looking back, I think it would be silly of me to pass on such great opportunity.”

Denting momentarily her ultra-glam image, she admits to preferring flats and sneakers to high heels especially since she is always on the go. Despite this assertion, her landscape is one populated by diamonds, private jets and rose bouquets larger than many studio apartments here. It’s a cross-platform, finely tuned optics juggernaut that requires constant maintenance and, she insists justifiably, a lot of work.

Legal aim

Before the Hong Kong socialite lifestyle and the reality TV fame, Valdez was a practising civil lawyer in Mexico and Europe.

“I decided to be a lawyer as I wanted to help people and to have a bigger purpose in life,” she shares. “But I was also heavily influenced by my father who also has a background in law. Growing up, I was always fascinated listening to his stories and work experiences.”

And in all business situations, her legal training and background is helpful. She launched Dreamodels in 2012, the same year of her marriage to wealthy and flamboyant Hong Kong businessman Stephen Hung, whom she also teasingly dubs as her number-one fan and social media manager.

“Is this pose okay? Try taking it from a top view,” she instructs of her husband who is snapping behind-the-scenes photos of our shoot to post on her Instagram account. “Humour and laughter are parts of our culture in Mexico. I think that’s what makes us unique.”

Animal magnetism

Other cherished members of the household are not to be left out.

“Chiquita! Tan Hermosa!” she coos in her most loving Mexican-Spanish lilt as her dogs scamper over to join her for a photo.

There’s no question that her grueling upkeep routine is working. On the topic of animals, whose rights she strongly advocates, she becomes emphatic. She is a fur mum to two Chihuahuas who own a bedroom and a closet of their own, and she enjoys playing dress up and matching Chanel outfits with them.

“If I have all the means and energy, something I would be ecstatic about doing every day for the rest of my life is to free animals from cages, zoos and labs. I would like to volunteer and dedicate my time in helping a few animal protection associations. Or maybe I’m being too ambitious? I don’t know. But I think as humans, we should value and respect animals’ lives. At the end of the day, we are all God’s creations cohabitating on this planet,” she says fervently.

Back in her early days in Mexico, the millennial reality TV star was raised in a Christian family’s household.

Passion project

As to the legacy she wants to leave, she is starting a company specialising in accessories and faux-fur coats. “I am giving all my love to my family, friends and pets with this project. They are more than my inspirations in doing all of these things. They are my motivators too,” she says. “Passion and fashion will always be part of my DNA.”

In addition to being a person of influence, Valdez-Hung is without a doubt an “it”: a vector of debate, a media property, a mover of markets, an engine of consumer behaviour, a symbol, a brand, a cipher. As she sits at her home office table discussing work, food, dogs and life, she embodies the glamorous woman her fans aspire to.

Her husband suggests she does one more pose with her dazzling pink Rolls-Royce and is denied: “Pass. That’s been done to death.” Job done, she gets up without a murmur and, like the 6 pm sun slipping below the horizon, quietly exits the frame.

Interview & Art Direction: Joseff Musa Photographer: Jack Law Videographer: Jack Fontanilla Fashion Stylist: Jhoshwa Ledesma

The Best Group Fitness Activities To Try In Hong Kong

Working out is essential for a healthy lifestyle but on most days, it can be easy to ignore the required regular exercise, especially following a busy day at work. If only there was a way to feel encouraged to work out and have company while doing it, staying active could be much easier. One perfect solution is joining a group fitness activity and Gafencu has found the best ones for you.

group fitness

Spinning Sessions

Considered a sweat-inducing cardio workout that can get your heart pumped and lead you to drop some pounds, Spinning sessions are a perfect way to implement regular exercising in your life. Besides, spinning classes are always fun given that there is always some peppy song playing in the background with an encouraging instructor guiding you to push the wheels to the beat of the music. A couple of workout studios like Renation, Pure Fitness, Velocity and more offer these indoor cycling classes.

group fitness

Running and Strength Training Workouts

Midnight Runners is a workout group based in different parts of the world,  including a community in Hong Kong. Though the fitness group’s name mentions them as just runners, as their tagline describes, Midnight Runners does more than run. Between their jogs and sprints, they do some strength training. Midnight Runners usually meet up on Thursdays (7:00 PM) at Central and recommend that you come straight to the spot, wearing your workout clothes and shoes, ready to start stretching and running. You can always check their latest workout schedule on Heylo.

group fitness

Trail Running

If you are a nature lover who loves getting your regular dose of exercising in the outdoors, then you obviously don’t need an introduction to trail running which is typically running on a path that is enticingly surrounded by greenery letting you inhale fresh air throughout the run. Whether it is your first time or you are not new to it, joining a trail running group like the Trail Runners Association of Hong Kong will be a great way to find more people who share the same fitness interests as you.

Also Read: Ultra Formidable – Tenacity of trail runner Igor Gal pushes him to the Peak

group fitness

Hiking

Hong Kong may be known for its tall skyscraper buildings but it also has some picturesque hiking trails – one of the famous ones being the one leading to Victoria Peak. For those who would love to go on hikes but have not found the company to do so and don’t want to do it alone, then you can always join a hiking group. For instance, there is the Leisure Hike & Simplylife which has formed a hiking community for people of different fitness levels.

group fitness

Outdoor Yoga

For those of you who love to do yoga, why not elevate the experience by partaking in some outdoor yoga retreats? The perfect start for this is The Hideout, a wellness group that regularly conducts outdoor yoga events followed by brunch. Each session takes place at Mui Wo on Lantau Island but don’t worry the organisation arranges transport facilities for you to reach the spot. Make sure that you bring your own yoga mat and other necessities like water, sunscreen and a hand towel.