Gigi is one of Asia's top creatives with an award-winning track record that includes Cannes, Clio, D&AD, Adfest, Andys, LIA and One Show. Some of her work is even in the permanent collection at Germany's M&K Museum.
We're pleased to say she is also on Cresta's permanent Jury and in 2018 served as a brilliant Chair of our awards. Here she tells us about living and working in Kuala Lumpur.
What is the best thing about living in Kuala Lumpur?
Without a doubt, it's the Food. Write that with a capital F. Malaysia is a food paradise 24/7. The city doesn't sleep, it eats all night long. You can have Chinese, Malay or Indian - and that's just for breakfast. For lunch, there's Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, French, Japanese and more. And we haven't even stepped into the upmarket districts yet.
In which area do you live?
I live in Bukit Jalil, Kuala Lumpur. Bukit means Hill in Bahasa, Jalil is a person's name. So yeah, you could say I live on Jalil Hill, a quiet suburb in Kuala Lumpur.
How would you describe the style of your home?
It's a three-storey link house, end lot, with about 10 feet of land for the porch and garden. We have lots of greens, with birds chirping every morning.
Tell us about your commute
I drive to work every day. It's probably the only time I get to be alone with my thoughts.
Do you have a favourite coffee shop near the office?
APW Bangsar, about 10 minutes from the office on a good day. It used to be a commercial printing factory, Art Printing Works, one of the most prolific printers from the 60s to the 80s — hence the name. Now it's an industrial-themed event space, sort of like an urban campus for the community. Does that make me sound like a hipster? I'm too old to be a hipster.
What's a typical work day for you?
I'm an early bird, and wake up by about 5 or 6am. The sun rises at 7am. As soon as I get up, I pick up my phone, check and answer emails and WhatsApp messages from people who are probably just going to bed.
I look at my schedule, realise I have too many reviews and meetings crammed in an eight-hour period, and make a note to not have too many appointments in one day. Of course, this never happens and the next day invariably repeats itself, just with different people, different work, and different locations. Sometimes I feel like I'm living the advertising version of Groundhog Day.
The rest of the day goes by very quickly. At point time, usually around 4pm - I put some food in my mouth so I can stay somewhat alive and coherent. After which, more people come and see me. I give my 2 cents on this and that. I look at my watch, and tell myself to leave early but it'll be a good few hours before I take my own advice. The day ends with me in bed, at home, going through emails and WhatsApp messages.
Assuming you don't have to work late for once, where would you head for a midweek evening out?
I'd drive home and brain out. Otherwise, it'll be a lazy evening with close friends. Some drinks and dinner would be nice too.
If you could only buy clothes from one designer, who would you choose?
I don't have a favourite fashion designer per se. I like outfits that are comfortable, something minimalist with clean lines.
Do you wear anything that has become your 'signature'?
Hmm… I never thought about it. But if I have to answer, I'd say black is my standard go-to colour. I normally pair a black top with black jeans. My wardrobe colours are mostly blacks, greys and whites. On rare occasions, when I put on some colour — say green, orange, or red — somebody will ask if I'm on holiday.
What was your last 'big' purchase?
I'm not really a big spender. I can't recall…. But I have been doing a lot of shopping with my daughter lately as she's leaving for the UK for further studies. Given the exchange rate, every purchase in UK, however small, will be a 'big' purchase.
If you were having trouble cracking a brief, what or who would you turn to for inspiration?
Well, he's tall, dark, rich and strong. Which perfectly describes my cup of coffee. And if coffee isn't readily available, I turn to Pinterest. It's my favourite go-to site when I need inspiration. I also like to brainstorm with the team. It's one of the things I love most in advertising. And if all these still yields a blank page — it's time to pack up, go home, take a shower, have a good dinner, and only then — another go at the brief.
Can you recommend a little-known area of Kuala Lumpur that we should visit?
Petaling Street. Also called Chinatown. Although there seems to be less Chinese sellers behind the stalls these days. Compared to Chinatown in other countries, Petaling Street is one of the smallest, I think. Therein lies its charm. There are lots of pop-up and speakeasy bars. There are many old shops with the original layout and décor still intact, and old shops converted to new cafes, boutique hotels and such. What I like is the contrast between the old and new, past and present, upmarket and downmarket, commercial and non-commercial in one mad, crowded, hodgepodge spot.
Do you have a favourite bar or restaurant?
It's got to be somewhere in Petaling Street. If you're in the area, drop by Chocha Foodstore. You'll know it when you pass a shop-lot that says Mah Lian Hotel, and above it, established 1969. That's just the facade. The cardboard by the window will tell you if the café is open. Walk in, take a seat and order a Cincalok Fried Chicken or maybe the hand-pulled noodles. I love the feel. The food is authentic as well.
What do you most look forward to doing at the weekend?
Going back to my mom's place in Salak South New Village. It's the place where I grew up. Here, I am surrounded by many fond memories. On Sunday, I have brunch with my daughter, and nephew. My brother and sis-in-law would sometimes drop by with their kids, aged 1+ and 2+. I love having 'babytalk' with them. I'm pretty sure they think their aunty is either mad or drunk.
Old-fashioned kopitiams (coffee house) are great for sipping coffee made the old-fashioned way. I must also have my favourite pork noodle soup, wantan mee, and fried kway teow-uh, not necessarily all at once!
Evenings, I like to prepare dinner for my family. It's something I really look forward to. There is usually about nine of us seated around the dinner table, all in different stages of hunger. I cook up a proper Chinese dinner for them. Soup is a must.
Please share some insight into your 'screentime'… which apps, social media platforms and websites do you use the most and how?
I think I spend too much time looking at the screen actually- and you shouldn't be encouraging me. Sometimes I wonder if I do anything apart from looking at and tapping on my smartphones all day.
That said, I think FB and Insta are great platforms to 'catch up' with friends. I like how technology has somehow allowed us to stay connected with meeting or talking to an actual person.
I use LinkedIn to get updates on my industry, and be reminded that advertising is on its last legs and the media boys/consultants are taking over — depending on who happens to be posting that day. I also use it to search for new talents.
YouTube is for checking out the latest work, content videos, and news. I tend to always get a little distracted and recently made a rule that I should only click on YouTube when absolutely necessary. You'd be surprised how many 'absolutely necessary' moments I can find in a day…
Speaking of news, I get my updates from SinChew and The Star Online. Google and Wikipedia are also useful to check on claims and so-called 'facts'.
WhatsApp is my constant companion. I think there's a server somewhere that uploads 1gb of info everyday from my WhatsApp account. WeChat keeps me connected with my friends in China.
Of course, my favourite-st site is Pinterest. One can never have too much Pinterest.
Finally, what is the answer to the question you would have liked us to ask?
I must say, this whole 'advertising' interview has been about anything but advertising. It sounds like I'm interviewed by Good Housekeeping or Martha Stewart or something. I would have liked to answer questions about social projects — design for good and for the environment.
Over the last few years, I am fortunate enough to be able to work with artisans to preserve traditional art, helping them find a happy balance between the old and new. Projects include Muser Coffee, and Kotagede Silversmith - both with AirAsia Foundation. On rare days, you may find me fussing about among the hard-working silversmiths in Yogyakarta. I love creating something from nothing.
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