LAST WEEK, a delegation of Chinese designers was given an opportunity most aspiring fashionistas would kill for: they took their collections to Paris. As part of L'Annee de la Chine en France, a year-long cultural exchange between the two countries comprising art exhibitions and performances, the Fashion China event brought together six of the mainland's most promising talents for a show in the Louvre's Salle Le Notre. It was meant to be a must-see. With all the hype surrounding China right now and its potential as the next big luxury market, organisers hoped the forward-looking fashion world would be gagging for a glimpse into what the PRC has to offer creatively. They could not have been more naive. The unofficial Olympics of la mode, Paris fashion week is notoriously difficult to participate in, let alone place. Media attention, as any of the city's top press attaches will tell you, is not determined by talent alone. Increasingly dominated by mammoth luxury groups such as LVMH, Richemont and Gucci Group, whose influence and big advertising budgets often determine show scheduling and, consequently, editorial presence, the biannual event is tough on even the most visionary of independent designers (who, more often than not, end up with undesirable time slots, or sandwiched between mandatory-attendance shows). By the time the Fashion China show took place last Monday, most of the important international buyers and journalists had gone home - not such a bad thing, in retrospect. Had they been there, the infamously tough crowd would have surely slaughtered the Chinese contingent. 'They have a long way to go,' said one French writer, diplomatically, while Hong Kong-based stylist Candice Poon was less forgiving. 'Now that was embarrassing,' she sighed. For as much as style Svengalis are desperate to discover China's sartorial messiah, he or she was not on the runway that night. Instead, there was a parade of cringe-inducing cliches which left the impression that the designers (Fang Ying, Gu Yi, Liang Zi, Luo Zheng, Wang Hongying and Wu Xuekai) had tried to anticipate what the west expected from the Middle Kingdom - and failed miserably. There were chopsticks tucked into hair, hairpins holding up collars and more kung-fu shoes than you could shake a brocade fan at (not to mention evidence that panty-lines have not yet been outlawed everywhere). One front-row attendee laughed out loud when a model, the front panel of her skirt rolled into a Chinese scroll, walked to the end of the runway before unfurling it for photographers. Critics would also have had fun with the fact that one strappy sandal seemed to disintegrate halfway down the catwalk, a mishap that would amuse Italian manufacturers worried that cheap, Chinese imports could drive them out of business. After the failure of the World Trade Organisation to agree on trade principles in Cancun last month, a number of Italian ministers have called on the European Union to impose duties on products from the mainland, which will have to work hard to reverse its reputation for producing low-quality, copied goods. While such accusations may seem severe - after all, a similar shoe incident befell Gisele Bundchen at Missoni a couple of seasons ago - they are issues Chinese fashion designers will have to address if they want to compete in the international arena. Gu Yi, whose collection featured Chinese seals on waistlines and as tattoos, says she is discovering the importance of image. 'This is our first time to show on the international stage and it's important to us,' she explained backstage. 'China is more open now. Before, you couldn't go out but now it's possible to see the world, how things are done outside, and hopefully give inspiration as much as you take it. But we still have a lot to learn - I hope I can see some other fashion shows and find out how they are presented in Paris.' Compatriot Luo Zheng, who graduated from the University of Shenzhen and was last year named one of the country's best designers, also believes that international experience is essential to the development of China's fashion profile. 'There are things they cannot teach you at school that can only be acquired by seeing the world and developing yourself, your experiences,' she says. Does she foresee the day when a Chinese designer acquires the stature of, say, Valentino, who had shown his spring/summer collection in the same room the day before? 'Of course,' she replies, 'I'm sure we will be recognised on that level one day, but it is hard to say when. Maybe 10 years from now? For now, it's important to observe.' Luo would do well to check out the latest collection from Miuccia Prada, which addresses some of the contradictions facing both emerging and established designers in the international market. 'Miuccia was thinking a lot about travel and global expansion,' says influential stylist and Pop editor Katie Grand of the collection, which reflected on the role of large corporations in wiping out regional identities. While this may sound rich from a woman who heads one of the most well-recognised - and copied - brands in the world, it sends the important message that one must remain true to one's roots and inspiration (in Prada's case, this translated into hand-woven straw accessories and Venetian prints). But it isn't only Chinese designers who are struggling to find their own voice in the drowning noise of international fashion. The 26-year-old Gabrielecorto Moltedo, whose parents Vittorio and Laura Moltedo founded Bottega Veneta in the 1960s (and then sold it to Gucci Group in 2001), presented a teaser collection of bags and accessories to select press and buyers earlier this month. Called Corto Moltedo, the brand's positioning - idiosyncratic, exclusive and charmingly uncalculated - is an affront to the Starbucks of the accessories world. His father - a Sinophile who has just completed a screenplay set in Asia - made a point of seeing the Fashion China show. 'A few years ago, on a trip to Beijing, I decided I was going to discover China's Yohji Yamamoto,' he explained, referring to the renowned avant-garde Japanese designer. 'After a lot of searching, I realised that there was no one of that calibre yet.'