PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 December, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 December, 1993, 12:00am

AS the West busily recreates the '70s, Hong Kong is nostalgic for an earlier era. Local companies are using images from the 1920s and '30s to sell everything from cologne to coasters. Designer Alan Chan plasters retro designs over cards, trays and T-shirts; cosmetics company Kwong Sang Hong uses its illustrious past to sell its lotions and potions.

Many of these designs were originally created by the local king of the calendar, Kwan Wai-nung. Art director at the South China Morning Post from 1911 to 1915, Kwan later set up his own printing company and pursued a successful career in advertising. He designed calendars and posters - which were popular promotional items in the 1920s and '30s - for medicinal ointments, toiletries and perfumes, banks and shipping companies.

The Hong Kong Arts Centre will be exhibiting 40 of his posters from December 11 to 27, including some of the original artwork for Kwong Sang Hong's Two Girls nostalgic packaging.

Kwan originally created the Two Girls image for British-American Tobacco in about 1920. His posters for Kwong Sang Hong in the 1920s and '30s echo the design. But a similar image had been used for years by the company which marketed its colognes and ointments under 'Girl Brand'.

The evolution of those girls can be seen in the posters. In a 1913 poster, they are late Ching dynasty ladies tightly buttoned into long tunics and high collars. They walk on tiny bound feet, gingerly treading on stepping stones across a stream in a landscaped garden. By the 1930s, Kwan had transformed them into thoroughly modern Li-li's, with bobbed and permed hairdos, rosy make-up, long rhinestone earrings and floral cheong sams. They look much happier.

When Jennifer Tose took over as managing director of Kwong Sang Hong at the end of 1989, the company had just five product lines. She relaunched the Two Girls brand in 1990 and now the company has more than 20 product lines, including a range of posters and stationery available from The House of Kwong Sang Hong outlets (Sha Tin, Harbour City, Daimaru and Times Square). Two Girls products in period packaging are sold at select Watson's and Park 'N Shops.

Reproductions of period posters can be found at Loft and the Mandarin Oriental Shop.