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Hong Kong Fashion Week proves "doorway to China"

With China in the sights of the world's most glamorous brands, Hong Kong is the fashionable place to do business.

Photo: Runway success: high-fashion on parade in Hong Kong.
Runway success: high-fashion on parade in Hong Kong.

"We would, one day, like to see Hong Kong become a fashion capital to rival Paris, New York and London," said Jack So, the incumbent Chairman of the HKTDC and de facto host of the Autumn/Winter 2014 Hong Kong Fashion Week. So's remarks came as part of the opening ceremony for the event, the 45th iteration of one of Asia's most important fashion trade shows.

Amplifying his hopes for the event, So said: "This is one of the largest fashion parades in Asia and we welcome some of the most talented fashion designers from around the world. The Hong Kong SAR is committed to establishing the city as a regional fashion hub in Asia and we are building up a talent pool that blends commercialism and creativity."

So, just how justified was the Chairman's optimism with regard to the show and Hong Kong's burgeoning status within the wider fashion world? Judging by the array of models, high-profile designers and celebrities in attendance, there certainly seemed to be something of a buzz about the show. Its true success, however, lies less in this surface glitz and more in the number of industry deals secured during the four-day run of both the event proper and the concurrent World Boutique Hong Kong.

One thing was clear from the off – the international fashion world clearly has its sights set firmly on Asia. The Fashion Extravaganza in the Grand Hall – perhaps by good fortune, perhaps by inspired planning – featured a balance of the best from both the West and the East. It was dominated by four internationally celebrated designers, with the West being ably represented by Paris-based Calla Haynes, and Spain's Amaya Arzuaga, while the home team fielded Hong Kong's Henry Lau and China's Masha Ma.

Madrid-based Arzuaga's collection attracted particular attention, largely thanks to her signature geometric, 3D silhouettes and fetching poster colour palette. The designer opened her online shop back in 2012 and now makes 80% of her earnings abroad. On collecting an award for her work at the event, she said: "Asia is one of the strongest markets in the world, so it's very important to have a presence here."

Arzuaga's views were echoed by Shirley Chan, Chairman of the HKTDC Garment Advisory Committee, who described Hong Kong as the "doorway to China" for many of the world's leading fashion brands. With 30% of the growth in the world's fashion markets predicted to come from China over the next two years (according to research by the Boston Consulting Group), the city's gatekeeper positioning is certainly both vital and lucrative.

Another keen to acknowledge the city's role and the growing significance of the China market was Marta Falcon, Proprietor of By the Moon, a Spanish design company that manufactures in Guangdong. Explaining her presence at the show, she said: "Hong Kong is very fashionable and that's why we are here. We are looking for the best way to enter the market. In terms of Asia, we thought Hong Kong was the place to be – because it works for China and the rest of Asia, while also being accessible to Europeans."

It was this blend of eastern and western accessibility that appealed to many exhibitors. The Angola-born designer Allex Kangala, was a new face at this year's Fashion Week and was presenting his Dianthus D'kangala range of dandified tuxedos, suits and ties.

Clearly delighted with his reception at the event, he said: "Hong Kong is a great port of call, with its mix of cultures. The world's people come here and it's a mix of tradition and the new world. I love it."

Photo: Cashing in on cashmere and marvelling at model performances.
Cashing in on cashmere and marvelling at model performances.

As well as debutantes, this year's event also saw the return of a number of familiar names. The Woolmark Company, a well-established player with a pedigree of nearly 80 years, has been attending Fashion Week since its inauguration and has seen the role of the event change hugely.

Daniel Chan, a Key Account Manager with the company, said: "Hong Kong changed from being a centre of the rag trade in the 70s and 80s, to becoming a sourcing hub in the 80s and 90s. Today, it is hugely respected for its well-trained and skillful personnel."

The city is also hugely valued for its significance as a promotional platform, according to Vincy Cheng, Woolmark's Fashion Communications Manager. Assessing its contribution, he said: "In recent years we have concentrated more on marketing. In the 90s we missed out somewhat in terms of marketing, as well as supply chain development. More recently, have invested in education, consumer marketing and providing awards to new talent, as well as in producing new materials, such as wool-denim, in conjunction with Levi's. This is what we're in town to promote."

As well as glitz and self-promotion, there was an air of social responsibility permeating this year's event. In particular, its green credentials – a vital accessory in the fashion business – were highlighted by a Nordic exhibition of sustainable textiles, while the ever-popular Redress Forum (a Hong Kong NGO) showcased the benefits of recycling – showing that you can both look good and be environmentally responsible.

The EcoChic Design Award, first introduced back in 2011, took on more of an international approach, adding both the Hong Kong/German high-street fashion brand Esprit and Miele, the German home appliance brand, to its list of partner organisations.

Karen Jessen, a young German designer, took the grand prize with her creative re-interpretation of denim and "upcycled" outfits. In keeping with the celebrity atmosphere of the occasion, the pop star Sandy Lam chose Jessen to design her an outfit made from items in her own wardrobe.

Acknowledging the importance of this eco-friendly awards scheme, Lam said: "Designers have both the power and the passion to re-shape the future of the industry, ensuring that fashion becomes more conscious of – and considerate towards – the environment."

The more serious aspects of the show, however, were always going to face strict competition from its more conventional elements. With spring obviously in the air, both designers and manufacturers had their eyes fixed firmly on the new season, with new lines of brightly-hued men's and ladies' wear, jewellery and swimwear on display across the exhibition hall.

Among the particular highlights of this year's show were the Garment Mart and the World of Fashion Accessories, both featuring mass merchandise items. For those looking to go a little upmarket, there was the Fashion Gallery, complete with its range of globally-recognisable brand names, while for pretty much everything else, there was a selection of Special Product Zones. This year, these included dedicated areas for bridal and evening wear, kids apparel, sewing supplies and trade services.

Summing up the experience of this year's event, Shyla Viju Motwani, the Founder and Chief Executive of Aroxta, a Hong Kong-based e-tailer, said: "Trade shows are not really about selling, but about making contacts and building relationships.

"Hong Kong is one of the best places in the world to do business, because of its 'can-do' spirit and the great level of trust it engenders. While last year was a bit of a disappointment for me, this year has been much better. Fashion Week has really gone up a notch. Keeping it fresh, though, must be hard work."

Photo: No turning back: fashion brands have to embrace China.
No turning back: fashion brands have to embrace China.

The Hong Kong Fashion Week for Fall/Winter took place at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre from 13-16 January 2014.

Jules Quartly, Special Correspondent, Hong Kong

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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