Madame Butterfly

  • Joyce is proud to host a cocktail to preview Bonnae Gokson’s new coffee table book “Butterflies and all things sweet”. The style and sweets guru shared her top tips and insights of a chic lifestyle with Joyce.com.

    The sister duo — Bonnae Gokson and Joyce Ma, doyenne of fashion and founder of Joyce, have unarguably been playing such pivotal roles in shaping the tastes of Hong Kong for decades. Joyce boutique, the pioneer of fashion in Asia was founded and led by Joyce Ma with Gokson as her right-hand woman. She was also the brainchild of creating the Joyce cafes , the homeware department and had the foresight in expanding Joyce from a fashion boutique to a lifestyle emporium way back in the early 90s.

    Joyce Ma spoke of her dear sister and her latest coffee table book “Butterflies and all things sweet”.

    “I am so proud of Bonnae. She is very hardworking and very very creative. You can see it in her book which will take you to another magical world. In our day and age, her book is what will take us to appreciate beautiful things and love them.”

    Since the departure from Joyce, Gokson has worked with an array of different international corporate entities, such as Chanel, Ritz Carlton and the W hotel before launching her own projects including the iconic glamorous hotspot SEVVA; the Ms B’s CAKERY which specialises in beautifully handmade and bespoke cakes and C’est La B, an extension of Ms B’s CAKERY, a precious little gem of a café-bar with a cozy and whimsical ambience. All three projects, albeit in different scales, have raised the bar of fine-dining as well as cake culture in Hong Kong. The latest project— “Butterflies and all things sweet” is named because the cakes that Gokson creates for her customers are “like butterflies, here and then gone, devoured in a few sweet bites”. This book is the story of her cakes.

    “Ever since a child, I have loved food and was lucky enough to be exposed to so many cultures of cuisines. Cakes are only one of the many foods I like. I guess how it all started was that I was given an opportunity to create a cafe for my sister's JOYCE boutique groups where I introduced to HK and Asia a Caramel Crunch Cake. From then on, it became the catalyst that led me to my cake story of today. I have a lot of knowledge on cake baking but I actually do not bake myself!”

    Both Gokson and Ma came from an illustrious family in Hong Kong and were brought up in an environment of refined living and good taste. Their grandfather founded one of the most renowned department stores in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Gokson is based in Hong Kong but has travelled and worked extensively across the world. It’s little wonder why Gokson has such an innate sense of style and boasts such an impressive CV.

    “I miss the days of more glamour, better manners and ultimate style where it was present during JOYCE Cafe days. I am finding the general lifestyle everywhere is so much more casual and too ‘Macfashion’.

    However, changes are inevitable and moving with the times is important. Of course, there's still the fabulous and over-the-top in lifestyle too but doesn’t seem as chic because money does not buy class.”

    It is her refined taste and class, with a personal approach and a unique sense of style to art, design and food, which enables her to single-handedly snatch up the opportunity of getting the 22,000 sq/ft footprint on the top floor of Prince’s Building and open SEVVA –one of the most talked-about hangouts in the world. The original site was used as a private residence with simple and functional interior, but Gokson saw its potential and decided to embark on the mega project of SEVVA, which she describes it as “like giving birth to triplets without anaesthesia”.

    “When I heard of the vacant space, it was supposed to be way too late, as I heard plenty of who's who or corporates which had already been negotiating and working on their schemes for presentation to Hong Kong Land. One weekend, I simply just dropped an email to the Director in charge of the owner group just to double check if it's indeed taken. Within a few hours, I got an email back asking if I could open by Christmas that year! I was told later that I was awarded the space because I had such good track records with Hong Kong Land in their portfolio of setting up all the brands under Joyce plus Joyce Cafes then that there were no questions that they would not consider my concept and taking up that space. They had been waiting for that 'somebody' for 2 years of SEVVA site being vacant.”

    Gokson is grateful for her training throughout fashion and that she was exposed to differentiating between all kinds of textiles and understanding the play of colours during her Joyce era. The invaluable experience enables her to envisage all the minute details of how SEVVA should turn out— an environment that is more like a chic pad than a restaurant and bar. Today, what you see at SEVVA, from a glass, to artworks, to a sofa, to the menu, to the staff uniform… every touch is what she has visualized and made it into reality. For her next venture, Ms B’s CAKERY and C’est la B, she focused much more on creating an intimate, cosy atmosphere and most importantly the beautiful, whimsical and absolutely scrumptious cakes. Gokson has such an encyclopaedia of knowledge which she can apply to different levels and scales in all things stylish and sweet.

    “I get inspired with anything and everything I see. I have quite a big "floppy disc" to store images in my mind. For cake baking, I may think of a flavour first and its colour and working through each layering in my mind, I also work along to see the colours. It's scary sometimes, as my mind could even taste along as I dream. Like my book cover for ‘Butterflies And All Things Sweet’, I just created this after I saw Raf Simons' black linen dress with pansies for DIOR's haute couture 2013. It popped in my mind and I used a blend of dark and black chocolate and made sugar-art flowers to dress my cake. I don't have one set way of creating my cakes. It just pops in my mind and I need to express it out probably in cakes now. Hahaaa.....I am really thankful that I have a great team of skilled hands to help me in expressing my art.”

    Butterflies and All Things Sweet will be launched on 9 September at Joyce in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing followed by the New York launch on 22 October to be hosted by Ralph Lauren at their 888 Madison Store.

    Bonnae Gokson’s mini guide to all things sweet and stylish for Joyce.com:

    Five things in your home that you cannot live without?

    The view, the tranquillity, the location, my huge silver sterling punchbowl handcrafted by the silver department of my family's department store in Shanghai days, and much of my treasured homewares that I've been collecting throughout the years.

    What are the steps of organising a tea party?

    1. Set the theme: Vintage? Pretty watercolour? Royal tea party? Blue and whites? Modern and simple?

    2. Pretty up a table with lots of varieties of food with both savouries and desserts. Colours of the food are important to catch eye appeal. Add flowers, a bowl of candies or red berries, mixed fruit, macaroons to pop colours up.

    3. Play with the shapes of platters, the cake stands and dishes. Try to have 1 or 2 raised dishes so your table does not look so flat.

    4. Decide on the format. For a buffet style, have the table ready when your guests arrive, simply pass them plates and forks and offer them tea, coffee or refreshments. For a sit-down party, between 2 or 3 guests could share a stacked tea set with homemade cookies which are usually much appreciated.

    5. Last but not least, don’t be overly fussy and running around like a mad hen while the real pleasure of relaxing and enjoying with friends becomes too much pressure!

    What are the tips on decorating, especially for a mega project like SEVVA?

    I had put down 10 dreams on my wish-list and only 3 elements came about: the indoor vertical fresh green garden, double ceiling heights on both sides and a baby grand piano. I meditated on colours I first saw on the cover of an art book which inspired me with all colours chosen for SEVVA. I am still constantly refreshing it for each season just like a home I am used to.

    Interview by Lucienne Leung-Davies
    Portraits by Chen ManHair styled by Kim Robinson