China roots take hold of local design

CHINA is a source of inspiration for fashion design as well as a thriving new market.

Hongkong designers are taking advantage of huge new business opportunities opening up on the mainland and getting back to their roots with Chinese-style designs.

To mark China's importance to the fashion industry, 10 members of the Hongkong Fashion Designers' Association (HKFDA), will feature a Chinese theme in their house show.

Each designer has created an outfit in red for the opening scene of the show. Red was chosen because it is a significant colour, representing the celebration of events and festivals in the Chinese calendar, according to show producer Mr Dennis Phang of Mega! Productions.

Collections promise to be more eclectic than ever, sourced on everything from traditional Chinese styles to the 'hippie' culture of the 1960s.

Motherhood is the inspiration for Ika Bouton's collection. Her first child was born just over a year ago and a mother and child motif features in many of her designs. She also draws ideas from Chinese culture using a dragon to represent China's importance in the world.

Indonesian-born Bouton, whose designs are sold all over Europe and Asia, feels that the Hongkong fashion scene is moving ahead fast. ''In comparison to five years ago, we are doing much better and working harder to be original and express ourselves in our own handwriting,'' she said.

Recycling, and the recession in the West, was the inspiration for William Tang's unconventional collection. His long and fluid chiffon dresses feature sculpted wire and pieces of mirror. These are worn with hats inspired by Chinese lanterns.

''Because of the economic depression, I wanted to use something that exists already,'' said Tang.

Flora Cheong-Leen's designs are strongly influenced by her former career as a ballerina and she uses flowing fabrics like chiffon, organza and lace for her Chinese-inspired collection, which features small bamboo sticks sewn on to some of the garments.

She has a chain of Pavlova boutiques in Hongkong and southern China, stocking options ranging from elegant suits to romantic evening wear.

Turning back the clock, Walter Ma, who has boutiques in Hongkong, Asia and Australia selling four different labels, has revived a 1960s look, creating clothes for a new, elegant hippie. Flared trousers and fringes are matched with innovative layers. Vests are worn over body suits and long skirts over leggings. Ma said the designs are for all kinds of women.

''Even if she's 50, she can still wear my clothes,'' he said.

Gold is a sign of wealth in China, and Ben Yeung is going for gold with his luxurious and sophisticated evening wear collection featuring gold organza teamed with black lace. Yeung's designs, recognised for their beading, hand-worked details and draping,are sold all over the world, and a joint venture project in Shanghai will soon see them sold in China.

By contrast, Kevin Yeung's interpretation of evening wear is a smart executive look comprising black or white trouser suits adorned with sequins, badges or gold embroidery. His main line is daywear for working women, and this season he sold in China for the first time.

Working women are also targeted by Polly Kam, but she also designs leisure wear. Her collection features identical colours and fabrics used on different occasions. Frill and bow detailing decorates many garments. Kam plans to open a factory in China and produce clothes for the mainland market.

Florence Tse drew her inspiration from pre-World War II movies. But far from looking to the past, she is confident of a good future for local designers, with Hongkong's cosmopolitan culture making it the fashion centre of the Far East.

Citing the less costly land and labour over the border, she said Hongkong is the best place to develop the fashion industry due to labour backup from China. She stressed that companies here can offer buyers comprehensive services, from design all the wayto production, at competitive prices.

Newcomer to the HKFDA, Leo Yeung, is known for his casual western-look designs featuring fringed shirts and denim.

Yeung began marketing his own Gavin label two years ago and now has a fast-growing chain of stores across Asia. He sees China as the most important future market and has already opened five shops there, with plans for at least another 25. Further ahead, shops are also planned for Europe and the US.

Another new member of the HKFDA, Rowena U, specialises in luxury leather for men and women, plus accessories. Her collection at Fashion Week will feature red, black and gold lamb nappa coats and co-ordinates with fur and hand-crocheted trimming. In addition to markets in Japan, Europe and North America, she has 18 retail outlets in China and has just set up a factory there. She said leather is such a status symbol that even the most expensive items ''go like hot cakes.''