WHILE FASHION EDITORS are busy viewing the latest fashions on the catwalks, buyers from the likes of Joyce and Harvey Nichols are choosing items they hope to sell this season.
We spent the day with two buyers in Paris and Milan for behind-the-scenes views of spring's hottest looks and trends.
For three days we shadowed Harvey Nichols' chief buyer, Zarina Kitchell, and her team as they visited Milan's shows and showrooms, viewing works by designers such as Missoni, Gucci, Alessandro Dell'Acqua and Dolce & Gabbana.
'White is popular and there are more dresses emphasising the waist than I've ever seen,' says Kitchell, at Tata-Naka, owned by Russian-born, London-based twins Tamara and Natasha Surguladze. The label is showing lace jackets with big skirts and jewelled belts, which Kitchell considers romantic.
'Because we're in the Landmark, it's important to have another point of view. Otherwise, there'd be too much overlap with the other boutiques. So, we're adding niche designers and new names. And we like to include British designers because we're a British store.'
At Alessandro Dell'Acqua, Harvey Nichols' womenswear buyer Mona Iu pulls out chiffon and tulle dresses decorated with crystal paillettes. 'Our customers like glitter, and many brands are doing glittery pieces this season, so this is a hot item,' she says. The scarlet and royal-blue dresses 'will make great party dresses'.
Kitchell says everyone is showing evening wear in Milan. 'Roberto Cavalli and Donatella Versace's strength is in evening wear, but I can't say that, even at Dolce & Gabbana, I saw anything to snap my fingers at. I liked the big ball gowns, but we have nowhere to wear them in Hong Kong.'
At Giambattista Valli's showroom, the young Italian designer unveils a stellar collection of beautiful dresses, which Kitchell thinks would be perfect for special occasions.
Anita Wong is busy at Paris Fashion Week. The general merchandise manager and head of Joyce Boutique's team of buyers has an experienced eye, having spent more than 20 years in the business - 12 of them as a buyer with Joyce.
Wong divides her team of five among Joyce's core labels and makes daily visits with each buyer to check their progress. She says she also likes to keep in touch with smaller showrooms that feature independent or new labels.
'We usually choose 60 per cent of the entire collection if the designer is well-known, or has been at Joyce for a long time,' she says at the John Galliano showroom. 'Brands such as McQueen or Galliano have customised corners in the store, so the order must be bigger compared with other brands.
'Pre-collections have a better chance of delivery when compared with items featured in the show. Our total budget is divided 70/30 between pre-collection and ready-to-wear show pieces.'
Wong picks out a Galliano gazette-print dress (always a good seller), 'Don't cry for the fashionista' separates and a nude, fitted jacket with embellishments, which she says are perfect for the local market.
'Trends vary every season, but we have to take into account the market and what the weather and lifestyle are like,' Wong says. 'There are things we know won't work, like linen, because the texture is too European and too casual.
'Chinese prefer more tailored, polished pieces. They also love colours. Pastel and pretty colours are important, while brown is very difficult because the local market doesn't like it. We seldom buy overly strong colours. It has to be soft and pretty - Asian women like pretty.'
At Chloe's showroom, Wong points out the new Paddington bag, which is updated in ultra-luxurious matt crocodile. 'Hong Kong women will love this,' she says. And ruffled skirts and simple white blouses would make a great addition to any spring wardrobe.
'Apart from dresses, which we saw a lot of in Milan, the styles are very frou-frou this season, with bows and details, but women like this,' she says. 'It's also rather a safe season with nothing too creative. We've also noticed a trend towards tailored and couture pieces and 60s styles. Think Catherine Deneuve or Jackie O.'
Wong says she likes to buy complete looks, so that women have the option to mix and match. 'We have to edit the selection,' she says. 'But we have to give our customers something to work with.'