If you’re ever looking for Sabrina Ho, it might be smart to check the front row.
That’s where the young businesswoman can usually be found during fashion weeks, whether in New York, Paris, London or Milan.
As Ho becomes increasingly involved in the expansion of her family’s business empire, and in the fortunes of Macau itself, she regularly explores such events and destinations for inspiration, soaking up new ideas and concepts like a sponge.
“When I go to a fashion week and to fashion shows, I'm always trying to look at things a little differently and not just at the beautiful clothes,” says Ho, who is the eldest daughter of gaming tycoon Stanley Ho and Legislative Assembly of Macau member and entrepreneur Angela Leong. “I look at the catwalk, the scenes they have built and how they have set things up—the settings behind the whole show.”
Ho is quick to put what she learns into practice, the Regency Art Hotel being a prime example. Ho was tasked with overseeing renovation of the 30-year-old Macau landmark, but instead of ordering a complete overhaul, she tapped into how other cities in the world have embraced their heritage while charting a course into the future. “That experience with the Regency was like learning from scratch,” Ho says.
“I’m learning about architecture, about construction, about how to look at the prints and how to become completely involved in the design of a hotel.”
And while Ho also has a hand in the development of a boutique hotel in Hong Kong’s Lan Kwai Fong entertainment district, her role as project manager with the Karl Lagerfeld and Versace hotels on the Cotai Strip has attracted the most attention.
The Grand Lisboa Palace development, featuring the only hotel in the world to be designed by Lagerfeld, as well as the first Palazzo Versace in Asia, is set to be unveiled in 2018. Her involvement with two fashion-industry icons—and the brands that have made their names instantly recognisable globally—has the businesswoman buzzing.
“It’s a huge project,” says Ho. “It’s really quite intimidating, but exciting at the same time. We’ve been putting this idea of bringing fashion and Macau together, and we’ve been approaching brands to be our partners. Fashion, design and hotels—it’s a new combination. I am someone who believes that you should always look at things from a fresh angle, and that’s what we are doing with this project.”
The Lisboa brand will add a theme park with rollercoasters and rides, a multi-function centre to host art exhibitions, and the things Ho and company do best: food, wine and art.
“You see Hollywood themes, Parisian scenes, a lot of grand hotels like the Grand Lisboa and L’Arc, which also looks like grand French style,” says Ho. “But now we are looking to expand, at ways to bring a new, young vision—the young blood, if you like. That’s why we are bringing fashion and art into the architecture and the design of the project. It is about bringing what I do, what I love, into the family business. It’s a perfect balance.”
Ho is excited by the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Once again she has enjoyed a front-row seat as the city has undergone unprecedented change—and continues to do so—thanks to the plethora of official bodies on which she sits. The list ranges from the Youth Committee of the Macao Chamber of Commerce to the Boao Youth Forum for Asia.
“There is so much going on in terms of the cultural development of the city,” Ho says. “Macau is special, with its unique history. Before the focus was on the gaming and casinos, but we can see now that the city is focusing on culture, on tourism and on art. We want to bring more shows in, more concerts, more entertainment.”
Ho spent her school days boarding in the English county of Yorkshire before returning to Asia and the University of Hong Kong, where she studied art. It was a passion passed down from her father, and she says she first put brush to canvas at about the age of four. Ho says of her tycoon father “has a hidden talent for painting and I think I picked it up from him. I like artists who make you think, who are a little bit surreal, like Dalí.”
After graduation, Ho became a champion of the burgeoning art community in Macau, which has also been encouraged by local government. An auction scene has also developed, led by Ho’s Poly Auction Macau group, while properties such as the Regency Art Hotel are addressing the need for contemporary venues.
“These things—just like fashion and art—are what this generation is interested in,” says Ho. “It is what we love. I see the development of art and fashion hotels as adding to what we already have, upgrading for a new generation. It’s like, rather than buying a new phone, you can upgrade your phone.”
Ho has arrived for the Macau Tatler interview and cover shoot with work papers in hand, making notes before and while we talk. She is determined to keep moving forward, she says, having only just returned from one of her frequent trips to London. The next day she’ll head to Australia.
It sounds exhausting, but time spent with Ho leaves one admiring her seemingly boundless energy, as well as the enthusiasm with which she talks about her work.
“I think you find inspiration in seeing new things and I am always looking around,” Ho says. “I always seem to be on the move. If I am just at home, I’m not the kind of person who can just sit on the couch and watch TV. I am constantly doing three things at the same time. I’m always looking into what’s new: new websites, new designs, new ideas.”
The hope now, the ambitious young go-getter insists, is that she can continue to absorb influences and experiences, and share the results with others. “I think you have to keep learning,” says Ho, “and keep looking for inspiration.”
A version of this article appeared in the Oct-Nov 2016 issue of Macau Tatler.
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