Student designers in a class of their own

JOYCE Taylor had her doubts when Haidee Ng explained what she wanted to do.

''Do you have the time?'' said the head of the fashion department at the Sha Tin Technical Institute.

''I'll find it,'' said the determined 21-year-old who proceeded to transform her main fabric by easing it apart, thread by painstaking thread.

''It started out as ordinary woven cloth,'' an admiring Ms Taylor explained after the Coexist Fashion Show.

By the time it arrived on the catwalk at the Regent Hotel ballroom this week, it was unrecognisable: a lacy, light-as-thistledown confection that worked perfectly for Haidee Ng's evening-wear.

Coexist, minus the hyphen, proved a fitting title for the 28 capsule collections - four outfits in each - presented by the 1993 graduates of the Sha Tin Technical Institute's two-year diploma course in fashion design.

It may have lacked the drama and clout of the prestigious Swire School's annual graduation show, but there was tremendous camaraderie. And the array of themes - from Grand Guignol to grunge, from Ancient Egypt to '30s Shanghai - emphasised the key one: the more fresh, creative ideas, the better.

By the end of the evening, it was obvious that a few of them had been shared too liberally. Such a profusion of long, layered garments in sombre ecology-conscious colours.

There was also a tendency to rely too heavily on gimmicks and shock-value accessories - it must be every model's fervent wish to have mega-high platform shoes banished from the planet - with the result that theatricality sometimes took precedence.

It was no more or less than you would expect at a student show. And these students also proved that the Hongkong Polytechnic doesn't have the sole monopoly on vibrant young talent.

Early evidence came with Cherry Wong's summer casuals with their deft play on stripes and curves. It was reinforced by Alice Lau's silky layered ensembles combining subtle florals and solids - very Peruvian, though the inspiration came from Dracula - Fiona Tam's cheerful calypso-flavoured separates, Emma Mak's military-look outfits in navy and Billy Leung's sculptured femme fatale gowns.

There were plenty of other standouts, but what impressed most was the resourcefulness and ingenuity of these students who demonstrated that vocational training in Hongkong - at least in fashion design - is definitely on the right track.

''They made all the garments themselves, which is very good for them as it makes them think through to the three-dimensional,'' said course leader Joyce Taylor.

''The majority will go straight into industry as assistant designers, though as usual, some will continue their training at the Swire School - another three years for a degree.

''Every year, Swire takes at least three or four of our graduates and several have done very well. Dennic Lo, who went on to the Royal College last year, is a recent example.'' As roles models go, the genial Ms Taylor has plenty to offer. Born to Irish parents, she was trained at St Martin's in London, taught at the Belfast Institute of Further and Higher Education and has worked as a commercial designer in Britain - ''at the top end of women's wear as well as for a rainwear company.'' Getting sponsorship for her students is an on-going problem, but she is realistic.

''Everybody wants to supply the Polytechnic's Swire School and Institute of Clothing and Technology, but then we are a junior college.

''We manage despite the constriction of money and I was very pleased that five of our students were chosen as finalists for the Smirnoff competition.'' In line with the policy at the Sha Tin Technical Institute, there were no prizes at Coexist. ''As far as I'm concerned,'' said Joyce Taylor, ''they're all winners.'' The message may not have penetrated Hongkong's garment industry, but it wasn't lost on producer Da Silva's, hair stylist Le Salon Orient, makeup consultant Revlon and the team of professional models who showed their support in the way that matters. They gave it their best.