ONE graduate wanted to release a caged bird on stage. Another fancied a coffin containing a mock dead baby. Over my dead body, producer Alan Bailey said with icy finality. They weren't the only battles raging behind the scenes as the Swire School of Design's Class of 94 prepared for the big night. Indeed, feelings were still running high even as the guests downed their tea and cookies before crowding into the Grand Hyatt Hotel's ballroom to witness the student fashion spectacle of the year. ''The models were getting very upset and you couldn't blame them,'' one insider said. ''Some of those clothes went well beyond revealing.'' If your definition of indecent runs to bared buttocks, crotch-high skirts, and shorts so brief and tight the wearer risks nasty infections - well, yes, there was a fair bit to cause offence, to say nothing of discomfort, at Swire's BA fashion degree course Graduation Show. It started beguilingly enough. Aaah, went the appreciative crowd as the show kicked off with Benjamin Lau's versatile summer separates in harmonious earth tones - a little ethnic and wholly wearable. Interest remained high as Perry Tsung offered breezy blousons, vests, sarongs and pants for men and women, and rose even higher when Pallas Wong presented her deliciously decadent tribute to Old Shanghai. Then Jenny Tin's cross-dressers, complete with gladiator pleats and pec-baring tops, hit the stage and things went a bit askew. Themes inspired by death, madness, bondage and prostitution; gender-bending and exposure verging on vulgar; models forced to suck their thumbs, look like Macbeth's witches and balance precariously on monster clogs - what on earth are they teaching over at the Swire School these days? Individuality, maintains course leader Jan Stevens, now in her fifth year at the Swire School and enormously proud of her latest flock. Twenty-four egos let loose on stage should have produced some powerful fashion statements. They had every incentive. As Ms Stevens said of the annual graduation show, ''this is the eye-catcher, their shop window''. A few, including Nelky Chan with his funky menswear in arctic shades, took advantage of their three or so minutes of fame. Most blew it. The finale, featuring an outfit from each of the 24, pinpointed the big problem. Walk in on the show at that point and you could have sworn a single designer was responsible for most of it. Such a glut of sarongs and camisoles, sheer tube dresses over bikinis and bras, bared midriffs and Mardi Gras headgear. What this overwhelmingly theatrical display amounted to was a curious blend of self-indulgence and the sort of depressing homogeneity which results from peer pressure. Not all who resisted provided respite. Determined loner Manix Wong may have spurned the models, but the message brought by his gaudily-clad old men - apparently, that Buddhist funerals don't need to be sombre affairs - remained obscure. The perplexing thing about these graduates is that most of them have solid industry experience and are well versed in producing what Ms Stevens calls ''real clothes for very real people''. As the 1994 Graduation Show revealed, most are also keenly sensitive to fabric, colour and detail, though this year's omnipresent wrap-around raised the suspicion that many were either copping out or were duds at those essential skills, pattern-making, cutting and construction. You don't need a bachelor's degree to transform a length of cloth into a sarong. Three years of intensive training at Hong Kong's most prestigious fashion school should, however, yield more than costume drama - even among those destined to become stylists or co-ordinators. Surprise and shock all you like, but as that arch exhibitionist Jean Paul Gaultier could have told the Class of 94, the bottom line is that clothes must be wearable and needless to say, marketable. Hong Kong-born John Rocha, currently reigning as British Designer of the Year, could add another vital tip: draw from your environment and the culture that surrounds you. A devastating thought: maybe they did just that.