Style Check: contemporary fashion is evolving in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 May, 2014, 9:57am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 May, 2014, 9:57am

The contemporary fashion market is growing and diversifying, and we should be thankful for that.

That change is particularly apparent in Hong Kong and on the mainland, where just a few years ago style and quality were only accessible to those with very deep pockets.

A growing middle class will give a boost to the retail fashion's middle ground - stylish high street options, chic affordable luxe brands and the constantly changing field we call contemporary.

The Americans are particularly adept at producing these kinds of labels. One example is Alice + Olivia. Stacey Bendet's brand has been gaining traction with local ladies and celebrities alike since it opened in the IFC Mall.

Designer Bendet kind of embodies the "having it all" female fashion designer trope used so much in the media.

"It is about clothing that is fun, sexy and whimsical," she says. "They are designs to make a woman feel feminine and beautiful when she wears them."

Femininity is one key point to the brand's success in Asia. Many contemporary labels tend to veer towards casual and sleek or cool and androgynous, which is appealing but in a different way.

Bendet describes her own style as "unique and free-spirited", and on the evening we meet, as if to underline the point, she is wearing a dramatic emerald gown, kohl eyeliner and a golden leaf headdress. She has a strong social media following and this all lends to her appeal. Selling on the personality of the designer has become big business these days.

What people also like is her ability to balance being a mother with running a successful international fashion label, as well as attending a fair number of red carpet events while keeping healthy and fit.

"I like to start my day with ashtanga yoga," she says. "It really helps me clear my head. I try my best to truly give all of my non-work hours to my family. There are definitely days when I feel like there is just not enough of me to go around.

"Yoga has taught me how to breathe and find mindfulness. There is a saying, 'When the asana is correct the mind is quiet.' I feel the same about clothing. When the fit isperfect I feel a sense of peace." The current collection features plenty of high-waisted, big feminine skirts and small crop tops. Cute rompers and well-cut tuxedo style tops are also a hit, but Bendet would like to make more headway in Asia with the trousers she's become famous for in the US.

The fact that Bendet is one of the few really visible women designers doing clothes for women is a big draw to her growing fan base.

"I think … being able to try on the clothes I design and to be able to understand how a woman will feel in them when she puts them on is so important," she says.

People are often surprised at how hands-on Bendet is. She is at every fitting, works on the interior design of each store as well as all the studio and PR work. It's not just parties and shows, she says. "There's a great amount of work that goes into making beautiful clothes."

Alice + Olivia has struck a chord with its evening wear too, showing that contemporary labels can take on this sector and do well. A friend of mine actually wore the label to a wedding last month and looked amazing, but more important was the fact that it looked like it could have been a Dolce & Gabbana skirt. And if more brands go in this direction, the appeal of contemporary fashion to cover the needs of a full wardrobe could definitely pose a threat to more luxe labels.

As Bendet says: "There is just so much potential. Ten years ago contemporary was really jeans and T-shirts, now contemporary is fashion."