Contest sees collections inspired by such diverse influences as homelessness and a sparkling night in Shanghai AFTER MONTHS OF gruelling work, 16 aspiring local designers will put their finest fashion feet forward tomorrow as they vie for awards in Hong Kong's most influential fashion contest for young designers. The Young Fashion Designers' Contest signals the start of the third World Boutique, a four-day fair running parallel to Hong Kong Fashion Week for fall/winter that showcases established and budding designers from around the world. The winners will be announced in Hall 5 of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre at 8.30pm tomorrow. The event is considered one of the fair's main highlights and reflects the commitment of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (TDC), organiser of the fair, to nurturing homegrown brands. According to Andrew Leung, chief judge of the panel and chairman of the TDC's garment advisory committee, Hong Kong's ability to secure a foothold in the world fashion arena is dependent on its support of rising talent. 'We have great hope that Hong Kong will become a fashion hub for manufacturers, designers and import/export businesses,' he said. 'One of the prerequisites for this is to have plenty of talent developed locally. 'We need a huge pool of designers. Without them, we cannot move to that stage. It is essential to encourage youngsters to get into the fashion business.' The 16 finalists are competing for nine awards. These are Overall Winner, Casual Street Wear Group Winner, Contemporary Daywear Group Winner, Partywear Group Winner, the Style Hong Kong Magazine Prize, the WestEast Magazine Prize, the U-Right Prize for the Most Innovative Use of Fabrics, the Sau San Tong Prize for the Best Silhouette and the Photographer's Prize for the Most Outstanding Collection. Casting votes may not be an easy task, even for the 12 experienced members of the judging panel, which includes such well-known Hong Kong fashion figures as the chairman of Esquel Group of Companies, Marjorie Yang, fashion designer Ranee K and model Janet Ma. 'This year's contestants are of very high calibre and some of the groups are closely contested,' Mr Leung said. The panel will judge the designs in three areas - casual streetwear, contemporary daywear and partywear - and on their creativity, marketability, suitability in the use of fabrics and overall appeal. Contestants run the gamut from design student to more experienced designer, with collections as diverse as their backgrounds. Natalie Ngai Hoi-lee, a contestant in the casual streetwear group, drew inspiration for her collection, Homeless Traveller, from the desire to expose a pressing social problem. A fashion design student in her final year at Hong Kong Polytechnic University's School of Design, Ms Ngai was touched by a book she read about homeless youth and decided to base her collection on this often overlooked segment of the population. 'I want people to understand that homelessness does not only affect the elderly or handicapped. Homelessness affects a lot of youth,' she said. Ms Ngai used 'bulky, baggy and asymmetrical garments' in muted tones to inject a vagabond look into her collection. Irregular collars and stitching created the visual effect that 'everything is dripping', she said. On top of communicating an important message, Ms Ngai hopes taking part in the contest will give her exposure to the wider public. 'This is the most famous fashion competition in Hong Kong,' she said. Drawing from a more lighthearted theme, Wilson Lee Siu-hong's partywear collection, called Fireworks, captures a fleeting moment in time: a light-spangled evening in Shanghai. 'I travelled to Shanghai a few times recently. One night, by accident, I saw fireworks. I wanted to transform this beautiful moment into a collection,' Mr Lee said. His eveningwear collection featured eye-catching pieces, he said. 'I have used a lot of French lace, some satin and chiffon trimmings, and a lot of beading and sequins to give a sparkling look.' Classic colours of dark red, navy and burgundy add elegance and sophistication to his dresses. A fashion design graduate of Ryerson Polytechnic University in Toronto, Canada, Mr Lee returned to Hong Kong four years ago and is now designing ladies eveningwear for Couture Company.