IN A SMOKY industrial area of Chai Wan, a crowd of chic young things flitting in and out of a bare shopfront on an obscure, oil-stained alley where mechanics fix cars in the stifling heat, makes for an unfamiliar sight. It's something of a pilgrimage. Curious fashionistas have travelled to the Ming Pao Industrial Building in Ka Yip Street to check out the Japanese brand Comme des Garcons' 'guerilla' shop - only the seventh in the world. It's CdG's latest project to lure young customers who are tired of aggressive marketing from the big names. Although other labels vie for space in Central and Causeway Bay, CdG has deliberately distinguished itself with a remote location far from the transport network, in an area better known for godowns, depots and low-rent housing estates. It's not the multimillion-dollar store most would expect from an established fashion house. Completed in only three weeks at a cost of about $20,000, the shop features a rose garden, a gigantic mirror and clothing casually hanging from the wall, with a white, minimalist interior. And even if it takes off and makes a packet, it will be as short-lived as the next fashion trend. The name 'guerilla' is intended to reflect the fleeting nature of the boutiques. After a year, the Chai Wan shop will either vanish or be relocated. Instead of splashing out millions on renovations, costs are kept to a minimum in low-rent areas. The aim is also to try to help rejuvenate an industrial area in Hong Kong where art and photo studios have flourished, some admittedly fleetingly, over the past few years. The Hong Kong store is the project's half-way marker, with about seven more boutiques planned worldwide. Since CdG opened its first guerilla store 18 months ago in an industrial area of Berlin, it has attracted a strong following. CdG hopes the Hong Kong shop will recreate the success of its Chaussee-strasse boutique in east Berlin - which, the company says, attracted people who previously shopped in the more established west of the city. Christian Weinecke, who's in charge of the guerilla project worldwide, says the company wants to challenge customers to find the shops, and encourage people in Hong Kong to review their preconceptions about Chai Wan. 'It's about discovering the city,' he says. 'The Berlin street didn't have any character. But our shop presented it with a proposition. Art galleries moved in and we also hosted art exhibitions. We became part of the cultural scene.' CdG has teamed up with local management and record production company Silly Thing, owned by Takara Mak, founder of a number of teenage magazines, including Milk, and elder brother of singer Juno Mak Chun-lung. The partnership is responsible for putting Silly Thing logos on CdG garments. The hip quota was overflowing at the opening party this month. With a select 50 guests, there were no ubiquitous socialities or entertainment reporters. The crowd included Silly Thing artists Juno Mak and Yan Ng Yat-yin, pop duo Bliss and CdG staff flown in from overseas. With the entrance hidden down a back alley, many eager shoppers stormed the Ming Pao Industrial Building's security desk asking for directions on the store's May 14 opening day. Advertising executives Anna Lam and Jane Leung, in their mid-20s, visited the shop during their lunch hour. 'It's an interesting concept,' says Lam. 'Lots of people will come for a look, whether they're into CdG or not. Our colleagues are talking about it. 'We sometimes go to Joyce to look for CdG. But the experience is so different because Joyce is selective and caters to the Hong Kong market. But here in Chai Wan, it's entirely Comme des Garcons. The location makes it unique.' Hui, a mechanic who's worked nearby for the past eight years, says he's never seen so many young people in the area. '[The CdG store] was just a storage space or where security guards used to come for a rest,' he says. 'It was pretty much unused. But now it's totally transformed. It's amazing. I saw girls lining up as early as 9am [five hours before it opened]. There were long queues on the first day.' This is what Adrian Joffe, CdG managing director and husband of founding designer Rei Kawakubo, had hoped for. He said at the opening party that the company wanted to create a new shopping experience for those who found the big stores in Central too dreary. Since Kawakubo's works hit the Paris runways in the 1980s, she's been considered one third of Japan's avant-garde trio, along with Yohji Yamamoto and Issey Miyake. Although Miyake has eased up and Yamamoto stays on the path of elegance and sobriety, Kawakubo is still on the move - this time developing the boutique concept. In addition to Hong Kong, CdG has opened guerilla stores in Berlin - which has been relocated to another old area in the east of the city - Warsaw, Ljubljana (Slovakia), Stockholm, Helsinki and Copenhagen, all with local partners. A Singapore store is no longer open. Joffe met Mak at a CdG fashion show in Paris a few years ago. When he came to Hong Kong earlier this year, they met in a cafe on the same Chai Wan back alley and immediately fell in love with the area. 'We've been with Joyce for 23 years here, but you have to move forward in the fashion industry,' says Joffe. 'There are so many brands in Hong Kong. I told [Mak] that, if you're brave enough, check out somewhere near the port. Being in an industrial area gives the interiors an interesting contrast to the garages and so on outside.' Along with its transient locations, another tactic that sets the company apart from its competitors is a will to defy fashion seasons. CdG has a reputation for not conforming to trends. 'The idea is to forget about seasons,' Joffe says. 'Sometimes, we're too far ahead. Our stuff never looks out-dated because we don't follow trends. We don't think it's a good concept to let the clothes just sit in the warehouse.' Chai Wan has been on the verge of a trend-setting renaissance before. Nightclub Pink opened in 2000, but closed after two years. Artist Carol Lee Mei-kuen, who's had a studio in the Ming Pao Industrial Building since 1999, says the area seems to be a magnet for artists and photographers, despite rents having doubled over the past two years, because of its buildings' large spaces and high ceilings. Joffe is confident of the venture's potential, especially considering that Hong Kong is its second fastest growing market in the world, with growth of about 35 per cent over the past five years. He says the Berlin experience has shown that he out-of-the-way strategy won't affect sales at CdG's established town-centre distributors, such as Joyce and I.T. - in fact, it will expand their clientele. 'We're appealing to the more alternative camp,' he says. 'I think Hong Kong people's tastes have changed. Styles used be copied from those in Europe and Japan. But now you see more individualistic designs on the street.' Joyce Boutique's managing director Adrienne Ma agrees that the shop has potential for success because the number of young people looking for alternative designs is growing. 'This market is forever growing,' she says. 'Young people are more carefree and they have more disposable income from their parents. They're moving away from brands that are aggressively marketed. They're more edgy, more avant garde, daring and confident with their choices. 'There's a demand for this and brands such as CdG, Undercover, Rick Owens, or Junya Watanabe are flourishing.' Ultimately, Joffe says, CdG plans to open as many as 15 guerilla stores around the world, with Beijing also on the wish list. And being a relatively small company, with about US$130 million annual turnover, its plans are flexible. 'If [Mak] wants to continue after a year, it might reappear in the New Territories,' he says.