WITH music straight from a Parisian cabaret and the models parading in demure white silk or vampy sequinned numbers, the setting was impressive.
Only the timing was awful: Hongkong Fashion Week '93 kicked off only hours after the first allied aircraft set out to attack Iraq.
The show, the biggest yet to grace the territory with a record 663 exhibitors from 19 countries, attracted 5,547 visitors on its opening day, according to the Trade Development Council which organises the annual event.
Last year's show, which was 18.4 per cent smaller in size, pulled in a total 23,000 visitors over the four days.
Exhibitors put the quiet start down to a mix of first-day blues, recession in Europe and North America, and a looming war.
Exhibitor Grace Lee, of Sametex Garment Manufacturing, said: ''It is quiet because it's just started today, but I also think it's quiet because of war fears.'' TDC market officer Brian Ng reckoned there were more buyers than last year, pointing to the crowds clustered around the registration desk.
He said: ''This is only the first day, and with three more to go it is not suitable to comment at this stage.
''But there are many more people registering at the centre, and it's very crowded. I cannot see that buyers' attendance has dropped.'' However, China's Zhejiang Huali Fashion felt it was quiet, adding that spending, even on popular silk clothing, could be held in check over the next four days.
Manager Martine Mang said: ''There are many buyers from Europe looking for silk, but unfortunately they cannot pay the price because of the European economy going down.'' From one stall came the strident wail of a recession-pinched American: ''But tell me one good reason why I should buy your goods when I am already getting them cheaper elsewhere? I'm just not paying that price.'' Booths sought to tempt buyers with such indispensable little numbers as disposable underwear from Thailand - ''very useful for travel or patients in hospital'' - and tartan cheongsams, presumably for those seasonal karaoke Burns Suppers.
Clothes on display came from as far afield as Pakistan and Turkey, with Taiwan the biggest overseas exhibitor with 33 participants.
Local support remains strong, with 463 companies.
In his opening speech, TDC garment advisory committee chairman S.K. Chan said the growing number of overseas exhibitors reflected the importance of Hongkong as a fashion trade centre in Asia.
Opening the show, Governor Chris Patten heaped praise on Hongkong's position as the second-biggest clothing exporter after Italy.
He said the sector, which accounts for more than a third of total domestic exports, owed its buoyancy to businessmen's adaptability.
''They have changed Hongkong's image from that of a labour-intensive, low-cost production centre in the 1960s to an up-to-date up-market fashion showcase,'' he said.