Five dressmakers keeping alive the qipao, or cheongsam, in Hong Kong by adding modern twists to the traditional Chinese dress
Need a qipao for Chinese New Year? They are harder to find in Hong Kong these days with the retirement of many old Shanghai tailors, but younger dressmakers still offer them – and with modern cuts, fabrics and designs
A cheongsam, also known as a qipao, is a traditional Chinese dress often worn during Lunar New Year celebrations as well as on other special occasions.
However, as the old generation of Shanghainese tailors in Hong Kong retires, finding a high-quality cheongsam in Hong Kong is increasingly difficult. We found five places where you can still buy one or have one made.
Keita Maruyama Eastern elements such as Chinese motifs, floral and dragon embroidery have always been a part of Keita Maruyama’s brand aesthetic. But the Japanese designer – who has created ready-to-wear, uniforms for Japanese airlines and Hong Kong high schools, and kimonos – takes this further with the capsule collection of qipaos in his In the Mood for Love range.
“Qipaos can be difficult to wear because of how they emphasise the curves of a woman. I want to make them more comfortable, yet still stylish, so they can be daily wear. That’s why my designs are a bit more loose-fitting,” says Maruyama, via a translator.
While the collection is named after Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai’s acclaimed film, in which actress Maggie Cheung Man-yuk wore more than 20 different qipaos, Maruyama has included other pop-culture references, such as to Chinese-born Japanese actress Yoshiko Yamaguchi, who was often seen wearing cheongsams.
The ready-to-wear pieces, available at On Pedder in Lane Crawford stores in Hong Kong, are made with fabrics he has previously designed and used in other collections, such as cloth with constellations, stars and glitter. He also adds interesting details such as pom poms to the collars, and tassels to the buttons. Other designs – in plaids and florals – are available for special order, with the finished product ready within two months.
Where: On Pedder, Lane Crawford stores across Hong Kong.
A hidden gem in Sham Shui Po, this cheongsam shop was only established by dressmaker Henry Tsang in 2016. Though Tsang is only starting out in the business, he learned his skills from old masters in the industry and has impressed clients with his workmanship. Customers have come all the way from Singapore to join his qipao-making workshops.
While Tsang prefers classic designs, he gives the cheongsam a modern twist by using bold patterns and bright colours (think comic-book character Miss 13 Dots) as well as cotton fabric, rather than silk or nylon. Rolls of fabric, hand-picked by Tsang from the United States and Japan, line the walls of his shop.
“A good qipao should be complementing the curves of a woman while hiding any flaws,” says Tsang. “It should flow well and cannot be too tight or loose in certain areas.” This is why, even after making a qipao according to a client’s measurements, he still needs the client to try it on and make further adjustments. The price of a bespoke qipao starts at HK$3,500 (US$450) and can go up to HK$9,000, depending on the complexity of the design and the type of fabric.
Though it only takes three to four days for Tsang to complete one dress, he has so many orders he won’t be taking any new ones until June.
Where: TenOne TenThree, G/F No 177 Ki Lung Street, Sham Shui Po, Kowloon, tel: 6011 0162
Blanc de Chine
For ready-to-wear qipaos, check out Blanc de Chine, established in 1984 and with a longer history in Hong Kong than Shanghai Tang. The luxury label has stores in Central as well as Beijing and Taipei.
Its designs have been worn by celebrities and politicians alike, including Hong Kong’s head of government, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the city last year, and film director Xu Haofeng on the red carpet at the Golden Horse Awards in Taipei.
While handcrafted fashion has given way to machine-made garments in an age of mass production, Blanc de Chine is one of the very few brands left able to maintain a high standard of craftsmanship. Its designs are contemporary yet sophisticated, and maintain the elegance of the classic garment.
Take the silver qipao with swallow and floral patterns in its autumn/winter 2017 collection, which features sequins and impressive details. Its tailor uses a special technique when sewing the patterns together – removing the sequins before reattaching them one by one so they can flow smoothly.
Where: Blanc de Chine, Shop 123, Landmark Prince’s, Central, tel: 2104 7934
Another label offering off-the-rack options is Gain Perfect. It exports cheongsams to many countries in Asia, but also has a store in Sha Tin that offers tailoring services.
According to managing director, Catherine Mak Siu-kuen, the company’s mission is to promote the qipao as a symbol of Chinese art and culture to the world. Gain Perfect has also introduced modern elements to its designs, such as adding a mermaid cut to long gowns, or creating A-line qipaos instead of the usual body-hugging ones.
It also sells elaborate traditional cheongsams that are suitable for special occasions, and more casual designs such as one in denim.
In addition to womenswear, customers can find menswear such as tangzhuang – Chinese jackets with straight collars – and quilted silk jackets as well as children’s wear.
Where: Gain Perfect, 37C, Hilton Plaza, Sha Tin
Yan Shang Kee
Instead of buying a qipao, why not rent one? Customers can choose from over 200 different cheongsams at Yan Shang Kee for a daily rate of only HK$380 (US$49). The fee includes a pair of earrings and a vintage bag as well as a complementary hairstyling service.
Yan Shang Kee was established by a young entrepreneur known only as Ding, who has a penchant for all things vintage. The store is on Elgin Street in Central.
Many of the cheongsams available at her store are unique. Ding flew to Japan to buy fabric, then to Shanghai, where she found tailors to make them.
Others she bought directly from factories in Hangzhou and Suzhou. There are designs with polka dots, geometric patterns, and plaids, as well as more whimsical designs such as giraffe patterns.
Where: Yan Shang Kee, Flat C, 1/F, 16A Elgin Street, Central