HONG KONG: For many years, Japan was the place Hong Kong's fashionistas got their style cues, but South Korea is emerging as a new source of inspiration and the city's upcoming Fashion Week is the latest example of the Korean craze.
The four-day event that begins Tuesday will be featuring an unprecedented Korean presence, including five Korean fashion designers and 22 Korean companies. Last year, there were just 16 companies in the show, the largest of its kind in Asia.
The event will feature 900 exhibitors _ from high fashion labels to accessories manufacturers showing off their collections for spring/summer 2006. It's expected to draw more than 150,000 potential buyers from Asia and beyond, although most will come from Hong Kong and China.
It's an ideal sales platform for increasingly aggressive Korean fashion designers and manufacturers, who are seeking to stretch their already lucrative market in mainland China.
"Hong Kong is a very small market and obviously the Koreans don't come looking to tap into this market alone. They choose to participate in this fair because it's the largest one in the region and attracts so many Chinese and Asian buyers,'' says Anne Chick, senior manager of exhibitions at the city's Trade Development Council, which is organizing the fashion week.
The Korean designers are also benefiting from the Korean craze in Hong Kong that was sparked by the wildly popular historical TV drama "Jewel in the Palace,'' also a huge hit in other Asia countries. Korean music and film stars have also built a massive fan base here, and fans mob them at the airport when they arrive to promote their latest work.
But some style experts say it will take time for mid-priced Korean items to achieve the same trendsetting status Japanese clothing has on Hong Kong's women.
"Most Hong Kong people aren't familiar with Korean fashion labels,'' says Genie Yam, Cosmopolitan Hong Kong's senior fashion editor. "But Hong Kong has recently been so suffused with all things Korean, especially the show-business, that people would naturally like to know more about Korean fashion next.''
The typical Korean imports in the city are reasonably priced casual clothing, shoes and handbags. They're of a higher quality than Chinese products of a similar price range, Yam said.
"For shoppers in the know, Korean clothing has always enjoyed word-of-mouth as good bargains,'' Yam said.
Established Hong Kong fashion designer Walter Ma, however, isn't impressed by the Korean fashion that's moving into Hong Kong.
The more upmarket Korean labels that are doing very well in mainland China are of much higher quality, he said.
"Yes there are more outlets for Korean clothes here, but it seems that these years Hong Kong has gone backwards in taste and fashion sense,'' he said.
Ma maintains that Hong Kong designers are better than their Korean counterparts, but high rents, lack of investment and increasing domination of big chain stores have contributed to the slump in their domestic retail business these years.
"The casual wear market is fiercely competitive and more and more designers here are moving towards dressy items like beaded, embroidered dresses. After all, Hong Kong's main appeal for buyers is the low prices for good workmanship,'' he said.
Unlike fashion capitals like Paris or Milan, Hong Kong is known more for its cheap and efficient mass market garment manufacturers than its fashion designers. Very few, like Vivienne Tam and Barney Cheng, make it to the international stage. Aside from the spotlight on Korea, the upcoming fashion week is an attempt to build on the long history of manufacturing in the city and make it more than a sourcing center, organizer Chick said.
"We try to showcase young local designers and encourage manufacturers to partner with them on establishing more private collections and labels,'' she said. - AP