The Aesthete: Adrian Cheng talks more personal taste

The art patron and entrepreneur rounds off his list of likes with Ethiopian coffee, imperfect ceramics and the dapper style of Leonard Cohen

Adrian Cheng at home in Hong Kong
Adrian Cheng at home in Hong Kong | Image: Ken Wu

My style icon is Leonard Cohen, a true gentleman who always looked comfortable with himself. Yes, he was a dapper, suit-wearing musician, but it’s his casual outfits – the rollnecks, shearling jackets and chunky scarves – that I love. And he always wore a hat, which I try to do – although mine is straw rather than felt.

The last music I downloaded was La Traviata by Verdi. I took opera-singing lessons when I was young, and quite seriously too. I think when people say they don’t like opera, they either haven’t seen a live performance or didn’t see a good one.

Cheng’s style icon Leonard Cohen
Cheng’s style icon Leonard Cohen | Image: Redferns/Getty Images

The best book I’ve read in the past year is The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class by Elizabeth Currid-Halkett, who is professor of public policy at the University of Southern California. It provides a wealth of knowledge about the new elite class, their social position and upward mobility – and speaks volumes about the importance of understanding millennials. My team and I are researching Chinese millennials along with Generation Z (those born after 1995) because these groups will have the most spending power in the next 30 years, yet remain a puzzle. They’re global, self-centred and capricious, with no loyalty to particular brands, and a large part of their lives, from shopping to socialising, takes place on their phones.

A recent “find” is Coutume Café in Paris. They’re serious about their coffee. I always make sure I drop by whenever I am in town, which is about every three months. The interior is not flashy or in-your-face, and I like its community feeling. 47 Rue de Babylone, Paris 75007 (+331-4551 5047;


An indulgence I would never forgo is my morning coffee – preferably a simple Americano. Very occasionally, I’ll go for an aged ice-drip with Ethiopian beans.

The last item of clothing I added to my wardrobe was a chequered sweater by Korean-born designer Woo Young Mi. For me she’s the only Asian designer who understands the physique of Asian men. Her pieces are simple and chic, and she’s deft at mixing materials. Knitwear from £340;

The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class by Elizabeth Currid-Halkett
The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class by Elizabeth Currid-Halkett

The grooming staple I’m never without is my fragrance, Eau Sauvage by Christian Dior – a distinctive woody and peppery scent that keeps me calm. £65 for 100ml EDT;

The best gift I’ve given recently was a set of “imperfect” ceramic art pieces by Julie Proglin and Jesse McLin. The duo have been visiting the village of Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province for many years – for centuries it was home to the most coveted handmade china – learning the history and practice of the local craftsmen. They went through a lot of trial and error, yet they somehow turned mistakes into techniques. Thanks to the country’s middle-class boom and a growing appreciation for bespoke objects among Chinese millennials, the craft is getting a second life. Latitude 22N, +852-2480 1182;

Dior Eau Sauvage, £65 for 100ml EDT
Dior Eau Sauvage, £65 for 100ml EDT

And the best one I’ve received recently is a silver Veritas key given to me this year by dean Michael Smith of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard, my alma mater, as a token of appreciation for the support that I’ve given to nurturing future talent. It symbolises the doors Harvard opened for me. It’s a very sentimental gift and a reminder that you must always give back where you have taken.

In my fridge you’ll always find some organic nibbles. But to be honest, I rarely open it. I’m not a fan of chilled food or drinks, and I have been on a low-sodium diet for many years, so I try to stay away from processed food too.

Cheng’s Veritas key from Harvard
Cheng’s Veritas key from Harvard | Image: Ken Wu

An object I would never part with is my glasses. I need them because I’m short-sighted, but also I think thick-rimmed glasses go well with any outfit. I have a few pairs that I rotate, but my favourite pair was handmade by a Japanese artisan.

The one artist whose work I would collect if I could is Leonardo da Vinci. I sometimes imagine what it would be like to meet him, but I can’t even picture his face. Unfortunately, his works aren’t really in the hands of private collectors, so they rarely come up for sale.


If I weren’t doing what I do, I would be a museum director by day and bar singer by night.

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