HONG KONG designer Barney Cheng has had the dubious honour of being compared with Karl Lagerfeld. The territory's 'only real couturier', as he is often called, and the maker of one-off evening gowns and wedding dresses for local celebrities, went on a sales mission to New York's top department stores and for the most part found buyers receptive to his couture confections. 'One of them said I was doing Lagerfeld quality, to Lagerfeld standard, without the Lagerfeld multi-million dollar sales blitz,' he said. 'But because nobody knows Barney Cheng, I won't sell like Lagerfeld.' Nonetheless, stores like Neimann Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and Sak's Fifth Avenue may well start carrying Cheng's lines within the next few seasons; one store has already offered to put his evening dresses next to those of Isaac Mizrahi and Mary McFadden. 'Neimann Marcus said my designs would be perfect for the Beverly Hills store, because they love fantasy evening wear,' he said. 'Actually, I like to say that I make couture quality garments at ready-to-wear prices for absolutely gorgeous women.' That said, gorgeous woman Terri Holladay didn't make it to a major photo shoot that was to put Cheng and his dresses on 10 pages of City Magazine. Holladay, who is primed to start a career as a professional model, was supposed to be at the studio at 6 am, but Cheng received a call at 6.30 am to say she wasn't going to show up. The organisers were 'slightly miffed', to say the least. But Holladay is a lucky lady; they want her so much they intend to re-schedule the shoot. 'The nature of the clothes means we need someone regal-looking and Terri is perfect,' said Cheng. Let's hope she makes it next time. For old stones' fans INTRIGUING invitations are slowly being dropped into Hong Kong mailboxes for a rather unique event. The organisers, who call themselves 'Multeze', are inviting everybody to view their contemporary jewellery made with precious gems prised from baubles once owned by Indian maharajahs. To be held at the China Club on Thursday (December 7), from 10 am to 6 pm, the exhibition-cum-sale is open to anyone interested in avant-garde ethnic jewellery, if there is such a thing; or, as the hosts describe it, 'passionate expressions of creativity, where East meets West'. Sounds like it might be worth checking out. Versace goes Chinese THE Palace Hotel in Beijing has become a veritable treasure trove of designer goodies with Gianni Versace joining the fray. Hoping to capitalise on China's newly rich, the Italian designer opened his first store in China a few weeks ago, followed a couple of days later by a second boutique at Jin Jiang Tower in Shanghai. The opening was typical Versace overkill, with men being spritzed with designer perfumes and red roses flung at women guests. Chinese supermodels Zhang Jinqui, who recently appeared in a movie with Tony Leung Ka-fai, and Ma Yiu Li starred in a fashion show designed to tempt some of the guests into parting with their cash. It can't be long before those unmistakable, glaring prints and Medusa heads replace the Mao suit. Shanghai surprise CHINA is clearly the place to be seen these days. Swatch is about to host a mammoth, multi-million dollar 'expo' at the Shanghai Stadium which is expected to attract at least 10,000 visitors a day. To be held from December 8 to 17, the exhibition will feature every Swatch model produced since 1983, a Swatchmobile (created by the watchmaker and Mercedes-Benz) and oil paintings reflecting what the average art student thinks of the ubiquitious plastic watches. It might also be the only opportunity Joe Public gets to have a look at the new Swatch Access watch. Get this: a special chip in the limited-edition timepieces has been calibrated to allow the wearer to flash his wrist at certain hi-tech and chic ski resorts in Switzerland and Italy and get gates to open, hot brandy to be charged to his room and skis to be rented out. Totally 007. Sadly, it can only be bought in Europe. Time capsules MORE timepieces for this watch-mad town ... Daniel Roth, a Swiss chap who makes 'complicated' pieces by hand, just sold one for 2.5 million Swiss Francs ($) to an unnamed royal. Also available are slightly less extravagant models for US$200,000 ($1.54 million) apiece. But in a bid to broaden his appeal, Roth is now also making watches in the US$6,000 to $8,000 range. A spokesman recently visiting Hong Kong explained that this was so 'young people can afford them until they have more money'. Teenagers in Wong Tai Sin, take note. Dull and duller COUNTRY Road, the Australian fashion label the world is talking about, recently opened their first Hong Kong store in the World Trade Centre. A fashion show and mini-cocktail reception was held to mark the opening, although it was all a bit chaotic and unstructured and the show itself fell a bit flat; the clothes were nice but dull and the presentation even duller. And at between $3,000 and $4,000 for an office suit in monochromatic shades of navy, black and grey, it was all rather hard to get excited about.