July 05, 2018

Profile: My life: Arthur de Villepin

Source: Post Magazine


The co-founder of a Hong Kong-based wine brand talks to Shirley Lau about growing up in the shadow of a famous father and becoming his own man

Photo: Jonathan Wong

HILD OF THE WORLD When my family celebrated my fifth birthday, I cried and asked my mum why there were no elephants around. We had just moved back to Paris from New Delhi, where we lived for two years, because my father worked there as a diplomat. I vaguely remembered India as a hectic melting pot, and the elephants. I was born in Washington (in the United States), in 1988. Before we moved back to France, I had a somewhat patriotic feeling towards that country, so I was happy to go there and spend my formative years in a place that had been living in my imagination. But growing up in France was not always easy. My dad, Dominique de Villepin, was the prime minister of France from 2005 to 2007.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS I have always been proud and supportive of what my dad did. Yet being the son of a public figure, I lived in my father's shadow and felt that people had a lot of expectation of me. In Paris, I did badly at school. When I was 16, my school required me to repeat the academic year. It was a frustration for me, with people saying my dad was the prime minister but his son was a low achiever. Instead of repeating the year, I switched to a boarding school in Reims, a city northeast of Paris. It was a big step that led me to find myself and develop my personality. In the first semester, I was fifth in my class. In Reims, I enjoyed being surrounded by people from all walks of life. It was nothing like Paris, a tiny society full of people in urban businesses.

FRIENDS IN DEED I became aware at a young age that politics is a cruel world. In our family, my father was a protector figure, but when I saw him coming under attack publicly, I felt very vulnerable. In 2006, he tried to pass a law to ease youth unemployment. That led to months-long protests by young people across France. At school, I had people threatening or hurling insults at me. It was through incidents like this that I learned to differentiate between real friends and people who only tried to make me feel bad. But I also thought that, in order to protect myself, I should open up, be a bit naïve and meet people who could bring me something positive. It's better than being an introvert and hiding complexes that may come out later and irritate people. So, in my teenage years, I interned at some organisations, from the army to the fire brigade. I got to meet some amazing people.

GLOBAL CITIZEN Being embedded in an international environment since I was born, I have not been moulded to have just a French identity. I have this insatiable thirst to meet people and understand them. I would feel bad if I were around only people of the same background and culture as mine. That's why I chose to go to university in England instead of Paris. The big French population in London put me off, so I opted for Bath, where I studied international relations. I picked this subject not to get into politics or become a diplomat, but because of my passion to understand the world.

HONG KONG HOMING INSTINCT In 2008, I came to Hong Kong for the first time, to do an internship at an American sourcing company. After one week, I was already hooked on this city. This is a place where people see tomorrow as an opportunity. In France, people tend to see tomorrow as a threat. Two months later, I returned to Bath with the conviction that I had to come back to Hong Kong as soon as possible. And so I did. In 2010, I found a job with a French environmental company here. It was an interesting marketing job even though the work hours were regular - I am obsessed with freedom and dread working nine to five, but I love Hong Kong so much that it didn't matter.

BUILDING BRIDGES Shortly after I moved here, I was introduced to a young Frenchman, Thibault Pontallier, who is the Asia ambassador of Bordeaux winery Chateau Margaux. When we first met in a cafe in Admiralty, we started off debating French politics. Then we talked about our aspirations and both of us wanted to start a business. The next weekend, we met again at a boat party. When everyone else had practically passed out, we remained sober and came up with the idea of launching a wine label that combined wine with art. That was the beginning of Pont des Arts, which is a collection of wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy. Each label features the work of an artist, starting with late Chinese-French artist Zao Wou-ki, who was a friend of my family.

My mother is an artist and so art has always been an important part of my life. It helps take away your worries and enables you to see life differently. I try to bring art de vivre to Hong Kong through Pont des Arts, and through YellowKorner, a Paris-based photo gallery. When the gallery owners asked me if I wanted to help them open a shop here, I immediately relished the idea without thinking whether I could cope with two businesses. Last year, I reached my physical limit and was completely exhausted juggling so many things. Now things have improved and I have managed to find the right balance again.

FORTUNE'S FAVOURITE All the things I have in Hong Kong today, I built them up myself. Maybe my name has helped. I just know I am lucky to have a good family with good values. Maybe I have got more through my background, but I feel like it's my duty to try every day to make myself deserve the luck that I have. I have so many ideas in my head that if I don't do something, it will be a waste. Time will tell if I deserve my luck.


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