Designer shocks Hong Kong with needles on the catwalk

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William Tang, a Hong Kong fashion designer, yesterday provoked outcry over his latest collection, as models with hypodermic syringes protruding from their clothing strutted down the catwalk during the former British colony's annual Fashion Week.

Faced with a barrage of criticism, designer explained the use of the needles, saying: "They are merely witty accessories that depict the real Hong Kong.

"I am not promoting or glamorising drugs. If you look closely you see the bodies of the models are deformed. I am making a statement that this is a deformed society."

Not everyone was convinced of his motives. Francesca Fearon, a fashion writer who has worked in the Far East, said: "It seems this is a big publicity stunt. Hong Kong designers often need a surprise element in their shows to be remembered by, as they are facing stiff competition from Western designers.

"Tang is a young gun in Hong Kong. He has a good local business but does struggle from time to time - like all Hong Kong designers he's up against a local clientele which prefers Versace and Chanel."

Tang, who trained at the London College of Fashion and worked on a freelance basis in Britain for a short time, draws his inspiration from street dwellers and the gangster underworld.

He often incorporates a quirky twist to his designs. In Paris, where he used to own a shop, he designed a ball gown made of Chinese newspapers.

Ms Fearon said: "He's the late Franco Moschino of the Chinese. He likes to poke fun or include a pun. Recently he's including more and more social comments in his work."

Tang is the latest in a long line of designers, like Alexander McQueen, who have sought to inject shock value into their work. In a Parisian medical school this month, McQueen decorated the halls with dead animals and plaster casts of hands. His early collections caused outcry because of the models' similarity to car-crash victims. When Givenchy hired him as its head designer, publicity was guaranteed.

But the use of "drug chic" and gaunt models has come under fire recently. Gianni Versace said in one of his last interviews that the time had come to rediscover beauty and decorum.

US President Bill Clinton criticised the fashion industry earlier this year for promoting heroin. "It is wrong to glamorise addiction to sell clothes," he said.