Virginia Operator's Itinerary Explores World of Asian Fashion

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Reed Travel Features

RICHMOND, Va. -- With the impending transition of Hong Kong to mainland Chinese rule in July, one question has the world holding its collective breath: Will hemlines go up or down?

Of course, there are more serious questions to be pondered, but the above query might be on the minds of clients traveling on an Asian haute couture tour offered by Richmond-based Fashion Perspective Tours.

To Pam Sexton, Fashion Perspective Tours' owner, Hong Kong's frenetic fashion scene until recently was like an unpolished gem, outshone by the higher-profile markets of Italy and France.

"Originally, I thought Europe was my whole focus," Sexton said, "but then all of a sudden it dawned on me -- Hong Kong; that's fashion if ever there was fashion."

This moment of clarity led Sexton to package a series of tours to Hong Kong, mainland China and Indonesia that can be combined or taken separately.

The longest tour visits China from May 10 to 20. From there the itinerary visits Hong Kong from May 20 to 27 and the Indonesian islands of Bali, Java and Sulawesi on May 27 with a flexible return date.

Sexton said this is the first foray into China for her small firm, which typically runs four trips per year (two in spring, two in fall) to European cities such as London, Rome and Paris. To get business, she frequently networks through organizations such as Junior Leagues and universities.

"[We are] a company that is 3 years old and will continue to add destinations as [we] grow," Sexton said, "but I don't want to grow too fast, so I'm not personally on top of what we're doing. I take you places that you wouldn't think of going or don't have access to."

These places include out-of-the-way textile plants, small retail shops and purveyors of haute couture.

Highlights include the Embroidery Research Institute in Suzhou, outside Shanghai, and Hong Kong's Young Designers' Gallery, where students who design apparel sell their wares.

The Asia Fashion Perspective tour begins in Beijing, where the group will see the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven.

The next stop is Shanghai, with a visit the riverside Bund district and the Jade Buddha Temple slated.

In Suzhou, the tour travels to the Embroidery Research Institute and a silk spinning factory, and in Xian it visits the Terra-Cotta Warriors and Horses excavation.

The mainland China portion of the trip ends with a cruise on the Li River.

In the shopping mecca of Hong Kong, the fashion portion of the tour kicks into high gear, with highlights including trips to the Young Designers' Gallery, Hong Kong Polytechnic School of Design and the Institute of Textiles & Clothing.

Also on the excursion list are visits to Chinese department stores and specialty markets, with optional day trips traveling to Canton, Macau and the beaches of Lantau Island.

The community of Ubud, with its bounty of crafts, textiles and assorted art mediums, seems to be the prime draw of the Indonesian portion of the journey.

The tour also travels to the Balinese town of Kuta, famous for its markets and beaches, the Javanese city of Yogyakarta, where batik design classes are offered, and the relatively untraveled island of Sulawesi.

As stand-alone tours, the cost of each component is $3,500 per person, double, for the 10-day China tour; $2,050 for Hong Kong; $2,700 for two weeks in Indonesia, and $3,200 for three weeks (one week in Bali, one week in Java and one week in Sulawesi).

Clients originating on the West Coast can deduct about $175 from the tour price.

The cost of the tour includes roundtrip air, accommodations, breakfast, a half-day city tour and one-on-one appointments with fashion industry people. The price does not include lunch, dinner and mus-

eum admission.

Depending on the country, the cost of public transportation sometimes is included.

Optional add-ons are available to other cities in the region, and accommodations are in three-star hotels -- at least on paper.

"I always advertise three-star hotels, but my travel agent is so good she gets me four-star hotels and three-star prices," she said.

According to Sexton, her fashion tours aren't for the soft or people who like to complain.

"It's not a babysitting tour, and it's not for the elderly if they're not in good shape," she said. "We walk and take public transportation, but people get to do things with me that they wouldn't get to do on a 'regular' package tour. The whole point is not to spend mega-bucks, and our focus is on haute couture designers and costume collections."

Sexton said that the typical group size is about 20, with a limit of 44 participants (who are split into two groups).

Although the tour has a focus on fashion, Sexton said she gets participants who want to experience the cultural offerings of a destination at a bargain-basement price rather than merely running from store to store looking for deals.

"On my trips, I do have people who don't give a hoot about fashion but just come because the price is right, and that doesn't bother me in the least," she said. "I [don't run] shopping trips, per se. I like to think of myself on a more intellectual level, but it doesn't mean we don't shop."

Sexton said that she is very "user-friendly" with travel agents and works out a very low net price with them instead of offering commissions.

For details or to book, contact Fashion Perspective Tours at (804) 285-3911; fax (804) 644-3155.

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