Ethnic chic is increasingly coming out of the stylists' closet and assuming its place in the fashion cognoscenti's wardrobe. Elongated tunics, palazzo pants and throw-around scarves; revamped cheongsams; padded 'min-lap' jackets: Western designers are interpreting the finest of Eastern traditions - the cheongsam and the saree are two of the most elegant garments ever created - and Eastern couturiers are no longer afraid to do what they do best. Hong Kong, while not turning its back on its obsession with sharp tailoring and designer labels, is beginning to recognise that oriental motifs are equally valid. And in a rapidly-changing cultural climate, perhaps more relevant. This might explain all the activity on the ethnic fashion front: Hong Kong label Blanc de Chine held its first major show last Saturday; Shanghai Tang displays its wares at a grand-slam futuristic event next Monday at the Grand Hyatt, and independent Leo Fan - who specialises in exquisite East-meets-West clothing - has become the new darling of the Hong Kong fashion set. Indian 'leitmotifs' are equally germane. In his spring-summer 1997 collection, shown recently in Milan, Giorgio Armani showed lightly-embroidered chiffon tunics and rich satin pants; Gianfranco Ferre sent out regal Raj coats; at Moschino, dresses photoprinted with images of the Taj Mahal provided a cheeky acknowledgement of Eastern influences. Today Indian designer Ranna will have her first independent catwalk show in Hong Kong as part of a fund-raising event organised by the Hong Kong Indian Women's Club. And next Thursday, at the Furama Hotel, Indian designer Leetu Shivdasani hosts a public exhibition and sale of Nehru jackets, waistcoats and tailored separates 'inspired by the Maharaja of India', in a range she describes as 'romanced with brocade, lavished with jewel colours and dramatically dressed with threads of silk and gold'. If that sounds temptingly exotic, then exotica, precisely, is the biggest drawing card of the ethnic chic style-setters. 'It's just so comfortable,' said Blanc de Chine's Lydia Reeve of her silky beige pantsuit, which displayed the slightest of Chinese touches. The new collection emphasised loose and languid clothes, displayed to music from The Last Emperor and Japanese musician-composer Kitaro. The current Blanc de Chine line occasionally veered towards monotony - same styles, different colours - but this could be forgiven for its sheer elegance: waffle-textured silk mandarin jackets with straight pants and velvet flat-soled shoes; a reversible padded shawl-cape in forest green and camel came with sweet mini-patch pockets and was worn over a Manchu top with subtle frog-closing; silky knit sweaters were slipped under voluminous trapeze coats. In serene shades of ivory, midnight blue, dusky silver and burgundy - no Shanghai Tang iridescent greens and fuchsia pinks here - the collection conveyed warmth and comfort. Shimmering silk blouses with self-print flowers, worn with roomy pants and a flocked velour scarf, showed that multi-culturalism has become a by-product of style trends. Blanc de Chine's interpretation of the modern cheongsam - a neat jacket with three-quarter sleeves over a long wrap-around column skirt in delectable sorbet colours - may lure Hong Kong socialites away from their Chanel suits yet. These are prices that will not break the bank either, ranging between $495 for a silk knit T-shirt to $5,500 for a luxurious full-length padded cape in amethyst purple. Perhaps therein lies ethnic fashion's strongest selling point: made traditionally in low-cost labour areas, such as China and India, Western-trained Eastern designers can afford to keep their costs low. 'That is what I set out to do when I started my own label,' Ranna said. 'To make beautiful clothes that were maintenance-free, didn't need too much fuss, and were affordably priced,' she said. Ranna, who started her line a year ago when she was just 24, was selected by the association for today's event because 'she is fresh, young and upcoming', said club president Pamela Kapoor. More importantly however, her youth, modern outlook and international training - she worked for American style icons Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren after graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York - ensures that her collections retain all their ethnic charm without being limiting. Ranna's self-assuredness is evident in her sleek, clingy side-tying velvet tunics worn with flared pants in dark shades; the ethnic factor came in an airy silk shawl sprinkled with floral prints. Through her collections, Ranna hopes to refine the fusion of Western stylistics with Eastern sensibilities; in a fitting session she wore an unstructured two-piece velvet pantsuit with mock-croc shoes, while one of her models paraded around in an elegant silk saree - and a pair of white sneakers. From Ralph Lauren, Ranna learned about 'the look in totality - of form, colour, quality'. Out of her Delhi workshop, she makes high-necked tunic coats that can be worn with slim jodhpurs, or flowing button-front shirts with tree-trunk pants in muted shades. India's reputation for top-notch embroidery remains: Ranna also embellishes fabrics for Ralph Lauren. She says she 'grew up with fashion': her parents and husband are garment exporters. 'I went to design school in Delhi when I was 16. All I've ever known are clothes, and it's all we ever talk about at home. I don't think I'd know how to do anything else,' she said. To drive home the message of global themes and trends, show choreographer Veena Saigal will put the models in fringed Hakka hats, equip them with sparklers and line the catwalk with images from Indian mythology and flickering lanterns. The sneakers, hopefully, will be left at home.