There was something almost ceremonious about Friday's start of the seasonal sale at the J.P. Tod's boutique in Pacific Place. That morning, a team from the company's head office in Milan hosted a preview, mostly for the benefit of the fashion media, of the forthcoming autumn/winter 1998/99 collection. But by 11.30am, the new shoes and bags had been packed away, pieces from the summer range were back on shelves, and the doors were reopened to the public. The J.P. Tod's sale had officially begun. Across the hallway at Joyce, preparations were under way for the high-end fashion retailer's summer sale. A week earlier, discounts were allowed on certain merchandise and available only to holders of Joyce VIP cards. But on Friday the sale was opened to the public and encompassed most merchandise throughout all Joyce stores. By the weekend, Hong Kong was in the throes of a full-scale discount-driven shopping frenzy. And the silver lining to the clouds of recession hovering above Hong Kong is that high fashion is now available at almost low prices. 'Prices are now like the Hong Kong stock market, they keep going down,' quipped Rita Chan, a buyer at The Swank Shop. Ms Chan, like other merchandisers, urged fashion-lovers to take advantage of the slew of sales to either boost wardrobes of classic co-ordinates, or indulge in a couple of high-fashion items - clam-diggers, capri pants, transparent dresses, tube tops - even if they have limited wearability. 'All our capri pants have sold out,' said Anita Fung, a buyer for Seibu. (But still available is a range in leopard print from French designer Vanessa Bruno, marked down from $1,020 to $663. They can be worn until the autumn at least, and may make a comeback for next summer if designers run out of ideas.) Tales of shopping triumphs are now common conversational fodder. One shopper told of a successful visit to the Joyce warehouse in Ap Lei Chau where she picked up a long silky knit skirt 'the colour of silvery champagne' from New York designer Rebecca Moses, marked down from 'many, many thousands' to about $1,300. She also found a long cream Emporio Armani jacket with a row of tiny buttons on the front, reduced from $4,000 to $1,000. Similarly, her boyfriend picked up a pair of Joyce-label loafers, an Armani suit and a Gucci tie - and spent less than $3,000 on the lot. The current spate of sales has begun, in many cases a full month earlier than in previous years. They have been advertised in various guises: Lancel describes its discounts as a 'Father's Day Sale' - an event that evidently runs through June. At Waterford Wedgwood in Central, the sale was announced as a celebration of Hong Kong's first year under Chinese rule. At Swank, big hoardings trumpet massive discounts, while at Chanel sales staff have made quiet, almost conspiratorial phone calls to regular customers inviting them in for tea, a look at some nominally discounted merchandise and a preview of the new line. Because many fashion retailers did not forecast the depth of the slump in spending, merchandise is plentiful. Sizes, as is so often the case in this town, are mostly restricted to between a European 36 and 40 for women, although cuts do vary. Men have more options, with sizes ranging up to a 52 European. Retailers advise bargain-seekers to set aside a chunk of time to forage through racks and shelves, and to be prepared to try on everything as returns are usually not allowed on sale merchandise. Also, go early: while discounts will continue to increase as the weeks wear on, there will be a gradual dearth of perfect, wearable, fashionable pieces. The following is our pick of some of the best fashion buys in town this week: Swank Inspiration: A paradise for those who have a penchant for big brands at bargain prices. Offerings from previous seasons - but highly wearable nonetheless - include a silver-grey slightly flared knee-length skirt from Mariot Chanet, down from $3,595 to $595. There is a magnificent Frank Sorbier full-skirted black evening dress with embroidered skirt marked down from $17,995 to $2,795, a nude beige sheath dress from Plein Sud reduced to $395, and a stamped python skirt from Sylvie Shimmel at under $800. Swank's Ms Chan says discounts on previous collections run as high as 90 per cent, while even for the current summer line, shoppers can enjoy at least half off. Our favourite was a Dice Kayek black satin evening gown with bustier top, jet-beaded straps and a long train in a perfect size 10 - an absolute steal at $2,595 from $16,995. And those with more classic tastes are also catered to, in a line of pretty dresses from David Fielden in sugared almond shades, all in the $2,000 to $3,000 range. Lots of shoes are marked down to under $500, and snakeskin belts are under $200. Good buys for men include suits from the Milanese brand Hilton, which are around 60 per cent of the original $8,995 price tag. Single pieces run to a John Rocha linen jacket at under $700 and unlined blazers in a gorgeous light wool for under $1,000. Joyce: Discounts here are currently limited to 30 per cent, although retail manager Angie Cheung said 'further' and 'final' discounts will be available as the weeks wear on. But don't leave it too late: flying out of the store are components of Vivienne Westwood's Red Label, with super-trendy tops marked down from $1,650 to $1,150. Jeans from hip Japanese label Zucca are now $832. Worth buying now are vintage-inspired dresses and cropped jackets from New York brand Tocca, where an ensemble can be found for around $2,500 - very much in line with American prices. There are some ultra-fashionable shoes - embroidered mules, funky sandals - which are an affordable indulgence at around $800. For men there are jersey shirts from Belgian designer Wim Neel - a good investment at around $800 - or high-quality T-shirts from various designers' second lines at $600. Ms Cheung reckons whatever doesn't sell by early next week will be marked down a further 10 per cent, but the stock is moving fairly fast. (Around 15 per cent was cleared in the first three days of the private sale.) Seibu: Buyer Ms Fung picked out suits from US brand Poleci, in a cool grey, as a good sale buy - figure on spending around $2,500 on a two-piece ensemble that will work season to season. There are some Prada-inspired jackets with modern touches like velcro fastenings and overstitching detail priced at around $2,000, and a great line of flirty, feminine evening dresses at well under $3,000 (although nothing over a size six American). Serious shoppers should avail themselves of the discounts at popular brand Nicole Farhi, such as a versatile classic jacket in great fabric for $3,575, down from $5,500, and stretch T-shirts at under $400. Women are also snapping up black sheer evening dresses for under $2,000. Contemporary sale items include French Connection's dusky pink rosette-printed dress at only $480 and 'shrunk' T-shirts for $250. Casual shoes from various Italian brands are about $500. For real buys though, check out the previous seasons' bargain corner (merchandise from 1995 to 1997), where discounts run to 60 per cent. Our favourites were Italian dressing gowns for men at around $650, ICB men's shirts reduced to $500, and suits from Issey Miyake's second line at $2,800. For women, jeans by Katherine Hamnett were around $800 and some devore full-length dresses (sizes two and four only) at under $1,300. Fans of Missoni knits can pick up T-shirts in its signature print from the Sport collection for $325. Other stores worth a look-in: Nine West is promoting its summery raffia-heel slides, discounted from $420 to $252; Hush Puppies, an enduring classic, are down to $480; Valentino is offering two men's shirts for $795; Gieffeffe, Gianfranco Ferre's younger line, has some exceptional suits on offer at 60 per cent off the original price. Or if you are going to buy just one great pair of shoes, have a look at D&G's red satin stilettos with black embroidery, now down to $1,870. Also worth watching out for: Hermes will offer 'good reductions' from June 24 to July 5. Marks & Spencer will discount selected items by 30 per cent at the end of the month. And Lane Crawford starts its famous sale on June 19.