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Fashion in Hong Kong and China

From Chinese street to the style elite, pyjamas are having a fashion moment

Sleepwear-as-streetwear has caught on across the world as designers wake up to its stylish possibilities. Confident Hongkongers have embraced the style, while others mix and match their pyjamas

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 April, 2016, 6:03pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 May, 2016, 11:56am

Some older people in China think nothing of wearing pyjamas to stroll around their neighbourhood in summer, and now the fashion world has caught on: the most chic look this summer is a pair of slim-cut, printed silk pyjamas.

The sleepwear-as-streetwear look has made appearances before but took a while to catch on. Prada and Anna Sui both toyed with exotic printed pyjamas, but they only broke out of the bedroom properly in 2009, when Dolce & Gabbana showed their Pyramid Baroque collection of men’s silk bathrobes with matching trousers.

Delicate silk shirts with contrast piping have been turning up on catwalks ever since. Stella McCartney, Marc Jacobs, and Givenchy have all had a go at the pyjama look.

How to rock the pyjamas trend? Ask The Dictator

This season Burberry and Alexander Wang have shown pyjama silks, while Thakoon raided his own wardrobe for cotton pyjamas and robes. Equipment has produced accessibly priced pyjamas, and for the budget-conscious, Whistles will put a range of satin pyjama shirts on sale online in May. So enthusiastic is Dolce & Gabbana for the look that the duo produced a special capsule collection this spring and been hosting glamorous pyjama parties from Los Angeles to Shanghai.

Yes, we want no pyjamas

Sarah Rutson, vice-president of global buying at Net-a-Porter, was an early adopter of the look, donning bright silk pyjamas from the newly launched FRS (For Restless Sleepers) and floral pyjama trousers with tunic top from Dorothee Schumacher.

Lisa Cheng brings Olivia von Halle's silk pyjamas to Sheer

Fashion editors have championed the look too. “I saw a girl the other day who works at Net-a-Porter who said, ‘It’s ridiculous, all the fashion directors of Net-a-Porter and Porter magazine come in every day wearing my pyjamas’,” says designer Olivia von Halle, whose own luxurious range is stocked by Sheer and Private Shop in Hong Kong. She began her makeover of pyjamas back in 2011 and has a luxury revamp of the tracksuit in the pipeline.

Designer Olivia von Halle talks silk pyjamas, Coco Chanel and Shanghai

Von Halle was inspired to launch her range when she was living with her husband in Shanghai and struggling to find clothes to fit her 1.83 metre frame. She became obsessed with men’s silk pyjamas and persuaded her tailor to make a couple of pairs for her in a slimmer, more flattering cut. “I wore them to my 25th birthday party, to dinners, even walking the dog,” she says. “I wanted to wear them all the time.”

So did her friends, and she would return to China from England with a list of orders from them. So she set about looking for a manufacturer. Her collections, which are all made in China, have been themed around Shanghai, Moscow and, this season, Palm Springs. “To be honest I have tried manufacturing in Europe but the quality I get in China is amazing. The factory is a real silk specialist, from breeding silkworms to making the silk products.”

Von Halle’s stylish sleepwear for daytime, worn by Kate Hudson, Kate Moss and Victoria Beckham among others, is inspired by the late 19th-century trend for men’s silk pyjamas, introduced to the West by European men who had lived in Asia and picked it up from the locals. The trousers, worn with a jacket, were an alternative to the nightshirt. By 1910 women had adopted them too, and were wearing them as an exotic alternative to the tea gown.

“Coco Chanel wore her lover’s pyjamas in the 1920s and they became a big trend,” says von Halle. “They were the first long trousers women wore, going to parties in their lounging pyjamas and to the beach. They had pyjamas for different occasions and I really loved that.”

Coco Chanel wore her lover’s pyjamas in the 1920s and they became a big trend. They were the first long trousers women wore
Olivia von Halle

Like von Halle, Francesca Ruffini, the Como-based designer behind FRS (For Restless Sleepers), which made its debut last winter, started designing pyjamas out of personal need.

“The first thing I do when I come home is change and put on something comfortable that is elegant, so what better than pyjamas?”she says. The classic men’s styles that she liked were pretty unfeminine and made for sleeping, so she persuaded her tailor to make them in precious silks and in smoother, more feminine shapes that can be worn anywhere, any time.

Ruffini uses the famous Como printed silks, mining the rich archives of producers in the northern Italian town for the gorgeous, flamboyant 1940s- and ’70s-style floral prints in her collection, now stocked by Lane Crawford.

The seductive FRS range of women’s loungewear, produced in silk jacquards and crepe de Chine, recall the palazzo trouser style of 1920s beach pyjamas favoured by Coco Chanel, and also features slimline, masculine-inspired looks in geometric prints. Ruffini draws inspiration from a couple of pairs of vintage Chinese pyjamas she owns “that are more precious to me than a jewel” – underscoring the trend’s Chinese roots.

Kelly Wong, womenswear general merchandise manager at Lane Crawford, says some Hong Kong customers choose pyjamas to lounge in at home, but others have taken up the sleepwear-as-streetwear trend.

“There are customers who are taking the leap and exploring this new trend by mixing and matching the printed PJ tops with jeans or chinos, and the PJ printed silk pants with a simple T-shirt or plain button-down blouse.” The more daring fashion followers she says “wear the whole outfit with confidence”.

Ruffini envisages her customers wearing FRS as glamorous eveningwear, for example styling “a pyjama-smoking look from my autumn-winter 2016 collection with vintage ’40s gold necklaces and bracelets”. Now there’s a dreamy thought.