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Spring 20001 / New York Collections

Small World After All

Designers from all over the globe are try to put their countries on the fashion map with collections rich in native pride.


NEW YORK — It has become increasingly apparent with the globalization of fashion that talent resides far beyond the traditional style centers of Manhattan, Milan, Paris and London. Not satisfied to wait at home to be discovered, a large number of fledgling designers from far-flung countries have come here this week to present their clothes during the premiere showcase of American spring fashions.

That good design knows no borders was aptly demonstrated Saturday when young designers from Hong Kong, Portugal and Africa presented their collections in group shows. Their innovative approaches were all the more intriguing because of their access to native materials and fabrics not available at the large European textile shows, which supply most American, French, Italian and English designers.

Although the spring collections, presented on what was dubbed "International Day," are not yet available in the United States for the most part, the runway presentations gave the designers an opportunity to present their clothes directly to retailers and the media. Some of their fresh ideas are likely to win over consumers.

"There was a confluence of countries all wanting to promote their talent, and we realized America is a large marketplace and New York is the gateway to the fashion business," said Fern Mallis, executive director of the group that coordinates Fashion Week. Designers from Brazil, Belgium, France and other countries are participating in other shows this week.

Of course, for a fashion designer to show a collection in a foreign country is nothing new; Japanese designers such as Yohji Yamamoto have long shown in Paris, and Europeans such as Austrian designer Helmut Lang in New York. But what is happening this season is an international summit of little known designers hoping to generate all-important fashion buzz, which can lead to sales and stardom. Many of the designers who showed here Saturday studied in the United States, and some have lived here. But showing under the flag of an exotic country is attention-grabbing in today's multicultural milieu. And what are fashion shows really if not public relations campaigns?

The breakout talent of the day was Nigerian designer Deola Sagoe, 33. One of four who presented collections at the African Designs Show, Sagoe's exquisite cropped tops and ankle-length skirts accented with rows of white and yellow gold cowrie shells transcended traditional African costume. One evening gown shimmered with metallic pink, purple, green and gold thread woven into a luxe kente cloth, and another was held up by a halter created from interlocking gold discs.

The Africa Designs show was a standout from the beginning, when singer, Zolani Mkive, chanted to bless the show and Djembe drummers took their beats down the runway. "Look what's coming down the runway! The new accessory," said Vogue magazine editor-at-large Andre Leon Talley of the drums.

Bonga Bhengu, 28, of South Africa studded his collection with thousands of gold safety pins fashioned into necklaces, bracelets, belts and even round glasses. Pins accented unfinished seams on skirts and pants that combined different washes and textures of denim to create patchwork effects. Gold thread smocking was used to cinch the waists of sleeveless denim blouses, and to contour skirts and baggy trousers.

Bhengu's inspiration did not come from 1980s safety pin king Stephen Sprouse (although the designer was in the front row at the show) but from tribes men in South Africa, who link safety pins together to make blankets into capes.

Four finalists were selected from a design competition among 100 emerging designers from all of Africa to debut their collections here. The grand prize was a yearlong internship with South African native-turned-New York designer Mark Eisen, who said after the show that he chose Sagoe because, "she combines the best of the past of Africa with a modern feeling."

At the Hong Kong show, Joanna Chu Liao, 32, presented ladylike day and evening wear inspired by vintage European designs of the 1920s to 1940s. A khaki cotton canvas jacket and straight skirt covered with saddle stitches looked smart, as did a nude knee-length dress with sculpted cap sleeves and vintage-style beading. Liao's finale was a rust-colored mesh dress encrusted with beads, which created an enormous peacock pattern centered at the chest.

"Hong Kong Fashion Week is very much about companies looking for manufacturers to knock things off," she said after the presentation. "We want to show the world we are creative."

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