Paramount: Ad Agency and Interior Decorator
York Lo: Paramount: Ad Agency and Interior Decorator
Although it is largely forgotten today, Paramount Advertising Agency (百樂門廣告) was one of the leading Chinese-owned ad agencies in Hong Kong which was also involved in interior design and neon lights. The firm which counted many Japanese clients and business partners was responsible for interior decorations for major hotels in HK and Macau and produced the first color animated film in Hong Kong.
James Kwok and his wife with Lo Wing-hau and guests at the opening of the furniture showroom of Paramount in 1957 (KSDN, 1957-1-16); Right: James Kwok (HK Album, 1967)
Paramount was founded sometime after the War in the late 1940s and its leader was James Kwok Tin-chi (郭天志), who was born in Hong Kong in 1923 and attended Lingnan University in Canton. (HK Who’s Who, 1960)The directors of Paramount in the late 1940s aside from Kwok included Quan Joe-maw (關祖謀), Lau Fong and Hue Po-chiu who was also sub-manager of the firm and Lau King and Chan Tin-yu who were on its staff. Its other staff members were Kwan Kwok-fung, Chu Ching-hing, Ms. Leong Chi-ming, Tong Ching, Ho Yat-wan and Lau Shim-hay and the firm at that time was already involved in advertising, publishing, furniture and decoration. (Business Directory of HK, Canton and Macao, 1949) Its offices was located at Room 617 of the Bank of Canton Building in Central in the late 1940s and early 1950s. (HK Chinese Business Directory, 1954)
Quan Joe-maw was the son of pre-War advertising pioneer Kwan Wai-nung (關蕙農, 1880-1956), the “King of Calendar Posters” in the 1920s who was the head of art and printing at SCMP before starting Asiatic Lithographic Printing Press (亞洲五彩石印局) in 1915 which produced many iconic advertisements and calendar posters for firms covered earlier such as Kwong Sang Hong cosmetics, Wing Lee Wai distillery and Camelpaint. Aside from Asiatic, Kwan and/or his sons also established several other firms such as Paramount, Golden Key Advertising & Decorating (金匙廣告), Mercantile Printing Press Co. and Tin Tsun Lithographic Works although Paramount was primarily led by James Kwok and his wife Leung Oi-mei (梁愛媚) with whom he had two children. By the late 1950s, Paramount Advertising had over 48 staff members and was operating out of Room 715 at the Wing On Life Building in Central and the scope of its business included translation, direct mail, silk screen printing, market analysis, opinion research and specialized trade surveys with business covering the entire Southeast Asia and looking to extend to the US, Japan, Canada and Europe. (A Directory of Foreign Advertising Agencies, US Bureau of Foreign Commerce, 1959) The Hong Kong Business Handbook in 1960 described Paramount as one of five largest Chinese-owned ad agencies in Hong Kong. In the late 1950s, Paramount under James Kwok teamed up with Lam Kai, the son of China Paint founder Lam Kwan who had studied animation in the US and supported by composer Leung Lok-yum and sound engineer Lau Yan-chak, they produced the first color cartoon in Hong Kong in March 1959.
In 1956-57, James Kwok established Paramount Interior Decorator (百樂門裝飾有限公司) as Hong Kong entered a phase of construction boom and foreign firms were building hotels and opening offices after the Korean War. To run this business, Kwok hired Lo Wing-hau (盧榮孝) as general manager and Ma Sai-charm (馬世簪) as head of design. It opened a furniture showroom in Wongneichong Road in 1957 with Lo in charge. Within 2 years, the firm had over 100 workers and in addition to interior decorations, it also manufactured high-end furniture for exports to Europe and America.
T.C. Kwok (left) and Lo Wing-hau (center) from Paramount shaking hands with Jose O. Cobarrubias of Imperial Hotel in 1959. (WKYP, 1959-9-27)
By 1960, Paramount Interior Decorator was involved in three major hotel projects in Tsim Sha Tsui – the Imperial Hotel (see article on Chapman Ho) developed by Filipino interests and its Tokyo Japanese restaurant developed by Japanese interests, the Miramar Hotel and the Astor Hotel (see article on Chan Ching-pow) and counted major corporations such as IBM, Jebsen, Deustsche Bank and Jardine as clients for office decoration work.
In January 1961, Paramount relocated to Room 308 of Shell House in Central and the opening reception (which also celebrated the firm’s 4th anniversary) was attended by several hundred guests including Sir S.N. and T.N. Chau, Kan Tong-po and his son Yuet-keung, C.Y. Kwan, Kenneth Fung, Ho Tim, DhunRuttonjee, William Louey and also representatives from BAT, Taikoo Dockyard, Gilman and Coca-Cola, presumably all clients of the firm. (WKYP, 1961-1-11)
One of the major clients for Paramount Interior Decorator in the 1960s was Stanley Ho’s STDM, which had just secured the gambling monopoly in Macau. STDM hired Paramount to design and decorate some of its restaurants and gardens while its affiliate Shun Tak hired them to remodel “Princess Margaret”, a 1250 passengers vessel built in the UK in 1931 that they acquired and renamed “S.S. Macau”. For the “S.S. Macau” project, Paramount sent its design chief Ma Sai-charm to Tokyo and Osaka to buy lighting and materials and met with shipyards on technical issues in early 1964. (WKYP, 1964-3-12)
The design team at Paramount Interior Decorator in the 1960s comprised of talent with diverse backgrounds with Chinese staff who studied design in the US, the UK and Australia and in December 1963, the firm hired an interior designer from Japan to cater to clients who were interested in Japanese designs. (WKYP, 1963-12-20)
T.C. Kwok and his wife (first two from the right) welcoming executives from Toray at the Kai Tak Airport in 1963 (WKYP, 1963-2-19)
On the advertising side, Paramount began to work closely with Japanese partners and clients in the early 1960s as Japanese brands began to make major headways into the local consumer markets. In 1960, Paramount won a HK$90,000 neonlight advertising contract in Hong Kong from Toshiba and the Kwoks spent two weeks in Tokyo and Osaka to meet with Toshiba. (WKYP, 1960-9-23). Around the same time, Paramount also became the Southeast Asia representative of Nissen Inc (日宣), a leading Japanese advertising agency and printer from Osaka founded in 1953 that was known for its printed goods and signed up many banks and textile mills as clients. In 1962, the Kwoks visited Manila on behalf of Nissen and then spent two weeks in Tokyo and Osaka to meet with Nissen and other Japanese clients and partners. (KSDN, 1962-3-31) In February 1963, Paramount assisted its Japanese client Toyo Rayon (東洋麗絨, also known as Toray) in organizing a fashion show in the Gloucester Hotel in Central featuring dresses designed by then up and coming French designer Yves Saint Laurent using materials produced by Toray.
In the meantime, Paramount continued to count many Western brands such as the Swiss luxury watch brand AudemarsPiguet as clients. In June 1962, Mrs. Kwok spent three months in Europe for leisure, advertising business and its cartoon production in partnership with Cheung’s Film Production (to be covered). (KSEN, 1962-6-27) In August 1968, Mrs. Kwok returned from her seventh European trip during which she visited Spain, Switzerland, West Germany, Italy and France for three months both for the advertising business and her handbag business which had a retail shop in the Central Building in Central. (KSEN, 1968-8-30)
T.C. Kwok and his wife (first and second left) with director of Audemars Piguet (second from right) and representative from AP’s HK distributor Desco in 1961 (WKYP, 1961-5-26)
In the 1970s, James Kwok served as head of the membership committee for the South China Athletic Association during which he broke record in terms of the number of new members he recruited. (KSDN, 1976-6-15) He was also involved in the Chinese Recreation Club and Jaycees.
In the early 1980s, Paramount Advertising was operating out of Room 403 of Cheong Sun Building at 52 Wellington Street in Central and James Kwok was still in charge as managing director and was supported by Charles Lee as art director, Jones Wong as general manager, Joel Laykin as creative director and Carol Kim as campaign director. (Broadcasting Cable Yearbook, 1981)
As a firm, Paramount Interior Decorator was dissolved in 1986 while Paramount Advertising Ltd was incorporated in 1974 and dissolved in 1995.
Sources (other than those cited above):
This article was first posted on 16th August 2021.
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