THE unlikely show-stopping children's collection at Hongkong Fashion Week has become an almost overnight international success. IT could only happen in Hongkong. The phrase may be trite, but it took on a whole new dimension over at Tak Lee's office in Mongkok on the eve of the Year of the Rooster. ''We're packing samples for shipment,'' said the boss of Tint International as box after box was filled with brightly-coloured garments. ''Our projection for our first collection is US$1 million (HK$7.7 million) and we already have orders for US$500,000. Amazing to think all that happened in just four days.'' The Convention and Exhibition Centre, venue for Fashion Week 93 held from January 14-17, was the scene of the blitz. It was triggered by exhibitor No 8 in the Casualwear Show. ''Ohhh!'' went the smitten audience as the pint-sized models, led by Ronald, Mazing and Connie Lee - combined ages adding up to 10 - showed off Tint International's Tino collection. Kids have that effect on even the most hardened fashion buyers and press, and these were extra cute - especially in that great autumn-winter range. It was a classic children's wear formula; contemporary unisex casuals done in primary colours and blessedly free of all those fussy bits children loathe and which misguided adults think are cute. Mary Reynolds is not among the offenders. ''The idea was to do a lifestyle range, so I kept everything very simple and functional,'' said the designer. ''The main problem was the timing. This project started only seven weeks ago.'' Seven weeks? Incredible, but true, and that's not all. Come March and Hongkong's newest children's wear manufacturer will be fielding Tino at New York's hotly competitive International Kids' Fashion Show. Who are the people responsible for this phenomenon? The name Tino should provide clues, even though it hasn't been associated with garments till now. Behind it is Hongkong product designer Tak Lee, whose company, Tint International (Far East) Limited, has won numerous honours including the International Frankfurter Herbstmesse in 1989 and the Hongkong Governor's Design Award for Industry in 1990. ''We've done a lot of products for children under the name Tino - stationery, furnishings, educational toys and so on - and I thought the time was right to introduce clothes,'' said the man who learned his craft at Britain's Central School of Art and Design, and taught it at the Hongkong Polytechnic's Swire School of Design for six years before launching his company. And Reynolds? ''Tak and I are old friends,'' said the Welsh designer who came to Hongkong 10 years ago and has finally found her forte. It has been a winding road for the vivacious brunette who trained in hotel management in the UK, but did design courses on the side. Lingerie was a strong interest. ''For five years, I designed and retailed my own silk line in Hongkong under the label Next To Nothing,'' Reynolds said. It was an unlucky choice of name. The business folded and there were ''some very tough times'' before she joined Diane Freis, rising to publicity manager. ''Looking back, my three years with Diane were tremendously useful. Organising things like fashion shoots for Vogue taught me a lot about the industry.'' A public relations post with a major hotel followed, then Reynolds decided to go solo again. Her break came when she ran into an old friend. ''It was Tak's wife Kitty. We worked together soon after I came to Hongkong and over lunch with the two of them, Tak outlined his children's wear project and asked if I'd like to help.'' Delighted said Reynolds. But she was less thrilled when she saw some samples. ''They were all wrong and there was only thing to do - start again from scratch. I sat down with one of Tak's graphic designers, Rosaline Ng, and soon we had a range - at least on paper.'' Two local manufacturers transformed it into 75-piece collection in wool-acrylic mix and pure silk. Following the Tino colours, Reynolds stuck to red, blue, yellow and green. Her design approach was equally uncomplicated. Taking her cue from Tino's streamlined products, she created a no-fuss line including pants, sweaters, cardigans and (''a huge hit with the little girls'') body suits. Then came the big test. ''The models. We roped in friends' and relatives' children as well as Tak and Kitty's three and the dress rehearsal for the Casualwear Show was just mayhem. ''At one point things got so crazy I yelled, 'Shut up and sit down!' but mostly it was tremendous fun - like a big party.'' Not in their wildest dreams could they have imagined what happened after the show, reckoned Lee and Reynolds. First came the buyer with 250 accounts Canada-wide, then the one with 200 retail outlets in Greece, to say nothing of the Korean, the Spaniard, the Australian, the one representing a major outfit in the Middle East. ''I had a gut feeling about doing children's wear, but never thought it would take off like that,'' said Lee. ''I expected the wool-acrylic pieces to go down well, but what really stunned me was the reaction to our reversible washable silk separates. People really loved them,'' said Reynolds. ''The other thing we learned at Fashion Week, was the importance of being flexible. Originally, the idea was cater to a five to 12 age group, but we've had requests for a much wider range - from age two to 18.'' They're not stopping there. Next on the agenda is a spring-summer range for children and teenagers, then it will be the adults' turn, promises Tak Lee. ''Tint is already doing a range of accessories such as pens and watches for men, so our next project is to develop an executive-casual menswear line. Women's wear? Sure.'' But are they biting off more than they can chew? Mary Reynolds thinks not. ''My biggest surprise came at the end of Fashion Week, when I saw a picture of the collection on display. ''I thought: how nice - then did a double take when I saw 'Merit' written underneath. Imagine that! A commendation for our very first bash at children's wear.'' It wasn't just any commendation. The stamp of approval came from Fashion Week's 18-strong panel of international fashion journalists.