Models walking down the ramp, designers adding final touches, paparazzi pushing for a place, celebs in the front row seats, and, of course, huge audiences all come to mind when thinking of a fashion event. It’s no surprise, therefore, that the pandemic’s early stages and the ensuing social constraints wreaked havoc on the fashion sector, with almost every event being cancelled around the world. The sector quickly adapted to a hybrid model, covering both offline and online settings at the same moment.

Hong Kong, being Asia’s most renowned fashion city, has been eager to be recognised as a leader in this trend, with the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) using the ‘Phygital’ concept to hold CENTRESTAGE 2021, a key event on the region’s fashion calendar. The show was officially back on the runway this year, assisted by ever greater technology, after a relatively smaller hybrid edition in 2020.

The three-day festival included 30 fashion shows where brands and designers demonstrated their innovation in the fashion industry. Despite the difficulties, the expo drew amazing crowds, with over 200 fashion brands representing 24 countries and regions, 2,550 trade buyers, and 17,200 spectators.

For the very first time, the 2021 iteration of CENTRESTAGE was available to the general public throughout, making it simpler for local merchants and shops to contact end consumers. When the expo emphasised a business-to-customer approach, exhibitors were able to engage with overseas customers via approximately 700 video conferences for any ‘business matching’ requirements.

The FASHIONALLY Collection #17 fashion show, the opening event, featured developing local talents and their businesses. Several Hong Kong designers will be featured at FASHIONALLY Presentations by CENTRESTAGE, who will combine a brief fashion movie with an onstage performance to present their Spring/Summer 2022 collections.

Geox, an Italian shoe company that had put up a display at CENTRESTAGE for the first time and was attracting customers in the 25-35 age group, was one such exhibitor.”Our brand is recognised for functional shoes, but we have taken this chance to showcase our trendy stuff in hopes of attracting a younger audience,” said Michelle Wong, Assistant PR, and Asia Pacific Marketing Manager, while explaining the brand’s strategy.

We’ve also discovered that CENTRESTAGE’s hybrid strategy has helped us – on the fairground, there are many more consumers than wholesale purchasers, but we’ve been capable of attracting merchants via the business matching videos.”

This two-pronged strategy was carried over to the runway.

Digital features integrated perfectly with on-stage happenings during the CENTRESTAGE Elites presentation, providing an improved experience for both in-person and online spectators. Local brand The World Is Your Oyster and South Korean brand YOUSER, for their part, used augmented reality to develop an almost fictional world of light, shadow, and music on the runway, while Cantopop singer Hins Cheung utilised digital support in his performance as well, warming up the crowd with a recorded show prior to actually going live. In the meantime, those watching from afar may be able to see virtual reality elements in YouTube videos.

This isn’t to argue that combining digital and physical elements was without its difficulties.

“It was the first time we conducted a fashion event online, and it was challenging to manage all the aspects including such lighting as well as the volume of the music,” said Lee Mooyeol, the designer behind the YOUSER brand, who supervised his presentation from South Korea. While it made me want to rush to the scene on occasion, it forced us to be more organised. This experience made me confident, and I’m sure I’ll be able to handle things better next time.”

Others believe that the digitalization of fashion events had opened a whole new world of opportunities. For example, Jason Lam, the owner of MATCHESFASHION and a judge for the Young Fashion Designers’ Competition 2021, says that “thanks to technological advancements, runway events are no longer restricted to front-row fashion critics”, adding, “I think there are only positive aspects to this approach.”Creators must raise their efforts as even more people are exposed to fashion. It increases interest in fashion by making it more accessible.”

The entire positive vibe at CENTRESTAGE 2021 reflected his thoughts, with 53% of the 290 exhibitors and customers surveyed by the HKTDC believing revenues will improve in 2022.

The worldwide release of the 2022 Spring/Summer collections from local fashion designers Calvin Chan and Joyce Kun’s famed label The World Is Your Oyster, and also renowned Korean designer Lee Mooyeol’s brand, YOUSER, took place in the evening of September 10 with the opening show, CENTRESTAGE ELITES.

The ‘Phygital’ concept appears to be the fashion-forward way to go, with most firms boosting their digital presence while still maintaining the attraction of physical fashion shows.

By Somasree Roy


Somasree Roy
Author: Somasree Roy