A Perfect Fit for Your Celebration

Go for Chinoiserie Chic this Chinese New Year

Issue: Feb 2010

The ageless beauty of the qipao perfectly captures the essence of the Asian woman
The ageless beauty of the qipao perfectly captures the essence of the Asian woman

Nothing quite whispers sensual sophistication like the qipao or cheongsam, that skin-tight sheath of silk slit to the thighs. In recent times, this traditional garment long associated with the Chinese people has seen a revival of sorts. More than just the uniform of Chinese waitresses or the costume of choice for dowagers in modern pop culture, the qipao is now favoured amongst fashionistas for festive occasions like Chinese New Year or tea ceremonies at weddings.

Tradition with a Twist

The sensual shape of the traditional qipao is given a modern interpretation with a play of colours and modern motifs at Xi
The sensual shape of the traditional qipao is given a modern interpretation with a play of colours and modern motifs at Xi

Although it has long been considered of Chinese origin, the qipao only came to China some 300 years ago when the Manchurians conquered the country in the 17th century and established the Qing dynasty, China’s last dynasty. The Manchurians or qi ren (Banner People) wore their qipao (Banner Dress) loosely fitted and hanging straight down the body, covering everything except the head, hands and tips of the toes.

The form-fitting style more recognized today was made popular in Shanghai during the 1920s and later in Hong Kong in the 1950s.

Of course, the qipao of today, has seen a transformation or two. At oriental fashion boutique, Xi, located at the basement of the Raffles City Singapore, traditional Chinese designs and motifs are given a contemporary, humourous twist. Think unusual fabrics like denim for the qipaos and Chinese motifs on modern tops.

The aim of Xi is “to revitalize the Chinese magic by interweaving it with the dynamism of the 21st century. The end result is a vibrant fusion of gentleness, mystery, colour and history: East Meets West“.

Flushed against a bold Chinese opera backdrop with wooden flooring and pillars and props like lanterns, wooden stools and even an antique pushcart, shopping at Xi is reminiscent of an era past.

Fit for Every Form

The qipao is designed to accentuate the female form. The high collar is meant not only to keep out the cold but also to flatter the neck of the woman and make it appear long and slender. The slits on either side makes for convenient movement but also allow a little show of legs. When the woman walks, the slits offer glimpses of legs in a blur much like “enjoying flowers in mist”.

But the lithe and slender form is not the only type that suits the qipao. In fact, properly picked, the qipao can be perfect for any body shape. For short women, avoid boxy cuts and over-the-knee lengths. Instead, shorter qipaos give the illusion of legginess and height. Women with broad shoulders should opt for fabrics like silk to soften the silhouette. Skinny women can afford to go for brocade which is a heavy silk fabric with a raised design to give them more form and curves. Flabby arms can be hidden with three-quarter sleeves and heavy bottoms minimized with a straight-cut skirt.

The traditional mandarin collar given a whimsical twist with pleats (left) and an asymmetrical hemline (right) at My Mandarin Collar
The traditional mandarin collar given a whimsical twist with pleats (left) and an asymmetrical hemline (right) at My Mandarin Collar

At My Mandarin Collar, a homegrown label in Singapore, artful use of the mandarin collar sums up the look of the collection. The label is created by independent designer Clarissa Choh who operates from a home studio on Holland Avenue and whose designs are made for every woman, regardless of shape or size.

“The traditional cheongsam only looks good on slim figures, so I want to make a modern cheongsam with a more flattering style for the modern woman,” says Choh.

Limited edition tops and cocktail dresses with her signature halter-top cut, the classical qipao given a hint of the modern with the addition of an asymmetrical hem, all done in gorgeous fabrics like burnt velvet, silk, and cotton with Indian prints are what you can expect here.

Symbol of Timeless Beauty

The traditional qipao is usually made of pure silk, but other materials like cotton, satin or satin brocade are often used as well. Intricate designs are then embroidered onto the fabric with floral or auspicious Chinese motifs. Each symbol selected has a special meaning.

At Xi, the time-worn floral motif is used because flowers symbolize love for the woman
At Xi, the time-worn floral motif is used because flowers symbolize love for the woman

While designers these days have taken the liberty to give the qipao a modern interpretation by varying the types of fabrics used, altering its length and even borrowing fashion ideas from the West, when it comes to motifs, traditional symbols are still favoured to retain the essence of the qipao.

Flowers, in general, are a favourite though sometimes, specific blooms are used. The lotus to symbolise purity and love for while the lotus grows in mud, the flowers are pure white; peonies to signify richness and prosperity; and chrysanthemum to denote longevity.

Mythical creatures like the phoenix to signify beauty and purity or objects like the dragon ball to symbolise power and vigour are used alongside animals considered lucky by the Chinese like birds which denote happiness and freedom because they fly free; and fish which symbolise wealth and abundance.

Some symbols of old though are not as frequently found in today’s designs. Fruits, for example, like peaches which denotes immortality and spring; pomegranates that suggests hope for numerous filial offsprings; and the gourd that signifies longevity do not feature much on qipaos now.

Perhaps what gives the qipao its lasting appeal is its versatility and its association with hundreds of years of culture. So for elegance that transcends time, why not get your perfect fit of the qipao this
Chinese New Year.

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