ALCOHOL and fashion have a close relationship: you need to have consumed a lot of the former to buy some of what passes for the latter. But sometimes it can be a healthy one. Smirnoff vodka hosts annual international fashion-design awards that catapult at least one young designer a year into the limelight. The event's London-based organisers were in Hong Kong recently to persuade local fashion students to enter the competition, the finals of which will take place here next November. They will be competing with young designers from 30 countries. Finalists get to parade their creations before 600 guests and some heavyweight judges: last year's panel included supermodel Helena Christensen and British designer Antonio Berardi. A peppy video showed clips of former events in Estonia, India and Sweden, and featured some outlandish clothes, mixed with what organiser Anna Cowie described as 'serious' fashion. The theme for this year's competition is Virtual Nature (conceived by hot British designer Matthew Williamson). Cowie emphasised the 'virtual' - ie, no wood, stones, metal, leaves or feathers should be used but instead ideas derived from nature. 'Nothing that can decompose,' she said. So I guess human body-parts are out. Full-time design students interested in entering the competition can contact The Rowland Company at 2543-1397. (pics given yesterday to Jean) hit with a handbag HANDBAGS by Hong Kong designer Dennis Pong have become a huge international hit - everywhere except Hong Kong. The pretty handbags are on sale at stores like Victoire, Printemps and Shade in Paris as well as several stores in Tokyo, and he is close to confirming a small collection with Henri Bendel in New York. But you can't find them here: local retailers have a curious antipathy to local designers. As a freelance designer, Pong worked for Paris-based houses Lanvin, Michel Klein and Dorothee Bis, returned to Hong Kong on holiday in 1994 and decided to stay. The line is called Babe, which Pong chose because it describes an individual with a certain sex appeal. Sexy or not, the sweet little bags are worth checking out. For next spring, his collection is called Lost Paradise: the colours are inspired by the south sea islands and the paintings of Gauguin. The bags will have modern geometric shapes, touches of glass, net and Swarovski crystals. Pong plans to show his autumn/winter 1999 collection at the London Fashion Week exhibition in February. Who knows, perhaps a Hong Kong retailer will buy some. living doll? THE new Asian Barbie, recently launched in Hong Kong at Toys 'R' Us, has riled feminists in the United States. 'Fantasy Goddess of Asia Barbie is obviously designed to satisfy the white male gaze that has promoted trafficking of Asian women by legitimising industries such as the mail-order brides,' wrote a riled Shamita Das Dasgupta of Manavi, a South Asian women's organisation based in New Jersey. Manavi is campaigning to stop production of the doll, part of the International Beauty Collection series. For the moment, though, it's sitting on store shelves. naked greed GUCCI is exhorting women to go nude next summer. The people who made Envy, a popular scent in both male and female forms, have created a new collection called Nudes, which is the same product in new, summery packaging. The sales bumph is typically over-the-top: 'Nude. Because you want it. Because it's so warm these days. Because nothing parts you and your Envy ...' Sounds almost pornographic.