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‘I’m rediscovering my home. It’s such a luxury to have all of this vast space and beauty around us.’

Gems in this
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Gems in
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Feature by Exceptional ALIEN

When creative director Ken Leung made the journey to Australia to renew his US visa, he was struck with the urge to trade life in New York’s fastlane for one of balanced creativity in Perth.

It’d been nearly two decades since the Kuala Lumpur–born, Western Australian–raised creator had lived in his home city. Ken's career had taken him from life in the UK and the US, to campaign shoots in the mountainous backdrop of Bhutan and the streets of Addis Ababa. Now with his feet firmly planted on home soil, Ken’s renewed purpose is to share with the world the abounding natural beauty of Western Australia (WA), and help turn Perth into a creative powerhouse. We chat to Ken about perspectives gained through travel, bolstering WA's creative foundations and some of his top Travel Gems to explore while in Perth.

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On your first taste of travel

I grew up in Perth and I was always interested in art, then went to art school and studied graphic design. Creativity was the thing that really got me interested in travel. I watched this movie called Baraka, directed by Ron Fricke. It showcases these amazing cinematic moments. There’s no narrative, it’s just pure cinematography. That made me interested in traveling and exploring the rest of the world.

On where your creativity has taken you

I moved to Melbourne, worked at The Age and had my own consultancy. Then I moved to London where I contacted Tyler Brûlé and managed to get him to take a meeting with me. They hadn’t set up Monocle yet, and I was working at Winkreative where Tyler and Richard Spencer Powell [Monocle’s Creative Director] and I set the groundwork for Monocle. I was in London for six years, then was contacted by Graydon Carter who wanted me to work on a redesign for Vanity Fair. We moved to New York and I decided I wanted to work in fashion so met with Phillip Lim. I convinced them to let me start their in-house branding studio and that was my foray into fashion. Over six years at Phillip Lim I learnt how to do runway shows and design a retail store — all on the fly. Then I went on to UNIQLO.

On how travel inspires you

Travel is extremely influential. When I’m traveling, I’m hyper aware — there are sights, sounds, smells and tastes. So for me, I’m most creative when I’m traveling — I’m taking everything in and I have the time and space to be creative. You don’t necessarily have that in your everyday life.

It was the vibrant, sun-drenched scenes of Western Australia that enticed Ken Leung to move home to Perth, found his agency Studio PARÁDISÔ, and dedicate his time to elevating the people and the places of Western Australia onto the world stage. He kicked off the mission in collaboration with Showroom-X, with a fashion campaign of all local talent shot across some of the state’s most inspiring landscapes. Images courtesy of Ken Leung, Showroom-X and We Wear Australian.

On a fond travel memory

One of my favorite experiences from traveling was shooting a campaign in Bhutan. We were there for Phillip Lim and were invited to a monastery. I got to play soccer with the monks and we were invited into the temple to take part in the chanting and meditation. It felt like a scene from Baraka — it was a truly magical experience. The country measures its success not on gross national product, but what they call the gross happiness index. That difference in the way they think was one of the reasons I wanted to shoot there — that and the beautiful people and landscapes.

On creative travel meets slow travel

I always wanted to approach fashion campaigns very differently. We don’t have huge teams of hair and makeup, we street cast for local models and shoot in places in the most authentic way possible — only using a small crew. We were in Bhutan for a week and sought the real local experience. All the money we would have spent on having a big crew we gave back to the local community. We paid for the law degree of one of the models we cast. We felt we shouldn’t just take from a place, we should give back. We always did the same for 3.1 Phillip Lim campaigns, like when we went to Ethiopia. We did all the hair and makeup ourselves and then donated towards maternal health there. It’s an approach I’d love to continue.

'We only came back to renew my US visa, but we loved it so much that we decided to stay. It’s paradise in Perth.'

On how creativity brought you home

I'd been away for 18 years, working globally. I was in New York previously, for 11 years. I have two young children, but my wife is also from Perth. We only came back to renew my US visa, but we loved it so much that we decided to stay. It’s paradise in Perth. I wanted to flip my work-life balance. My life was always about work, and traveling the world for work. Then, during the pandemic, we were able to reconnect with nature, spend time together as a family, and that was exactly the life change that I wanted. So here we are, I’ve moved back home and have started a creative agency here.

On what you’re working on back in Perth

What I learned, especially working for global brands, is how to speak to everyone. How to simplify a message so that it’s digestible across all ages and all cultures. Studio PARÁDISÔ is based around elevating Perth and WA to the world. We’re working on a fashion show and are looking to bring a Perth designer back to showcase the collection somewhere in an amazing location like the desert. We’re also working on films, TV series and art installations.

In an epic undertaking, Ken Leung, alongside Showroom-X and Tourism WA, spent a week traversing thousands of kilometers across the West Australian landscapes of Yawuru and Miriwoong Country for the sun-soaked We Wear Australian 2021 campaign. From Gantheaume Point to Mirima National Park, the campaign captured 86 looks, selected from 186 brands, featuring all local talent. Courtesy of We Wear Australian, shot by James Giles, Claire Hart and Justin Griffiths.

On We Wear Australian

Part of the reason why I wanted to come back was to work with the landscapes. I never really got to see the state as a child, now I’m rediscovering my home. I could drive for the rest of my life and I wouldn’t get to witness all of it. It’s such a luxury to have all of this vast space and beauty around us. The We Wear Australian campaign was manifested while I was on vacation up in Exmouth. When we started posting those campaign images, a lot of people in New York and London were saying ‘Where is this place, I want to go and shoot there!’ Hopefully we’re going to attract more creativity here, while also inspiring the new generation of creatives to get out there and showcase Western Australia to the world.

'Part of the reason why I wanted to come back was to work with the landscapes. It’s such a luxury to have all of this vast space and beauty around us.'

On the creative scene in Perth

There is definitely excitement among the people who have returned. We all realized we took the city and the lifestyle for granted. But at the same time we also realize that we need to support each other to be able to build from the ground up. We have a fledgling creative industry here, but the globally-minded, world-class talent is all working together.

On the entrepreneurial spirit of the city

Perth is a frontier town. We're isolated, so you just have to do things. At the moment, there's a lot of people coming back and they’re trying to figure out how to do things here when you are so detached from the world, geographically. There’s not the weight of expectation around having to do what Melbourne, Sydney, Asia, Europe or America do. We just do things in our own way.

On the Fremantle Biennale

We just had the Fremantle Biennale, where there was this amazing experience called Moombaki. It was a drone show, which sure, a lot of people are doing. But it was choreographed around sharing Indigenous stories in a modern way. A lot of events are now spoken in Noongar, which is the local language from southwest of Western Australia, and the kids are learning it in school. Indigenous culture is something that will hopefully guide our creativity going forward.

On tapping into local art

The Art Gallery of Western Australia has just been relaunched. They’ve hired an Aboriginal curator to be able to lead Indigenous stories. That would be my first starting point for exploring Aboriginal culture here. Ian Strange [artist and Exceptional Alien alumni] was the artistic director of the relaunch. The gallery is doing an amazing job of showcasing the best of WA artists.

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For the 2021 re-launch of the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the curatorial team poured focus into celebrating the state’s own local talent. Artist and fellow Exceptional Alien alumni Ian Strange acted as Guest Artistic Director, while Wardandi (Nyoongar) and Badimaya (Yamatji) Aboriginal curator Clothilde Bullen continues to curate a brilliant roster of Indigenous artworks. Ken recommends starting your dive into WA culture at the gallery, before dipping into the blossoming hospitality and retail scenes. First three images courtesy Art Gallery of Western Australia, third row courtesy of Il Lido, fourth row courtesy of Highs and Lows.

On how you’d spend the day showing friends around

One of the main reasons why I love it here so much is the ability to be connected to the land. I’m very lucky to be living between the river and the beach. So I would start the day with a walk along the Swan River, in an area called Mosman Park, it’s very tranquil. A lot of people will be there kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding in the mornings. I would then spend part of the day in Kings Park, which is our version of Central Park, but bigger. It’s so rich with amazing flora that you wouldn’t find anywhere else in the world, plus weird wildlife like bilbies. There are so many strange little creatures, honestly some of these animals are ridiculous. You also have amazing views of the city. Then I would spend part of the day eating at the State Buildings, which were previously the post office, which is why they call it Perth Point Zero — this is where all the postcodes emanate from. The State Buildings have a collection of amazing restaurants, bookstores and florists. The idea is to curate the best of Western Australia into one building. Then I’d go to the Art Gallery of WA because it also showcases the best of WA. The best way to end the day is with sunset fish and chips from Amberjacks at Cottesloe Beach. I’ve traveled the world, but Perth’s sunsets are some of the best.

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'For coffee I go to Il Lido pretty much every day. You can head there in flip-flops off the beach and enjoy a long lunch.'

On where to shop

There’s an amazing retailer called MAN-TLE. They have a store in Northbridge. Larz Harry and Aida Kim are formerly from Dover Street Market in Tokyo, then they decided to move back to Perth and are now making clothes from Japanese fabrics. It’s designed and sampled here, then made in Japan. It’s all super high quality. Then they stock diverse and well-curated, kooky products like Korean bento-style boxes or homewares. That's one of my favorite spots. Another favorite is Low End Therapy [offshoot of popular Perth stop-in Highs and Lows]. It's from a mate of mine called Matt Thomas and it's curated by Matt and a musician called Justin Elwin. They have an amazing curation of records, books, wellness products and luxury streetwear. There's a new spot called Salle in Leederville. For me, art bookshops are some of my favorite spots in the world and Salle has a great series of photography and art books, as well as gifts and homewares. There’s a great store called Wise Child Wine Store in North Fremantle. It was started by a couple who are just really passionate about wine, they showcase the best in Australia’s and Western Australia’s natural wines. It’s so well curated and I appreciate the graphic design there as well, it’s very welcoming.

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On your favorite spot to grab a coffee

For coffee I go to Il Lido pretty much every day. I have a lot of my meetings there and the coffee is good. You just have that amazing view, you can head there in flip-flops off the beach, enjoy a long lunch and the staff treat you so well. That’s my spot. You don’t have to be so chic and dress to connect, you can be casual, which is one thing I like about being here.

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On the song that best captures Perth for you

It's kind of literal, but there's a song by Bon Iver called ‘Perth’. I remember hearing it for the first time when it was released in 2011, I was traveling on a film shoot, feeling a little homesick. I listened to the song, being intrigued by Bon Iver writing about Perth. It’s a really epic song. Every time I hear the rolling drums it makes me feel both proud and homesick, wherever I am in the world. That’s my song for Perth.

On a window or an aisle seat

I prefer window so I can film and make short little videos and watch the landscape. But I don’t get to do that too often, nowadays. If I’m traveling with my family I always give my kids the window seat. But if I’m by myself, I’ll take the window.

On Perth in one word and why

Opportunity. 


There’s so much new creative energy here in Perth. I’m looking forward to working with the people here and tapping into that energy.

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Ken

LEUNG

‘I’m rediscovering my home. It’s such a luxury to have all of this vast space and beauty around us.’