HONG KONG HAS long established itself as the Asian headquarters (outside Japan) for practically every European and American luxury brand. It's also the most productive retail market in sales per square foot in Asia ex-Japan. It's no surprise then that Asia contributes to 25 per cent of total luxury sales and, including Japan, accounts for about 40 per cent of the market, putting the entire region ahead of the US and Europe. Then there is, of course, the buzz around business in China where investment accounts for a significant share of every major company's business plan, with Hong Kong playing a key role. The mainland is also viewed to have the most extraordinary potential growth in branded goods among emerging markets. It's for these reasons that Luxury 2004: The Lure of Asia is convening this year at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Hong Kong (December 1-2) after three years of Paris conventions. 'The move [from Paris to Hong Kong] is significant because it confirms the direction [of fashion houses and brands] and market [China consumers] for luxury for the near and medium term. [Fashion editor at the International Herald Tribune] Suzy Menkes told me that she would have liked to hold the conference in Shanghai, but still it's logistically easier to hold the conference in Hong Kong,' says Handel Lee, co-chairman of Three on the Bund, House of Three. The conference will bring together business leaders and designers to discuss the challenges, opportunities and other topics for international fashion brands operating in the region or planning to enter the luxury goods market here. 'As this is an international conference, the delegates come from every corner of the globe. The audience tends to be a comprehensive mix of business and industry executives that are associated with some facet of the luxury and fashion business,' says Randy Weddle, Asia-Pacific managing director of the International Herald Tribune, who's organising the conference. The opening keynote speaker will be Bernard Arnault, chairman of LVMH. His participation is in line with previous keynote addresses by Tom Ford (2001), Ralph Lauren (2002) and Giorgio Armani (2003). This year, speakers such as Diego Della Valle, chairman and chief executive of Tod's, Alber Elbaz, head designer of Lanvin, and Ferruccio Ferragamo, chief executive of Salvatore Ferragamo Italia, will explore the subject of retail expansion of the luxury and fashion sector within Asia. Noted industry leaders such as John Hooks, group commercial director, Giorgio Armani, Giorgio Armani Japan, will describe the company's overall philosophy towards retail expansion and explain specifically what strategy they are employing in emerging markets such as China and Eastern Europe. Likewise, Francis Gouten, regional chief executive of Richemont Asia-Pacific, will discuss their current and future business plans in the region. Handel Lee will talk about 'the reintroduction and infusion of elegant culture and lifestyle in China's contemporary society'. Asia is once again a region of dynamic growth in fashion and luxury goods, according to a spokesman for Giorgio Armani. 'The Japanese economy is trending positively after a decade of stagnation and countries like South Korea, Taiwan and Australia are also witnessing strong growth, while China is obviously the market on everyone's radar,' he says. 'With such a large percentage of global luxury brands sales coming from Asia, it is a natural move for the conference to take place in Hong Kong - the gateway to the People's Republic of China for the luxury industry,' says Menkes, the conference moderator. 'This conference will examine the exciting opportunities and potential pitfalls of fashion's 21st-century gold rush.' Does this mean luxury has lost its lustre in the west? 'On the contrary,' says Paul Husband, a participating speaker and managing director of Hong Kong-based Husband Retailing, 'The US has been a very strong market for luxury brands this year and Europe has been fairly flat. I don't think it's a case of the west declining and the east rising. [The organisers] are just more aware of where the luxury business is going.' Husband also credits a Hongkong Land initiative as a reason for the move from Paris to Hong Kong. Project Phoenix was formed to focus international attention back to Hong Kong in the wake of Sars. The organisation comprises 33 companies in industries ranging from property to travel: Hongkong Land, Swire, Wharf Holdings and other developers working together with retailers such as Joyce, LVMH, Gucci, Prada, Chanel, Lane Crawford, and hotels such as the Mandarin Oriental, The Peninsula and Shangri-La, and even airlines British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Dragonair. Husband chaired one of the working groups looking for a major consumer and, having been to previous luxury fashion conferences, he says such a convention will 'turn the spotlight on to Hong Kong and bring the brand and principals here and raise the profile'. There is still no indication, however that the conference will be held in Hong Kong every year, nor is there a move to organise a conference specifically to address issues concerning the Asian market. Lee thinks the worst thing in fashion is 'dilution'. As Gouten says, 'I think that too many seminars will kill the interests of the people. One seminar once a year is enough. I do not think we have a specific need for [conferences for] the Asian market. The majority of the luxury brands are coming from Europe.' Ian Hawksworth, executive director of Hongkong Land, the conference's principal sponsor, says: 'The development of the luxury retail sector in Hong Kong over the past 10 years has been a phenomenon. This has been driven by domestic growth and the rapid development of the China market. 'Today, Hong Kong is one of the great luxury capitals of the world, and continues to grow in line with China's economy. Hongkong Land's properties in the Central business district are home to the world's most concentrated collection of leading fashion and lifestyle brands within a quarter square mile. The city is an excellent venue for this conference.'