Since the rise of Hong Kong’s haute couture industry in the 1990s, it has faced challenges from cheaper mainland imports and western luxury brands. Now, Hong Kong’s young designers are finding new niches and adjusting to the times.
With world renowned designers, including Barney Cheng, Benny Yeung Yuen-chun, and Cecilia Yau Suet-ki, along with a new-guard of talented designers such as Arthur Lam Shue-pan, Dora Chu, and Kev Yiu, the industry has come a long way since the 1990s, reports South China Morning Post.
“There were not many designers specializing in couture before then as the difference between a couture designer and a traditional tailor was not defined and was appreciated only by very sophisticated clients. When the economy boomed in the 1980s and 1990s, people started to look for something that was more personal,” said Bonita Cheung Kit-man, a former couture designer and an executive member of the Hong Kong Fashion Designers Association.
With the influx of western luxury brands to Hong Kong, rents increased, and it became harder for new designers to open storefronts in the city. Now, Hong Kong’s designers are facing new challenges with the rise of online shopping.
“There was once good demand and an appreciation for quality and local designers. Now most people want things fast and cheap. The lifestyle of people around the world has changed, too. From furniture designs to restaurants and clothing, simple and no fuss is in demand,” said Arthur Lam.
Many designers in Hong Kong’s old-guard of haute couturiers have evolved to keep up with the times. Lam has released a ready-to-wear line targeted at the mainland, and Cecilia Yau has opened a store at PMQ featuring her off-the-rack collection.
Barney Cheng has gone even further afield, releasing a diamond jewelry collection. Cheng, who has designed for the likes of Michelle Yeoh Choo Kheng and Gong Li, said, “I can only name a handful of Hong Kong designers who were around when I started.”
Young fashion designers are following suit in the move away from haute couture.
Dora Chu, who started her own couture line in 2008 after graduating from Central Saint Martins and working with Jenny Packham and Alexander McQueen, has recently announced that she will release a ready-to-wear line.
“With the change of social scene, I do see that women need to attend more, but less formal, events. A ready-to-wear product provides quick and convenient solutions to customers from this perspective. Designers can no longer specialize in bespoke, but must diversify into new product lines to cope with new demand. I’ve seen designers engage in jewelry, handbags and also fragranced products to complement their business portfolios,” Chu said.
Barney Cheng’s former assistant, Melissa Bui, who started her own demi-couture brand in 2013, is adapting to changing lifestyles as well.
“I am translating my knowledge of couture workmanship into a more economically accessible ready-to-wear line. Customers can expect couture-like quality at a more affordable price. I also include simpler everyday pieces that are younger and more modern in every collection; we can’t all wear ballgowns every day,” said Bui.
Vivian Luk, who started her own business in 2008 after working for Vera Wang, echoed Bui’s comments, saying, “It’s just a matter of finding a new way of doing bespoke that is different to how traditional couturiers work that would make it attractive to today’s lifestyle.”
image credit: barney cheng