HONG KONG — It’s not been an easy couple of months here but the city got a jolt of renewed energy with the start of Centrestage, which runs through Saturday. As in years past, the fashion festival was headlined by two brands debuting their Resort 2020 collections and the fourth edition of the event specially featured designers Joseph Altuzarra and Anaïs Mak.
Although no buying takes place, the event functions somewhat like a fashion week. Organized by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, Centrestage brings together more than 40 different fashion events from runway shows to panels and talks to design competitions.
Speaking a few hours before showing the collection, which explored a free-flowing Seventies girl set against a backdrop of Arizona’s Antelope Canyon, Joseph Altuzarra explained this trip was a launchpad to explore the region more deeply.
“Part of my Chinese family is from Hong Kong, the other part of my Chinese side is from Shanghai,” Altuzarra said, with the brand’s new hero product, a slouchy Play bag, sitting by his side.
While expansion has always been measured for the brand, Altuzarra is now a decade old and this year, it ticked off a few milestones. It dipped its toes into retail by way of a New York pop-up and it also launched e-commerce. Asia could be coalescing soon.
“The U.S. is still 50 percent of the market and then the rest of the world, Europe and Asia are split half and half,” the designer shared, while expressing his hope to grow here. Altuzarra has been stocked by Joyce and Lane Crawford for some time now, but the brand has also entertained talks with Tmall and JD.com.
“We don’t have any concrete plans yet but it’s definitely at the top of my list to spend more time here, to get to know the people here, and Centrestage is such an incredible resource and platform to do that,” Altuzarra said.
He added: “When I’ve spoken to a lot of Asian consumers, there is a response to the fact that I am half Asian and half Chinese, and definitely grew up with awareness of my Chinese heritage.
The other key designer in focus for the night was Anaïs Mak, the born-and-bred Hong Konger behind the label Anaïs Jourden, who showed a collection that played on a romantic theme with lots of lace and asymmetric cuts. It’s been six years since Mak graduated from fashion design school in Paris, getting her first break with Liger, the boutique by Hilary Tsui.
“It was a very small capsule collection but it sold really well, 90 percent sell-through,” Mak recounted. “I didn’t know anything about pricing or deliveries, it was just something I created impulsively but it gave me the drive — the response to a real audience.”
While Asia is often mainly seen as a region to drive consumption, not determine creative tastes, Mak has another way of looking at it.
“Consumption power in a way is inspiring and it helps,” Mak said. “Europe might have a more structured way to launch new talent but the market is so saturated with vision. Without the power to actually support designers commercially and launch their brands into real stores, the business is going to struggle.”
“You really learn when your business grows and picks up. You learn to apply your vision into a bigger scope and artistic vision. In this way, Hong Kong pushes me a lot,” she said.
Mak also pointed to another advantage to her hometown: Hong Kong’s history as a global garment manufacturing hub.
“There’s a whole generation from before who worked in the garment industry,” she said. “If, say, I had to do some prototypes in Paris, it would take a long time and it would cost me a lot more in terms of money so I’m really able to experiment here.”
Stocked at Neiman Marcus, Shopbop, and Galeries Lafayette among others, the designer foreshadowed an announcement coming soon.
“We’ll be releasing a collaboration and it’s really one of my dream moments,” Mak said. Although not ready to spill the full details, she shared: “It’s a collaboration with a French couture house which was really important in the Nineties and the early 2000s.”