Hong Kong fashion received a major boost last week when local label ffiXXed won the Asian leg of the prestigious Woolmark Prize, winning A$50,000 (HK$356,000) and advancing to the finals in Milan in February next year.
Founded by a couple, Hong Kong-Australian Fiona Lau and Australian Kain Picken, who met in Berlin, ffiXXed's winning focus piece was a rather conceptual yet wearable wool dress inspired by a rolled up rug with grey marbling effect, reminding me of something Hussein Chalayan might have come up with.
I caught up with Lau and Picken the morning after their win, as they were still processing what it meant to be headlining Asian fashion on a global platform. "I think we are especially pleased because last year Christian Wijnants won the big prize. He's someone we've been following for a long time and we got to meet him last night," says Picken.
"Before we were even doing fashion," Lau adds, "before we even started the label, we always thought he was a great designer. … We were really pleased that [the judges] said we were really good ambassadors for Asia."
They have a studio in Shenzhen, and are fans of Korean style and the innovative textiles of Japanese fashion.
"I think the Asian scene is developing a lot more now. There's stuff happening so it's nice to be part of that future push," Picken says.
"There's a lot of great young designers in Hong Kong; there's a great little group," says Lau.
They herald a new generation of internationally minded designers in Asia. Much more do-it-yourself when it started, ffiXXed's style has now evolved into more refined pieces: modern, streamlined, unisex-focused and very cool. "We like to describe it as enhanced everyday basics," Picken says.
The label has more than 40 stockists in Japan, and is sold in the United States, Europe and Hong Kong. Further expansion in these markets and the mainland are on the agenda.
They have already won over influential industry figures such as Vogue China editor-in-chief Angelica Cheung, Joyce's arts and visuals head Bartley Ingram, and Kevin Carrigan from Calvin Klein - all judges on the Woolmark panel for Asia.
"Not only was their use of wool very modern, they created a very fashion-forward capsule collection. And their business sense … put them in the lead," Ingram said.
For the finals, ffiXXed will have to produce another capsule collection using Merino wool, for a chance to win the A$100,000 grand prize and distributing deals with the likes of 10 Corso Como, Harvey Nichols and Saks Fifth Avenue.
The award is an amazing platform for a young, independent label in today's conglomerate-dominated industry - and ffiXXed is proudly Hong Kong's first ever finalist. The pressure is on as Lau and Picken emerge front and centre.