BY the time the bewigged bodybuilders hobbled on stage in their platform shoes and teensy trunks, incredulity had long given way to what is called shell-shock in war zones. A few in the capacity audience at the APA Lyric Theatre whistled and cheered as one of the musclemen did some energetic bumping and grinding, but most bore the look of the terminally bewildered. What was that recent happening Natural Styling: The 90s all about? Chief sponsor Schwarzkopf made it reasonably clear in its invitation. This was going to be the biggest, most exciting hair show ever held in Asia, promised the company responsible for the world's first herbal hair treatment, non-alkaline shampoo and aerosol perm. It was big all right. ''Tonight you will see 268 performers, including 100 professional dancers, demonstrate nearly 100 hair styles,'' said an announcer as the crowd gazed expectantly at huge teepee-like structures on the stage and closed-circuit TV screens on either side. Nothing emerged from the tents, but the opening number was diverting enough: five wiggling females of varying heights and dimensions in identical towelling wraps, frilly knickers and pink rubber gloves. I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair sang (or more likely lip-synched) the quintet. It seemed to set the tone of the evening's entertainment: sexy but sanitised and a bit offbeat. The rubber gloves should have warned those poor innocents, though they twigged soon enough. Offbeat? This was bizarre with a capital B. There was a drag queen doing a hairy piece of illusion which made him look as if he was wearing a giant skirt. There were also Chinese Opera performers, a modern dance troupe, a Lady Godiva act (minus horse), three pop stars, all the Miss Asia contestants, women dressed like hookers and extra-terrestrials - and that's just the short list. What did all this have to do with hair styles for the 90s? Well you should ask, because even one of the key participants was still scratching his head this week. ''The idea behind Natural Styling was good,'' says Le Salon Orient boss Kim Robinson. ''Schwarzkopf felt a really big hair show would be an inspiring way to counteract the general lack of enthusiasm and creativeness in local hairdressing, but with so many artistic people involved, the whole thing became terribly confused. ''Even I couldn't tell where one presentation ended and another began, so I can understand why the audience was confused. ''Backstage it was sheer chaos. Everyone had different choreography and it didn't help that the programmes had the order of the salons all wrong.'' The other four taking part were Architects and Heroes, Beijing Hair Culture, Headquarters and Rever, but there was no doubt which team scored highest when it came to format: Le Salon Orient's by a long chalk. That was thanks to choreographer Kiki Fleming, who against awesome odds, put together a slick, entertaining production whose attractions included reigning queens of pop Sally Yeh and Sandy Lam, an elaborate hair fantasy section and some young, snappy styles to complement collections by the latest fashion graduates from the Swire School of Design. Rever's segment, produced by Catwalk and featuring lots of clever cutting and embellishments to go with clothes by leading designers Peter Lau, Chau Ming, Walter Ma and William Tang, came a creditable second and it was obvious that the other salons also put in an enormous amount of work. All proved that hype and hoopla aside, Hongkong's top hairdressers can turn in some world-class acts, though the theme of Natural Styling was a joke. In case the obvious hasn't yet hit the organisers, ''street fashion'' that is contrived, derivative and presented on stage, is a contradiction in terms. What it really means is fashion that evolves at grassroots level among the sort of people - usually young and impecunious - who have the imagination, wit and style to create their own hair and clothes styles. Of course, that's all a bit irrelevant in Hongkong where flares and folksy vests are all the rage and the hot new thing in hair is that other 60s favourite, layering.