peter hoe: 25 years of evolution and beyond

peter hoe unfurls a table runner that’s hand-stitched from separate fabric panels, a mix of bright floral motifs and pastel geometric patterns. it’s the kind of eclectic combination that could either go very wrong or hit all the right notes, and this definitely belongs in the latter category. peter describes it as “everything clashes, but in a matching way”, which captures his aesthetics to a t. what may come across as random piecing of different looks are derived from thoughtful choices curated with discerning eyes – peter’s. every single item at his store is designed by peter himself, with south east asian sensibilities and malaysian essences in mind, and manufactured exclusively for his brand. he finds inspirations from his travels, and makes multiple trips to india, indonesia, thailand and vietnam each year to work on his collections.

the table runner is just one of many, many examples of the design philosophy that has defined his eponymous brand since he launched it 25 years ago, first as a batik apparel boutique in dayabumi and later, a lifestyle store opposite central market. peter hoe evolution stood out for its striking green facade and belying its size, it was a treasure trove of jewellery, home decor, ephemera and gift items with a decidedly ethnic flavour that complemented his original batik line.

true to the shop’s name, peter constantly evolved his brand to cover new grounds. from the vibrant colours and bold prints that characterised evolution, he went on to explore a cleaner look that he presented at a second store called peter hoe beyond. opened in 2002, it took up 8,600 square feet on the second level of the art deco-style lee rubber building, a stone’s throw from evolution. the space was massive but peter didn’t have trouble filling it up. it even left room for him to house a cafe within the store, an extension of his love for cooking and entertaining.

everything clashes, but in a matching way

in fact, the entire concept was something of a dream come true; peter once had a vision that he would someday own a store in a huge warehouse, with trees and water. beyond fulfilled all that, albeit with plastic trees and a manmade water feature at the cafe area.

for regular customers, the second store heightened their peter hoe experience. it was bigger, brighter and offered more to satiate their retail appetite. those who encountered the brand for the first time, on the other hand, were usually overwhelmed upon stepping into beyond. where does one begin when all manners of covetable goods covered every table, shelf, cabinet, nook and cranny?

as it was then, the shop today – consolidated into peter hoe evolution & beyond since this past january – is a veritable assault on all the senses from the word go. long tables are laden with neat stacks of fabric placemats and tea towels; rows of printed paper notebooks and greeting cards; baskets holding small pouches; an assortment of home wares made of silver, wood, metal and glass. next to them, roomy robes and breezy kurtas hang on clothing racks while glass cabinets showcase more ornate home decor items.

the displays are placed close to each other and separated by narrow aisles. walking through the store is not unlike navigating a labyrinth with treasures at every turn. they’re not only at the eye and floor level; look up and more bounty beckon. gigantic tassels hang from the beams while food covers, constructed of white wires and wrapped in white mesh, look like romantic lampshades when strung up.

towards the back of the shop, you’ll find what is practically a small hill built of plump cushions in varying dimensions and boasting gorgeous covers. for many, these are the piece de resistance among the smorgasbord of beautiful things found here. in the last two years alone, the shop has sold a staggering 11,560 of them!

who would have thought that there is such demand for cushions? “supply creates demand,” peter says, surprisingly, turning a basic economy principle on its head. he elaborates on what that supply consists of: “good quality products, reasonable price points, attractive displays and merchandising, product integrity and shelf life that outlasts trends – these are the values my brand is built on.”

pick up any product from his shop and those guiding forces reveal themselves. the placemats that come in a number of designs is a good example. featuring mixed fabrics on both sides and held together by sturdy stitches, they have a firm weight and sell for rm49 for two pieces. adding to their value, every piece is stitched by hand and the materials are either silkscreened or woven manually. in short, every product is an artisanal masterpiece that resulted from the synergy of various craftsmen and their respective skills. the most incredible part of the retail journey, he says, is that it starts from the people who translate his designs into merchandise – the manufacturers. peter is particular about who he collaborates with. “i don’t work with people i don’t have a good feeling about,” he reveals. “it’s not about making money alone but creating products that have integrity.”

he works directly with manufacturers so he knows how everything is made and has a say in the process. “i do the quality control myself and i can be very strict. the production people are afraid of me,” peter admits with a laugh, “i specify how i want things done and i will scold them if they mess up. the next day, i bring them cake!”

it’s not about making money alone but creating products that have integrity

peter has nurtured such strong connections with them that some have become more than just business partners, like his manufacturer in jaipur who invited peter to his eldest son’s wedding. a few don’t even ask for deposits, and accepts his orders even though he’s a small buyer whereas they usually deal with large fashion houses. “it’s all based on trust, and we learn from each other. the boss of the company that produces my robes will actually sit down with me for two whole days each time i’m there. he says i bring a lot of energy and new ideas, and he’s never seen anyone match fabrics the way i do.”

how did he find these manufacturers in the first place? “destiny,” he says with a smile. “there’s a gentleman in rajasthan i know from 20 years ago but we lost contact. about eight years ago, i bumped into and now he produces my placemats. another time i was at a warehouse in indonesia when i heard my name called. it was a salesgirl who worked at a place i used to buy from. we rekindled that working relationship, and that warehouse now supplies the white basket wares you see in my shop.”

there’s a story behind every one of his product and peter can detail where and how each element came about. “i feel like a parent to them. i was there at their conception and i saw their evolution all the way from an idea to the actual product.”

 

if you manage to catch him during quiet moments at the store, he will regale you with those tales. like how the range of acid-etched iron candle holders are made in moradabad, known as metal town as it’s populated by generations of metalsmith. decorative durians, carved from acacia wood and painted white or gold, are a side project of a farmer and school teacher in bali. the unique effect on the glass terrarium votive candle holders was created using a french antique style acid wash while the chinese silk scarves feature hand-rolled edges.

stacked against a wall is a bundle of fabrics that were block printed by hand in bagru, on the outskirts of jaipur. you can’t tell by looking but each piece was completed by stamping the pattern blocks some 500 times. peter visited the factory when they were being made, a most memorable encounter that he names as one of his greatest joys. “it was dark by the time i got there. it was a clear night and a crescent moon hung in the sky. there was no one on the streets but a few dogs so it was practically silent,” he recalls. “all i could hear was the rhythmic, heavy thumping of wooden blocks... it was the most beautiful sound. i looked inside and saw the men working in the dim light of an exposed filament bulb, stamping away with all their might and never stopping until the length of the fabric had been covered. it’s things like these that give so much meaning to what i do.”

like the fabric printers, peter works relentlessly on his brand. he doesn’t, however, keep track of how many creations he has birthed in the last quarter of a century. “i’m not nostalgic, i don’t hang on to anything,” he explains, preferring an organic approach to most things. he follows his instincts in deciding if a product may sell, defying fads and focusing instead on goods that can travel anywhere. on more than one occasion, he has spotted people wearing or carrying a peter hoe design while travelling. more serendipitously, a customer purchased an item from his shop as a gift to a friend overseas who, upon receiving it, happily exclaimed that she did in fact already owned a peter hoe product!

it’s not uncommon to know of customers who have been buying from peter since his dayabumi days and remained loyal all these years, spreading the word on this polished gem of a store on the gritty edges of chinatown. peter doesn’t advertise, nor has he bothered with any social media presence for his brand but the shop has gained international fame thanks to exposure in publications such as lonely planet, wallpaper, new york times, and also on cnn. their reports confirm what the repeat visitor to his store can attest to: the goods and designs will differ but you can always expect a riot of colours, prints, textures and more variety than the spices that go into a good curry. such consistency is definitely one of peter hoe’s strongest traits, the key to the brand’s growth and that keeps it relevant through the times.

“i have a clear vision of what my brand represents, and have always kept to the same aesthetics and principles,” he affirms. “it’s this one pair of eyes, one same brain that decides every design and detail.” he’s also the one you see at the shop every day, unless he’s travelling, knee-deep in its running. don’t be surprised if he’s the one taking your lunch orders or clearing your plates, and he often does the washing up too. you’d be hard pressed to find a lifestyle store of his kind in this city, where the energy of the brand flows so seamlessly from its creator all the way to the retail floor.

peter hoe is not just the name and face behind the brand – he is the brand itself, an exuberant bundle of energy who drives his label on the same passion he enjoys life with. that his home looks like his store (“it’s a showroom!” he chuckles) is another testament to his mantra: live the breath you breathe, or you would be living a lie.


 

> peter hoe evolution & beyond 2nd floor, lee rubber building, 145 jalan tun hs lee, kuala lumpur tel +603 2026 9788 opens 10am-7pm daily; hot food service at the cafe starts at noon