Byline: Kavita Daswani

HONG KONG — An ambitious attempt to bring an extensive range of British labels to an Asian audience hungry for innovation has apparently paid off: By the end of “UK Cut,” the first full-fledged, all-British runway show here, retailers were clamoring to sign up some of the hot new labels.
Jointly organized by the British Consul General here and the British Department of Trade and Industry in London, which arranged to fly out nine top London designers with their collections, the event — held late last month at the luxurious ballroom of the Grand Hyatt Hotel — threw open the arena of British fashion to more than 500 retailers, merchandisers and consumers.
“I’m glad to have had the chance to come and talk to existing customers,” said Stuart Trevor, designer of the All Saints label. “Now, Seibu and Joyce are fighting to have exclusivity. We’d love to have this kind of support from the government back home.”
Merchandisers came from such top Asian retail outlets as Seibu, Lane Crawford and Joyce, which between them source international offerings for their stores in Hong Kong, Taipei, Singapore and China. And the plethora of socialites and celebrities from the local film and music industries certainly pumped up the glamour quotient for the evening.
“The production was great, and a lot of effort went into transforming the ballroom to create the right ambience,” said Eva Shum, a women’s buyer for Joyce, as she mingled at the post-show party, held so buyers could talk to designers.
“This is my first trip here, and it’s the weirdest place I’ve ever been,” said Andrew Groves, an avant-garde designer whose previous London runway shows have included flies emerging from under a coat, or runways covered with white powder for a junkie theme. “It’s been a good opportunity for me to understand the Hong Kong market. I can see the local lifestyle and understand it. Otherwise, I can’t design to suit local customers.”
Groves now sells here in a small boutique, Sistyr Moon.
“I’ve gone around the shops to see what sells. It’s such a futuristic city. But I think it was also a good way for Hong Kong people to see a whole range of what U.K. designers can do.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, David Sassoon, designer of couture-led label Bellville Sassoon Lorcan Mullany, said the show provided him with an opportunity to resurrect his business in Hong Kong; he used to sell to Lane Crawford.
“It’s a really good chance for me to make contacts, new and old. I can see there’s a real gap in the Hong Kong market for glamorous eveningwear that is not an international name, and not in every store,” said Sassoon, who has been in business for 40 years and has dressed Elizabeth Taylor and Shakira Caine as well as a host of royals.
Lesley Sealey, the designer of the hip label Uniform, which is carried by Joyce, said the event helped to elevate the brand’s local profile.
“Hong Kong is so futuristic, it’s like ‘Blade Runner,”‘ said Sealey. “This in fact is our first catwalk show ever. We’ve believed more in setting up the business quietly and establishing sales before doing shows. But this one was really professional, very slick, and because we didn’t have to do very much, we could just relax.”
Numerous top-level British labels are already available in Hong Kong. A Paul Smith flagship opened last year. Seibu carries such brands as Vivienne Westwood, Ghost, Nicole Farhi and French Connection, while Joyce is promoting labels like Clements Ribeiro, Ben di Lisi and Megan Park for women, alongside British accessory marks Lulu Guinness and Jimmy Choo.
“We believe that British labels have great potential in Hong Kong,” said Joyce’s Shum. “The brands enjoy a good following from our customers.”