FASHION’S NEW GUARD by Amanda Kho
On the catwalks of New York Fashion Week in February, Tom Ford, Oscar de la Renta and Rebecca Minkoff took turns wowing fashion editors and buyers with their inventive new collections.
But the prestigious event wasn’t just limited to big-name brands. It also welcomed a cohort of emerging designers who’ve made their names not in the Big Apple, but in their home city: Hong Kong. Heaven Please+ showed off a kaleidoscopic collection of avant-garde designs; 112 Mountainyam unveiled a nature-inspired, ready-to-wear line ranging from suits to sportswear; while Anveglosa featured the sophisticated use of leather in head-turning silhouettes. That same month, Hong Kong-born brand Loom Loop lit up the catwalk with its colourful “Concrete Jungle” collection at London Fashion Week, along with other homegrown labels including Doriskath, House of V and Yeung Chin.
Seeing Hong Kong designers on international runways is a milestone moment for the city’s fashion scene. Before this there was arguably only one Hong Kong fashion designer who had skyrocketed to the global stage: Vivienne Tam. The Guangzhou-born, Hong Kong-raised designer won international acclaim in the early ’90s after launching her eponymous label from New York City. Beyond Tam, few Hong Kong designers have had successful international careers. That’s partly because the city has historically been a hub for textiles, manufacturing and merchandising – not creative design.
“There used to be lots of factories here in the 1970s, producing garments, accessories and textiles for brands in the US and Europe,” explains Stephen Liang, the assistant executive director of the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), which organises international runways and outreach events for emerging Hong Kong designers all year.
Those factories eventually moved to China due to lower rent and production costs, but Hong Kong’s links with the international fashion industry remained strong through trade, distribution and retail relationships. “We know the overseas market very well,” Liang adds. “And now we have designers who can leverage this strong base.”
This rising interest in fashion design has spurred a wellspring of events, trade shows, awards and incubation programmes across the city, including the annual Centrestage coming up this September. Considered Hong Kong’s most important fashion event, the four-day trade show features a mix of consumer and business events, from runway exhibitions and talks to the annual Young Fashion Designers’ Contest.
“About 10 years ago there weren’t so many independent design brands in Hong Kong,” Polly Ho recalls. The co-founder of indie brand Loom Loop, which creates colourful garments from Canton silk, attributes the growth to growing government and industry support, and has herself benefited from Hong Kong Design Centre’s Design Incubation Programme and Fashion Incubation Programme (FIP).
Founded in 2014 by Polly Ho and Andy Wong, Loom Loop revolves around Canton silk, a beautiful heritage fabric that the duo discovered while travelling in Guangzhou. Recognised on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list, this 400-year-old traditional dyeing technique makes its appearance on the brand’s bags, dresses, kimonos and silk gilets.
“We couldn’t believe how much time and effort go into making this fragile silk, from the plant-based dyes to the sun-drying… it’s 30 steps in total and all done by hand,” Ho says. “It’s eco-friendly and nothing short of painstaking.”
After discovering its beauty, Ho and Wong felt compelled to revitalise the fabric through contemporary design. The brand’s past womenswear collections incorporate motifs from Chinese legends, astronomy and artwork into modern pieces. In the FW19 collection, Loom Loop refers to classic “uphill tiger” and “downhill tiger” paintings, commonly seen on traditional Chinese silk scrolls.
“Uphill tiger paintings provide the house and family with protection from evil spirits, while downhill tiger paintings keep the money rolling in and ensures that the family lives in harmony,” Ho says. “Combining prints of tigers, peacock feathers, astronomy and flowers, we continuously play with ‘print on print’ for our own take on Chinese style.”