WHILE high-street stores have been lurching from slump to slump over the past two years, their glamorous cousins in the luxury end of the market have fared comparatively well. In the 1980s, the indulgences of Hong Kong's monied elite became legendary. Brenda and Kaibong Chau's gold taps and pink Rolls Royce alongside the Peak and Star Ferry were even featured in guidebooks. Now in the 1990s, spending has become more subtle, the wealthy don't need to flash the cash quite so ostentatiously, but there is plenty of money around nonetheless. The cliche of the designer clothes' junkie still lives on in Hong Kong, with the big European fashion lines still viewing the territory as a key market. Despite fears to the contrary, this has not been a bad year to be in the high-price rag trade. Chanel's marketing manager Cecilia Tsang admits she was nervous about this year's collection, though in fact, sales went well. 'I guess our customers are so rich, the effect is not that great,' she says contentedly. Nowadays , it seems, Hong buyers are less interested in the classic lines. Most of the wealthy women around town have already bought enough classic jackets and handbags, Tsang says. 'At present, the more avant garde looks are a hit. The new military look is doing very well, so is the gold embroidery collection,' she says. The occasional oddity, such as specially made handbags for mobile phones, which sell for about $10,000, were snapped up like the proverbial hot cakes. 'In two weeks, they were all gone.' If retailers have noticed any shift, it is that tai tais are buying fewer outfits each season and instead snapping up more accessories. Lane Crawford, for example, recorded a 38 per cent jump in shoe sales last year and have plans to open a huge new accessories store in Central. Versace report they have had no problems in selling more than 20 of their limited edition Alexandre de Paris-Francois Lesage hair-bows, decorated with pearls and silk for an extraordinary $15,000. Louis Vuitton say they have not just ridden out the recession but positively galloped through it. This year Vuitton issued a special seven-set limited edition of bags to mark its centennial celebrations. The bags were so in demand that one regular customer wanted to buy one of each, which would have set him back about $100,000. Due to limited supply and excessive demand, he was only allowed to buy one bag. All eight of the top of the range DJ Boxes, designed by Helmut Lang and worth a whopping $40,000, were ordered and sold straight away. Caroline Roberts, Vuitton marketing manager, says Hong Kong customers have become more and more discerning. They aren't the brand-hungry shoppers of the 1980s any more - instead they look around for quality. It is the nouveau riche Taiwanese and mainlanders who still fulfil the stereotype by turning up and demanding to see the most expensive items, whatever they are. 'They don't even care what colour it is,' she says. Asian buyers still enjoy conspicuous consumption in a way that may have gone out of fashion in the West. 'There is no doubt about it, Asian people do enjoy being able to afford these things. Western people might see that as showing off, but for Asian people, it is an achievement.' While the market for 600-square-feet family homes in the new towns has tumbled, Peak pads with rental value of anything from $120-190,000 a month are suddenly much in demand. 'I don't know whether it is because firms are sending people here for 1997,' says Karen McGlashan from First Pacific Davies, 'but recently we have had more people looking than we have places available.' In fact, luxury property has never been hard to sell either, due to a lack of supply. As Frank Marriott, director of residential sales at First Pacific Davies says, if you can afford a $200 million house at Tai Tam then the upturns and downturns in the property market won't make much difference. This time last year the art business was in despair, but in 1996 there has been a marked improvement, although the time seems to have passed when almost anything in oil by a self-proclaimed mainland master painter was snapped up at auction. Both Sotheby's and Christie's were pleased by spring's rise in sales. Now a new kind of Hong Kong buyer, younger and more cosmopolitan, is interested in buying precious objects other than the traditional categories of Chinese arts and antiques. In London, Hong Kong clients are buying up fine wine at Sotheby's and locally Christie's have had some notable success selling designer Western jewellery - in April the auction house took nearly $55 million in this category alone. Later this month both auction houses will be holding more glittery sales of European designer pieces. Sandra Walters who runs Mandarin Oriental Fine Arts, says the art market is beginning to move again, partly because people are bored of being careful. 'People here were tired of tightening their belts. A year of saving was enough. Hong Kong people can't stand not enjoying life,' she says. Enjoying free time, even for the very rich, does not mean endless cruises and months of vacationing. Trina Dingler-Ebert, the corporate marketing director of the luxury Aman resorts, says that over the past six years or so local people have begun to demonstrate a preference for several short trips a year to nearby luxurious spots, rather than one long break. 'Hong Kong people like instant satisfaction,' she explains. The recession hasn't effected business at all, almost all of their exclusive private villa-style resorts in Indonesia and the Philippines, which range from US$300-US$800 a night, have to be booked way in advance. The Fours Seasons in Bali, which provides detached villas with private plunge pools, costs upwards of US$456 per night, but has never had any shortage of Hong Kong guests either. A new destination for the healthy and wealthy flock is the Chiva-som health resort in Hua Hin, Thailand, where low-fat meals and a variety of treatments including massages, saunas, facials and a steam jacuzzi cost a mere US$900 for a three-day package. Getting around in style remains a priority for the well-off. Even though the middle end of the car market is still crawling in at about a third of last years sales, up there at the top, nothing much has changed, according to Mike Rushworth, vice-chairman of the Motor Trades Association and general manager of Jebsen Motor Group, the agents for Porsche, Volvo and Renault. He says Porsche have held on to their 2 per cent share of the market, and he has sold 97 vehicles already this year, on target with the 1995 total of 165. These cars have remained popular despite prices ranging from $1.2 million to $1.9 million. And other top makes like Rolls Royce, Mercedes Benz and Jaguar are increasing their share of the market.