24/5 - 5/8/2023
In ancient times, Chinese silk became a supreme luxury in the western world. Today, textile from Hong Kong have also penetrated the European market. Between the late 20th century and early millennium, textile industry in Hong Kong was flourished and became important among international trade. The success of Hong Kong International Group (HKI) is an outstanding example. Their development over the past 50 years reflected the rise and fall of Hong Kong textile industry as well as the innovative spirit of Hong Kong people.
HKI’s knitted products are directly exported to European, American and Japanese markets, with its honing skills in fusing western designs with Chinese elements. For instance, their graphics on knitwear resemble Chinese embroidery pattern, sewed with sequins and transformed into three-dimensional decorations; refashion the cutting design from slim-fit to loose-fit, with Chinese traditional overlapping panels that covered from left over right or right over left. When the world’s interest toward Chinese textile waned, HKI shifted the focus towards manufacturing technologies and bringing about the invention of washable silk, maintained its competitive edge in the international market.
This exhibition not only showcases iconic products from the 10 brands of HKI, but also displays rare textile machinery that produced these fabulous pieces. They reveal an East-West artistic exchange in a form that are both classic and fashionable.
A 440-page catalogue is available for sale at $200. You are welcome to visit us and purchase any publication during the opening hours.
In ancient times, Chinese silk became a supreme luxury in the western world. Today, textiles from Hong Kong have also penetrated the European market.
With its unique texture, colour, and decoration, silk from ancient China travelled thousands of miles beyond Asia, providing the world a revealing insight into Chinese great craftsmanship. Like the silk material on a garment, Hong Kong’s contemporary textiles have become top products in international trade.
Hong Kong entrepreneurs unexpectedly re-joined the silk road in the 1980s and 1990s. The most outstanding exemplar was Jose S. S. Yu who led HKI, a large-scale enterprise. His team introduced knitted ready-to-wear to the West with courage, perseverance, and wit, bringing Chinese knitwear back to the spotlight.
After reclining from the global stage for many years, China’s entry into the reform and opening-up era had stimulated overwhelming interest of the West as the country unveils its mystery. Westerners were curious to explore how China carried a huge population, established an extraordinary development, and possessed such sophisticated craftsmanship. At the time, many places in Mainland China were yet to be urbanised and Hong Kong was the most culturally opened Chinese society. Thus, Hong Kong became the window for discovering a glimpse of China. Westerners who came to Hong Kong could walk on the historical path of the East-West trade while experiencing Chinese cultural arts that were passed down through generations. To them, Hong Kong was a miniature China.
Jose Yu grasped this golden opportunity. He utilised Chinese silk’s attractiveness to promote HKI’s products to sail through the western market, generating direct sales in Europe.
Without blindly following western fashion trends, HKI’s success lies in honing skills in fusing western designs with Chinese elements.
For instance, their graphics on knitwear resemble Chinese embroidery patterns. The western slim-fit design was refashioned to a traditional hanfu loose-cutting one. Sequins on garments were sewed or transformed from two-dimensional graphics into three-dimensional decorations, creating a completely new freshness.
Through Chinese traditional symmetrical forms, HKI presented clothes with popular Chinese motifs, namely butterflies, cut flower springs, interlocking flowers, and feathers of the peacock. Meanwhile, Yu’s team also took reference from motifs favoured by westerners, such as the face of a tiger, patterns of a panther, zebra, bird, heart symbols, and the word “LOVE”. They would select several graphics from their research to combine with Chinese traditional patterns, then scatter these decorations on garments. These ornamental designs displayed an East-West artistic exchange in the contemporary form that are both classical and fashionable, and were admired by western customers.
In colour choices, there was a shift from the mainstream fashion of plain and monochromatic tones to brilliant multicolour palettes. Vibrant colours conveying a sense of passion and openness were purposely chosen to complement attributes of westerners.
HKI’s garment cutting designs were diverse. Other than open front panels, there were also Chinese traditional overlapping panels that covered from left over right or right over left. As well, there was the three-dimensional effect of the pleated dress that was in fact originated from ancient China. Clothes with these cuttings could be worn as casual or executive wear, easily mixed and matched, ideal for warm or cool weather, and suitable for anyone in any country.
Deducing from above, it is obvious why HKI’s products were so well received by westerners.
Stepping into the 21st century, the world’s interest towards Chinese trends started to fade. HKI congruently reduced East-West cultural elements on garments. The focus was now shifted towards manufacturing technologies, bringing about the invention of washable silk. At the time, slim-cut sexy monochromatic garments were popular. Following these trends, a simple cutting-edge style with accents of modernity was created by the HKI team. Such adaptability enabled HKI to maintain its competitive edge in the international market.
In retrospect, HKI’s 5 decades of development made progress through ups and downs. Jose Yu and his team’s relentless efforts in seizing opportunities, overcoming challenges, and creating garments have been recognised. He has established and collaboratively operated over 70 clothing companies, completing a remarkable movement; he has played a key role in the symphony of the Hong Kong textile industry.
Evidently, Jose Yu had set foot on “One Belt One Road” long ago, walking beyond his time and tapping into the creative spirit of the Hong Kong people, assisting our mother country in reopening this glorious path.
YEUNG Chun Tong
Director, Sun Museum
Editor: YEUNG Chun Tong
Assistant Editor: CHE Fong I, Janet TSOI Yuet Ka, Katherine YIP Po Sum, Charlotte
2023, casebound, Chinese/English, 440 pages, 29.5 x 23 cm
A fully illustrated exhibition catalogue featuring iconic products from the 10 brands of HKI.