Chay Costello is MoMA Design Store’s ultimate arbiter of design: Working with MoMA for over 20 years now as Associate Director of Merchandising, she manages all of the store’s buying and product selection. Any product you see along its shelves, whether it’s an exhibition catalogue or postcard, board game or lamp, has been filtered through her careful vetting in collaboration with some of the most influential curators of the museum itself. 

Hong Kong’s first MoMA Design Store has just opened at K11 Musea, a momentous debut with a staggering 6,000 sq. ft. of retail space. This makes it not only Hong Kong’s first, but Asia’s largest MoMA Design Store, compared with sister stores such as those in Tokyo and Kyoto. Visitors can expect a carefully curated range of merchandise, plenty of exclusive products, as well as Hong Kong limited editions. 

MoMA Design Store Hong Kong
The MoMA Design Store Hong Kong is Asia’s largest: a 6,000 sq. ft. store located inside the K11 Musea’s Muse Edition, an area dedicated to art and design.

At the same time, the Hong Kong store is unique in the aspect of its design: enlisting the help of Hong Kong architectural firm Edge Design Institute to bring together local elements within the store. Modern bamboo touches mingle with stainless steel modular shelving islands and counters, interplaying with dim sum carts of Cantonese tradition dotted around the space. MoMA Design Store is also the only store with a distinct logo presence on K11 Musea’s 50,000 sq. ft. live greenery facade.

Thanks to Costello, MoMA Design Store Hong Kong holds an extensive and varied product range — making it a true mecca for design lovers and those searching for the ultimate thoughtful gift or memento.

MoMA Design Store Hong Kong - Chay Costello
Chay Costello, Associate Director of Merchandising at MoMA Design Store.

We chatted with Chay Costello on her passion for lasting design, her experience in bringing the most innovative goods to Hong Kong, and what she believes continues to reaffirm MoMA Design Store as an authority of great design.

What was your first encounter with design, how did you grow your passion for it?

I started working at MoMA over 20 years ago, and it was my first role straight out of college, so you could say MoMA helped me develop my passion for design. My degree was in Victorian Studies, which focused on the art and literature of the fin de siècle period in England and Europe at the end of the 19th century when old ways were giving way to early modernist ideas.

Interestingly, MoMA’s collection begins during the late 19th century. In fact, one of MoMA’s earliest design-related exhibitions in 1933 was Objects: 1900 and Today – looking at the way designers were reflecting the changing world around them just over the preceding 30 or so years. So the collection begins where my course of study left off and leads to the present and beyond — reflecting the legacy of the early modern movements I had studied.

MoMA Design Store Hong Kong
Inside the MoMA Design Store Hong Kong.

There have been a number of terrific exhibitions over the years exploring MoMA’s role in the development of Good Design in the 20th century. And then there have been a number of groundbreaking exhibitions contemplating the present and future of design like Paola Antonelli’s exhibitions Design and the Elastic Mind in 2008 and Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects in 2011. 

Also, the Museum’s collection is incredibly dynamic with new designs being acquired all the time to document the way designers are forming and responding to the world around us. All of the products we offer at MoMA Design Store are reviewed by MoMA curators, and we have relationships with many artists and designers in the collection to ensure that we are engaging our community in meaningful dialogues about design.

How do you define ‘Good Design’?

Truly, I believe that there is no absolute definition of ‘Good Design’. Because I have spent so much time researching and cataloguing and trying to pinpoint and convey the definition, I came up with some key filters to help get at some of the key properties of good design, but I like to think of these filters as being dynamic like design itself – subject to change.

At MoMA Design Store, first we assess a potential new product against our design filters to ensure every item is a good fit with our vision of good design. The criteria we employ ranges from cultural significance to innovative technology, materials & textiles. We also take into consideration whether or not the item is in MoMA’s collection or exhibition and finally the object’s educational merit for children.

Next, each proposed product undergoes a rigorous examination where we test the products — we chop vegetables with the cooking knives, we play our music on speaker after speaker to determine which has the best sound quality, we bring toys home for our children to play with – we really have to believe in a product before we move forward with it. Then MoMA’s curatorial department evaluates the item’s design DNA and its ability to enrich and enliven with every use. Only those items that make it through these important steps can successfully become part of our assortment – so having a product carried by MoMA Design Store holds real meaning. 

What Hong Kong-exclusive products can we expect at the new MoMA store?

MoMA Design Store Hong Kong will have an extensive range of MoMA Design Store products. In addition to an authoritative selection of MoMA Publications, the Hong Kong store will have a specially selected product offer including limited edition products exclusive to Hong Kong.

We are particularly excited about the Hong Kong Skyline Collection on a variety of items including t-shirts, tote bags, color-changing mugs, notebooks and postcards. It mirrors a similar suite of products we have in New York featuring the NYC Skyline. 

MoMA Design Store Hong Kong - Hong Kong Limited Edition
The Hong Kong Skyline collection.

MoMA Design Store Hong Kong will also have a pop-up store by Danish design brand, Hay, known for its high-quality and well-designed products made in collaboration with some of the world’s most talented designers. We first introduced the Hay Mini Market to the United States in a pop-up in the Soho MoMA Design Store in New York City, and we are thrilled to be bringing the Hay pop-up to Hong Kong. The Hong Kong pop-up will be held at the store until January 2020. 

MoMA Design Store Hong Kong
The MoMA Design Store Hong Kong HAY pop-up store will feature a ‘Six-Colour Bag’ by Susan Bijl with tonal colourways curated by Bertjan Pot, which showcases both designers’ fascination with materials, patterns and colours,” says Costello.

Another exciting exclusive product that will be on offer at MoMA Design Store Hong Kong is the Heng Balance Lamp created by Guangdong based designer, Zanwen Li – this minimalist lamp which combines innovative technology with traditional craftsmanship. 

MoMA Design Store Hong Kong - Heng Balance Lamp
Heng Balance Lamp by Zanwen Li

How is sustainability coming into play with new products being created?

Sustainability is extremely important to MoMA Design Store, and with new products being created all the time we are dedicated to championing sustainability in design. Increasingly we are seeing designers devising new ways to create mindful products, and we are dedicated to supporting such initiatives. A great example of sustainable designs that we recently discovered are the Palorosa Basket Tote Bags designed by Cecilia Pirani, which are handmade out of recycled plastic in Guatemala and are also available at MoMA Design Store Hong Kong. 

In your 20 years with MoMA, how has ‘exhibition merchandising’ evolved — is there more of a demand for more meaningful and innovative objects rather than simply mementos of an exhibit?

Within months of The Museum of Modern Art opening in 1929, there was retail activity in the lobby with visitors purchasing photos of the artwork on view and exhibition catalogues. That initial need from visitors — to take home with them a memento of their experience at MoMA – remains, and we are dedicated to honouring it and providing the type of traditional exhibition merchandise you expect when you visit a museum like postcards, posters and exhibition catalogues.

However, because MoMA is unique in having a design collection that includes everyday objects like Massimo and Lella Vignelli’s melamine stacking dinnerware designed in 1964 or a chess set designed by Man Ray in the 1920s, we are also able to offer visitors the opportunity to bring a little piece of the collection home with them. These are design objects that are also available for sale at MoMA Design Store Hong Kong so we have the ability to create a unique product offer outside of what is traditionally thought of as what you’d find in a museum store.

MoMA Design Store Hong Kong
Also part of the HAY pop-up are George Sowden’s bottle series, one of the bestsellers for MoMA Design Store. Shown here on one of Edge Design Institute’s dim sum trolley-inspired furniture.

When it comes to exhibition merchandise, there is definitely a demand for more meaningful and innovative objects. A prime example of this was during Paola Antonelli’s 2018 exhibition Items: Is Fashion Modern? The exhibition explored the past, present, and sometimes the future of 111 items of clothing and accessories that have had a strong impact on the world in the 20th and 21st centuries and continue to hold currency today.

It was the first time MoMA had an exhibition related to fashion since 1944, and it was a terrific opportunity for us to create a unique product offer related to the exhibition. We worked with curators and brands and manufacturers represented in the exhibition to create special edition products that celebrated the designs on view. Two of these included a Champion hoodie emblazoned with a collegiate rendition of the MoMA logo and a Yankees baseball cap with the MoMA logo embroidered on the side – both of these are also on offer at MoMA Design Store Hong Kong. 

We intend to continue going beyond the usual mementos of an exhibition to provide art and design lovers the opportunity to bring a little bit of MoMA into their everyday lives.

MoMA Design Store Hong Kong, Shop 135, 1/F, K11 Musea, Victoria Dockside, 18 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong

Evelyn Lok
Deputy Editor
When not trying out the latest beauty and wellness trends, Evelyn is likely enjoying a perfectly balanced negroni or exploring some of Hong Kong's best new places to eat and drink. At Lifestyle Asia she covers everything from the biggest events in town to interviews with Hong Kong specialists, with topics spanning art, food and drink, health, tech, and travel.