Fashion in Hong Kong and China

Learning curve for three Hong Kong fashion labels in Paris catwalk debut

Kenax Leung, Injury and ffiXXed studios revel in opportunity to work with world-class hair and make-up teams and stylists in world’s fashion capital, and hope to be back again

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 March, 2016, 2:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 March, 2016, 2:02pm

Three Hong Kong fashion labels took a big step up when they joined the world’s biggest designers by showing on the catwalks of Paris Fashion Week. Injury, ffiXXed Studios and Kenax Leung presented collections at the French capital’s L’Ecole des Beaux Arts with the support of Fashion Farm Foundation, a government-funded non-profit dedicated to promoting Hong Kong fashion.

Injury, the label of husband and wife designers Eugene Leung and Dan Tse, showed a collection inspired by “current statistics showing that people only have six seconds of attention now”. How very apt in a season where high fashion has become fast fashion as big brands offer clients the chance to buy straight from the catwalk.

Twitter reacts to the Hong Kong labels’ appearance

“The six seconds thing was interpreted more as an attitude to our design rather than a visual thing,” said Leung. “We made design decisions intuitively and quickly.” The result was youthful and edgy, with plenty of easy-to-wear separates. Slouchy knits paired with shiny, thigh-high PVC boots. A great stripe fabric and a woven belted coat were standouts.

Leung founded the brand 12 years ago in Australia, and in those early days sought inspiration from subcultures – resulting in looks that were visual and graphic. But the designer, who trained in architecture rather than fashion, says that for the past four to five years, “we’ve been changing into something quite different, more high-end, more luxurious, spending more time on fabrics, silhouettes and the right accessories”.

Other Hong Kong designers, many of whom take streetwear as their starting point, would be well advised to embark on this kind of creative maturation if they are to make it on the international circuit. Cool, edgy graphics only go so far, and it’s cutting, shapes and fabrics that translate into lasting appeal in the global high-fashion market.

For Kenax Leung, who also showed a fun, young, street-inspired collection, a play with sleeve proportions, layering and textural patchworking caught the eye. “This collection is inspired by a New York-based installation artist called MEL,” he said. “He works a lot in wood and acrylic, and cut-outs.”

Sleeves featured poplin openings, and the arty abstraction of some patched shapes was a clever link to the designer’s initial stimulus.

The signature relaxed aesthetic and effortless silhouettes of the award-winning ffiXXed Studios (a frequent representative of Hong Kong on the Asian fashion circuit) again won over fans. Co-designer Kain Picken said the label’s autumn-winter 2016 collection was a development from their spring-summer line and took “the theme of relaxation into a hobbies-in-DIY territory”.

There were hints of workwear utility – outfits came belted and adjustable, and there were covetable wraparound skirts and dresses, as well as loose, wide-legged trousers. Fabric has always been a strength at ffiXXed Studios – here it was handwoven materials and a clever digital weave that stood out. Stalks of fresh flowers looped into belts or an earring to poetic effect – an inspired touch by show stylist Georgia Pendlebury.

“I feel happy and lucky,” said Kenax Leung. “All the designers have different styles and are bringing some new visions of Hong Kong design to the international audience. It was such a great experience and very different from a Hong Kong way of working.”

Those from Injury and ffiXXed agree wholeheartedly.

“We love it,” said Fiona Lau, Picken’s partner and co-designer at ffiXXed Studios. “Being in Paris with proper world-class hair and make-up teams, the production and venue are amazing. It’s a great opportunity. I want to do it like this every season.”

If showing in Paris sounds next-level, that’s because it is. It’s an opportunity afforded to few Hong Kong designers; even Ground Zero, which used to be the only local brand on the Paris calendar, has moved to New York.

The French fashion capital draws the biggest and brightest creative talents. Those working on the operation, with talent co-ordinated by Semeotics, felt professional and creatively experimental, the designers said. Pendlebury, in particular, drew praise, with a fresh, artistic way of looking at the collections.

“She isn’t just mixing and matching clothes, she really brings some new voice,” said Kenax Leung. Lau added: “She really opened us up, as usually it’s just the two of us designing, we can sometimes be a bit rigid.”

“The creative energy here is very different to everywhere else,” Eugene Leung said, “not just to Hong Kong, but even compared to our shows in Australia or New York… the stylist and casting director were amazing, completely different.”

After the show, the designers’ hopes were high. Last season the Fashion Farm Foundation showed at New York Fashion Week. Edith Law, its chairwoman, was so pleased with the Paris debut she is already promising to return next season. For everyone involved, she said, “even if these three brands are quite successful in Hong Kong, it’s a chance to learn from the best in the world”.

Importantly, what is on the catwalk has to be seen by the right people in the audience. A handful of international press and fashion bloggers were there, as well as noted French designer Martine Sitbon and art director Marc Ascoli – a good turnout for a first show in Paris, one that they’ll develop next time. Working with the right industry people shows what government funding can do, too, especially with so much being put aside for Hong Kong’s Fashion Fund.

Building up a native fashion industry is not easy but can reap huge cultural rewards, as evidenced by the British Fashion Council or the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Of course, Hong Kong is a far smaller place than either, but there are lessons to be learned from their success and this Paris debut.

“This kind of support,” said Injury’s Dan Tse, “I think it’s the most important thing.”