Time to dress up in many styles

A RECENT fashion show by Marks & Spencer at The Landmark gave a taste of the early season merchandise from its new spring/summer collection, with dresses playing an important role.

'The dress will be quite big again this year,' said Louisa So, the marketing communications manager.

They will be short and nimble or of a long fit-and-flare style in three lengths to fit women of varying heights.

'Even for the long dress, the shortest will be 72 centimetres, which is still long on Chinese women of medium height,' Ms So said.

The look is feminine and floaty and the dresses often button down the front.

Most dresses are short-sleeved and come in delicate floral prints in navy and brown.

Dresses will carry through the whole season, including one which sold out at a trial launch.

'It is a deep-dye dress, which means the colour is a gradation from the shoulders to the hem,' Ms So said.

Following the success of the raspberry/aubergine combination, M & S is introducing a sapphire-blue version. The style is a simple, long shift in a soft crinkle fabric. Slip dresses will also appear later in the season.

Prints are important.

'We have the Eastern influence again, with a lot of prints like the Indian dye or the more Asian style,' Ms So said, adding that prints were also strong in menswear for long and short-sleeved shirts.

For women, prints enliven loose-fitting trousers and long sarong-wrap skirts in warm shades of spice, brick and aubergine. Nehru collars on some jackets enhance the ethnic feel.

Other key items for casual wear include short and long A-line skirts, sleeveless A-line tunics, shrunken T-shirts, long cardigans and knit tunics, fluid mesh-knit waistcoats, cropped knit tops, grandad-collar shirts and linen blouses that can double as jackets. Besides wide-leg trousers, leggings are a perennial favourite.

'Apart from the really formal executive look, which is always quite important for Hong Kong for office wear, the overall look tends to be dressed down,' Ms So said.

For executive wear, relaxed and understated suits are much in evidence.

'In terms of cutting, it is a much longer and leaner jacket,' she said.

M & S has a petite fit for smaller women.

'For example, the cutting of the waistline and sleeves is particularly suitable for people 5ft 3in (1.57 metres),' Ms So said.

Most suit skirts are knee-length (again in three options for different heights), with the shorter ones being the most popular, according to Ms So.

Even more concise is a line of pleated mini-kilts.

Suit trousers are slim cut or fall straight down from the hips.

Fabrics focus mainly on blends that incorporate natural fibres - cotton, linen or silk.

'For example, a wool jacket is blended with silk to give the fabric a more luxurious feel,' Ms So said.

'We always try to find fabric of an easy-care quality but, at the same time, comfortable. For example, cotton is comfortable to wear but creases easily, so we blend it with viscose.' Colours for the early season major on sage green and cream and navy blue and apricot. Later, these will cede to pastels, accented with lace and embroidery.

'With these it will be a more lightweight merchandise . . . a lot of pants and skirts,' Ms So said.

For high summer, black and white will be back with a host of bright colours such as shocking pink - particularly in swimwear.

Other trends for the beach will be a continuation of the crocheted look from last year, plus high-leg cuts and halter necklines.

M & S is also using some innovative fabrics in its swimsuits this year, including a material by Du Pont called Tectel that was successfully introduced into its lingerie last season.

'Internally, we call it second skin,' Ms So said.

'It is actually Lycra as well, but it is a special mix that hugs the body so that the swimwear fits better. It gives stronger support for the tummy.' Supplex Lycra is another new material, also by Du Pont.

'We have Supplex in a lot of the bodywear, which is smooth, but it will be introduced into swimwear this season as well,' Ms So said.

The benefits are similar to those of Tectel.

M & S works closely with Du Pont in the development of fabric and uses Lycra in many items.

This season sees a new cotton and Lycra underwear range that gives a body-conscious fit with the comfort of cool cotton. The sporty styling is complemented by wide elastic with 'underwear' written on it and also by front seam detail.

Footwear puts the spotlight on slingbacks. M & S also has a lot of linen fabric shoes.

'Flat-heeled sandals will be big but, for shoes like slingbacks, the most popular heel will be one-and-a-half to two inches high [3.81 to 5.08 centimetres],' Ms So said.

To match the linen shoes, there is a range of linen handbags with leather trim.

Many of the other accessories are designed to go with the semi-formal trends, such as a wealth of gold bangles or long glass bead necklaces, both with a matte finish. There are also sheer chiffon scarves.

Meanwhile, M & S has opened a 20,000-square-foot store in Paterson Street, Causeway Bay, to replace its Excelsior Plaza outlet.

'It is much larger and allows us to provide a more comfortable shopping environment,' said director Colin Buchanan.

'We can now offer the full Hong Kong range of fashions and ambient foods which we were not able to sell in the Excelsior Plaza store.' This brings the total of number of M & S outlets in the territory to seven, following the recent opening of a store in Sha Tin.

The clothing chain has another Causeway Bay outlet in Times Square.