Hong Kong Continues to Trump Local Design Abroad

For fashion fans in the know, the Libération building on Rue Béranger was a must during Paris Fashion Week. Here, independent Hong Kong designers were given free rein to transform the storied building with shows, presentations, and installations through the international program HKFG, with support from Fashion Farm Foundation (FFF). After that, guests could sip cocktails on the rooftop, taking in what was one of the city’s best views as they basked in the Parisian sunset.

And while Paris managed to make the most of its return to a physical schedule, it was clearly not business as usual for everyone this season. The first international FFF event since the pandemic is back, albeit slightly more restrained: a two-day “phydigital” showroom featuring three brands at the chic Hotel National des Arts et Métiers. In parallel to this, the online shows were opened to the public, offering worldwide audiences “a translocality digital fashion performance experience” and a groundbreaking new partnership struck with luxury e-tailer, LN-CC.

With designers sadly offsite, FFF offered a curated slice of PabePabe, PONDER.ER, and VANN’s brand DNA in their absence through videos and objects. Here, Jing Daily reports on Hong Kong’s new talent showcase as it ramps up digital connections.

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“After the pandemic the whole fashion world has changed and even for a physical show there are now formats and possibilities,” Tianyo Mayao, the director of FFF, explained adding that brands now need to be “open to this new approach to reach both industry and consumers.”

Through FFF, he commissioned campaign videos specifically targeting the Paris Fashion Week market as a way to navigate each brand’s absence yet still deliver a specific message. For the gender fluid label, PONDER.ER, it was a welcome return to the city. “We’ve not been back since we launched so it has been absolutely difficult to connect with buyers, media and people in the industry, especially as we are very new. You need to see our textiles in person to understand the development and craftsmanship, so it’s been difficult,” co-founder Derek Cheng stated.

Still through this, albeit small, selection of paradoxical looks on view at the Hotel National des Arts et Métiers, a sense of PONDER.ER’s layered world is quickly evident. “We design for men but predominantly sell to women,” he added and even more looks would have amplified the collection’s complex tension.

PONDER.ER, a gender fluid label, reinterprets contemporary menswear with the intention of challenging gender stereotypes. Photo: Courtesy of PONDER.ER

Beside them, duo PabePabe have physicality at the core of their concept; this PFW experience was a way for co-designer Logan Chan to balance his love of in-person communication with the breath and immediacy of the virtual world. “Our brand gets far more exposure in a short time [here] so I am trying to balance this fact with preferring face to face contact.”

In June 2021, the whimsical accessories brand opened a standalone space in Central Hong Kong where it sells flippers, a piano-hell bag, and luxury fast food trays. “The pandemic lowered the rent here a lot, so this was a good chance to rent a space for our own brand which we run as a gallery store. Alongside that we hold exhibitions for other brands, which was our starting point,” Chan continued.

PabePabe’s quirky accessories line includes a bag in the form of a rain boot. Photo: Courtesy of PabePabe

Having a space to showcase amid the pulsating heartbeat of the fashion week was a way to replicate that tactile connection from the other side of the world. But, at such a downbeat time, can new labels such as PabePabe’s with humorous offerings translate for global buyers?  This challenge is mitigated, as Maymo outlined, by the moving image: “This season, showcasing the video helps the buyers to visualize [the product].”

This concept is not new but skyrocketing interest in online applications and video since 2020 attests to the ability of video to compensate or at least temporarily compliment for the “hands on” touch and also to convey brand personality; with vibrant visuals conceptualized around a TV game show, PabePabe’s campaign is a case in point.

Indeed, a hybridization model is expected to cement its staying power as recovery from the pandemic gathers pace. According to the State of Fashion 2021, 89 percent of fashion executives expect a hybrid model of working to be part of the new normal, and FFF’s gear shift included a pioneering tie-up with London’s progressive platform LN-CC to launch these collections at PFW.

The opportunity to promote itself to wider audiences and to be representative of fresh talent from the area was a key facet to the partnership for niche jewelry label Vann. “Before, we were only able to show buyers and industry insiders our collection. With this, we can reach new potential customers directly,” Vann Kwok told Jing Daily on the game changing move.

“For us it’s about finding new talent and giving them a platform,” Reece Crisp, Buying & Creative Director at LN-CC divulged on the collaboration. “Each brand has a point and view that fits in with the direction we are taking our edit. Each designer is challenging any preconceived perceptions of what HK style is and can be.”

For so long, all eyes have been on the mainland’s rich tapestry of emerging designers but they still struggle to pick up international retailers. Now, with a strong customer base in key capital cities, LN-CC offers Hong Kong’s PabePabe, PONDER.ER, and VANN a captivated global audience, plus a new, diverse customer base — ready for something new. Let’s see what next season brings.