Stylish Gallerist Pearl Lam On Fashion Icons And Art Basel Hong Kong

Dressing like an art world insider is decidedly in for 2024.

Just look at art-inspired fashion brands like Curator SF, Art Dealer and Rejina Pyo, all of which have gained popularity over the past year. Gallerist Pearl Lam, a gallerist from Hong Kong, was on top of this sophisticated style, long before it was trending.

Lam is the founder of her namesake gallery, Pearl Lam Galleries, which has locations in Shanghai (founded in 2005), and Hong Kong (founded in 2012). She was recently called the “maroon-coiffured doyenne of the Hong Kong art scene,” and with International Women’s Day coming up on March 8, she is certainly a noted trailblazer for her taste.

Lam got her start in the art world in the 1990s, eventually helping put the Hong Kong arts scene on the map. “I remember my father asking me in the 1990s, ‘are you coming back to work for the family business?’” recalls Lam. “He was furious when I said I’m opening an art gallery,” she said. “He had no understanding of what art was.”

Once Lam mounted her first exhibition in 1993, she felt alive. “I was no longer a living zombie,” she said. Before she opened her gallery, she curated works of artists across the world, but mainly in France, which helped her develop her taste in art, fashion, and culture.

Lam is not only a fashion-forward gallerist, but one with bold taste in contemporary art. She represents Mr. Doodle (the moniker of British artist Sam Cox), a social media star who hand-painted his home as a work of art. She also shows the cartoonish artwork of Philip Colbert, an artist known for his collection of quirky red pantsuits—not to mention his recent home tour with Vogue.

Right now, Lam recently kicked off a year-long a collaboration with art scene hotspot sketch London, where she’s currently showing “Heaven on Earth,” a series by artist Danful Yang. The exhibit uses perfume bottles as the setting for miniature landscape paintings, inspired by the artist’s own wanderlust.

One way to define Lam’s style is rebellious, as it’s right in line with her love of industry disruptors—many of which she features in her rotating cast of interviewees on her Pearl Lam Podcast. “I interview artists, curators, writers, and people who are disrupting the mainstream,” she said. “There are so many people who are not mainstream but have cutting edge ideas, and I want to feature them.”

“I wear Dior, unless everyone is wearing it,” said Lam. “And I love this Japanese label called Noir by Kei Ninomiya. I love designers depending on the season.”

She counts Asian designers like We11Done Fashion, and loves a Chinese label called Ms. Min, who was shortlisted for the LVMH Prize in 2016. She relies on the art of feng shui to help her build her closet. “I love the color purple, but according to my feng shui, green is a popular color for me this year,” notes Lam. “I’m superstitious; I’m Chinese.”

More than anything, Lam is looking forward to mounting her latest booth at Art Basel Hong Kong, which kicks off on March 28 featuring Asian, African, and British artists. But art will remain the star. “In my booth, we have a dress code—everyone must wear black, because we don’t want to take the attention away from the artwork,” said Lam. “Black blue or beige, a muted booth. The artwork is the star, not us. We must be supportive.”

Her taste in art, as well as fashion, is developed by her constant travels. “For me, it’s simple,” said Lam. “If my gallery requires me to sit down all the time, I will never have a gallery. I love to travel; I meet artists and curators all over the world, because as a gallerist, it’s important to see what galleries and museums in major cities are doing and showing. Engaging and talking with people is key.”

Creativity is born out of conversations and often it sparks an idea for an art show. “Traveling helps me keep on top of the cultural zeitgeist, this way, I can feel what will happen next,” said Lam, who recently returned from a whirlwind trip to Nigeria and Ghana visiting artist studios.

To Lam, fashion collaborations between artists and fashion brands are the future. “Look at Takashi Murakami,” she said. “Without Louis Vuitton, we wouldn’t know him in the same way today. The same goes with Yayoi Kusama. She is known, but without Louis Vuitton, she wouldn’t be the big brand she is now.”

Over the past 10 years, fashion collaborations with artists have become a hit, with artists like Jeff Koons teaming up with Louis Vuitton for a series of handbags, or the Pablo Picasso collaboration with Moschino in 2020, as well as Dior collaborating with artists like Judy Chicago, Polly Apfelbaum, and Song Dong. Lam counts herself a fan of the 2021 capsule collaboration between Japanese artist Nara Yoshitomo and fashion designer Stella McCartney, too.

“It not only helps the artist, it helps fashion brands too,” said Lam. “When artists used to collaborate with brands over a decade ago, they were frowned upon. Now it’s a good thing. Art has been democratized and is more accessible.”

Next up, she is opening a solo exhibition of Maggi Hambling called “The Night,” which opens at her Hong Kong location on March 26. Next year, she will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of her gallery.

“Having an art gallery in 2024 is not just about having a space,” said Lam. “With technology and social media, do we need a new format? I’m figuring out how the world is moving, and how art collecting is changing.”

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