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Ong Shunmugam’s qipao inspired dresses.

The Missing Piece’s qipao designs can be worn on non-festive occasions.

Victoria Tang-Owen, creative director of Shanghai Tang, and her latest creations.

Victoria Tang-Owen, creative director of Shanghai Tang, and her latest creations.

Victoria Tang-Owen, creative director of Shanghai Tang, and her latest creations.

Veteran couturier Goh Lai Chan’s qipao designs for 2020.

YeoMama Batik reinvents the qipao in bold batik.

YeoMama Batik reinvents the qipao in bold batik.

(Left) Marilyn Tan’s minimalist and symbolic jade bangle. (Right) Caratell’s 18k white and gold earrings with tassels, bedecked with corals and diamonds.

Caratell’s Lion Dance ring with rubies and diamonds.

(Left) Alghieri’s rat medallion to usher in the Year of the Rat. (Right) Faberge’s red locket opens to reveal a solid gold rat.

Madly Gems’ brooch/ pendant with rare mandarin spessartite garnet.

Gioia’s icy jade and gold dragon ring.

Qipao Power: The Cheongsam gets more fashion relevance

Asian designers are taking the classic Chinese dress to new global heights
17/01/2020 - 05:50

THE QIPAO MAY no longer be a common sight on the streets of China. But fashionistas across the world are embracing the dress as a way to affirm their Asian heritage, celebrate global multiculturalism and, well, make a splash in a slinky form-fitting garment. Local fashion brands such as Laichan, Ong Shunmugam, The Missing Piece and YeoMama Batik are both honouring and deconstructing the traditional qipao, as are international design houses such as Shanghai Tang. 

Shanghai Tang’s creative director Victoria Tang-Owen says: “Deconstructing. Reconstructing. Revisiting archive pieces to revive conversations. These are some of our strategies. Our products and designs attempt to hint at our Chinese roots – as opposed to showing ‘Chineseness’. The clients we have may have lived in China and other parts of Asia, but they’ve also lived in Europe and the US. The phenomenon of social media means we’re constantly exposed to global ideas and we travel a lot more with our minds.

“At Shanghai Tang, we try and develop an aesthetic that celebrates Chinese culture – but one that can also go well with other aesthetics.”

The latest collection of Shanghai Tang, which has a permanent store and pop-up at Raffles City Shopping Centre, has several beautiful traditional qipaos. But the more buzzworthy pieces may be the convertible ones, such as an olive green 4-in-1 convertible satin trench coat (priced at S$1,324) which allows you to wear it as a qipao-inspired dress or a military-accented winter coat. There’s also a jacquard “biker” qipao (priced at S$1,039) that appears as a qipao when zipped up, but transforms into a cool biker jacket when the side zippers are detached. 

Fock Ee-ling, founder and designer of local brand The Missing Piece, says convertible pieces address the needs of the modern woman who “effortlessly juggles different roles in life at work or at home, and who demands more function and practicality from her clothes”.

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The Missing Piece’s latest Chinese New Year collection features the most number of convertible pieces since the brand was established in 2016: “We’ve got dresses which convert from cheongsams into more casual separates, while others feature adjustable lengths, necklines, draping and fits. These outfits go beyond just occasion wear for the New Year – they’re also very wearable beyond the festive season.”

Dr Fock (who holds a doctorate in medicine) says: “In the local fashion scene, the trend is definitely moving towards making the modern qipao more casual and wearable. Most of our customers actually choose to wear our modern qipao to different events, and not just festive or culture-specific ones. To them, wearing one of our modern qipao or qipao-inspired numbers is just as easy as wearing any other beautifully-made dress, except that it gives the added bonus of being able to showcase a bit of heritage as well.”

Fans of The Missing Piece include singer Joanna Dong and influencer Andrea Chong.


Meanwhile, veteran couturier Goh Lai Chan of the eponymous brand Laichan holds fast to the belief that the traditional qipao is finding new generations of fans every day: “I see girls as old as three and women as young as 80 buying, wearing and appreciating the qipao. And they’re not necessarily Asians – some are foreigners.”

His clients have been turning to him for decades to dream up bespoke designs that would rival Maggie Cheung’s stunning qipaos in the the classic film In The Mood For Love. A simple short qipao off the rack costs S$798, while bespoke creations start at S$5,000.

He says: “My classic qipao designs hold their own enduring appeal. But what’s trending now are more refreshing colours and new proportions, some leaning towards making the qipao more relaxed and comfortable.”  

One of his designs combines a mandarin collar with a soft flirty skirt and elaborate three-dimensional flower appliques signalling the start of spring. More traditionally-cut qipaos may feature riotous or even psychedelic colours, making the pieces wearable not just for Chinese New Year, but also a fun night out with friends. 

Ms Tang-Owen says: “We live in an era where everyone wants to stand out, voice their own opinion and be just slightly different... As a modern woman with Chinese roots, I want something that hints Chinese – but not obviously Chinese. I want something that’s versatile and wearable, and that will make me feel great. So I might wear a qipao with a bomber jacket and combat boots, instead of heels. Some women think the only way to wear a qipao is with heels, which is why they seldom wear it. But if they embrace their individuality and worked the qipao into their everyday wardrobe, they’ll find that they can make it their style.”  

Desleen Yeo, who co-founded local fashion brand YeoMama Batik with her mother, agrees with this assessment. She says: “Whether in traditional or contemporary forms, I do think there’s a revival of the qipao. Our era of identity politics has inspired, in particular, young Chinese women who see the wearing of the qipao as a chance to empower themselves, and affirm, assert and celebrate their roots.”

“On the other hand, high-powered women are donning the qipao because it adds class and confidence to their appearance. The mandarin collar accentuates the neckline, while the entire qipao exudes elegance without too many accessories. The simple one-piece qipao can bring them from work to events and dinners. And the qipao is also useful for regional functions if they wish to stand out, attract conversations, spark new connections and network… I have women in the finance sector or government bodies turning to YeoMama Batik designs precisely for those reasons.”  

The designs of the 2-year-old YeoMama Batik include mandarin-collared jumpsuits, V-neck dresses with qipao-style buttons by the side, and midi length qipaos “that look great with sneakers or pointy boots.”

“Young women are definitely trying to incorporate the contemporary qipao as part of their regular wardrobe,” adds Ms Yeo. “And designers like me are thrilled to find ways to make that work.”

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JEWELLERY: The Year Of The Rat brings rodent-inspired jewellery, while jade remains ever popular 

By Helmi Yusof

THE YEAR OF the rat brings many charming rodent designs into the world of luxury. Top watch brands from Panerai to Vacheron Constantin have released elegant timepieces featuring the Chinese zodiac’s first animal. Independent jewellers such as Alighieri Jewelry and iconic global ones such as Faberge have also crafted auspicious rat-themed pieces for the growing Chinese market.

Festive jewellery for 2020 can be flamboyant or minimalist – depending on whom you ask. Michael Koh of Caratell, award-winning jeweller to the rich and royal, says: “For this Chinese New Year, we have quite a few customers looking into bespoke jewellery with multiple usages, such as an earring that can turn into a brooch or pendant, or a ring that can be detached to become a pendant. This allows the wearer to have the flexibility to change the look of the jewellery to suit their wardrobe.”

Caratell’s striking festive pieces include an 18k white and yellow gold Lion Dance ring adorned with rubies and diamonds, a symbol of power, wisdom and good fortune. Also exquisite is a pair of 18k white and yellow gold earrings with tassels, bedecked with corals and diamonds, signifying luck and success. It would look stunning with a qipao.  

Jade and jadeite continue to be popular gemstones, seen as conferring beauty and nobility to the wearer. Mr Koh says: “We’re seeing an increase in demand for jadeite items, but with a youthful and modern twist.”

Longtime designer Marilyn Tan of Marilyn Tan Jewellery says: “More and more people returning to modern, clean, minimalist interpretations of traditional stones like jade – a twist on old traditions. Just as the qipao today tend to feature non-traditional fabrics, my jewellery clients are more frequently looking for modern-cut pieces of jade in non-traditional shapes such triangles, squares or rhombuses, and in non-traditional colours such as dark grey, lilac, black (or rather very dark green) and ice (white) – even though the traditional green still holds its appeal.” 

Her latest collection includes rectangular jade bangles and earrings with rounded corners, reflecting the unbreakable bonds of love and family ties. 

Minimalism also characterises Alighieri’s collection of Chinese zodiac medallions. Founder Rosh Mahtani, who’s based in London, says: “Our range of zodiac medallions attracts a lot of Asian buyers buying their animal signs and layering them with their exciting heirlooms. But we've also seen great interest from buyers in London, America, Australia and Europe who are fascinated with Chinese culture and symbolism, and enchanted by the animals of the Chinese zodiac.” Alighieri pieces are available on Net-A-Porter, Farfetch and other online portals.  

Younger Singapore jewellery brands such as Gioia Fine Jewellery and Madly Gems are certainly not shy about bringing on the bling. The latest Chinese New Year bespoke creation by Madly Gems, founded by radio deejay Maddy Barber, is a commissioned brooch that doubles as a pendant. It features two rare mandarin spessartite garnet of the most vivid orange colour, for luck.

“Garnet as a stone is also an ancient symbol of friendship, and was exchanged between parting friends to symbolise their affection and to ensure that they meet again – definitely an auspicious gem for the coming together of family and friends during Chinese New Year,” explains Ms Barber, who founded the brand in 2014.

Meanwhile, the three-year-old Gioia Fine Jewellery is rethinking jade with pieces that combine the smooth sheen of jade with the conspicuous glitter of gold and diamonds. Its icy jade earrings, for instance, are held by a cluster of vivid red spinels for their gorgeous contrast. Similarly, its icy jade dragon ring features an ice jade stone dramatically flanked by the fangs of two dragons, a symbol of power.

But if the rat – rather than the dragon – is what you’re after, there’s also Faberge’s Palais Tsarskoye Selo red locket which opens to reveal a solid 18k yellow gold rat with dazzling diamond eyes. The locket is crafted from 18k yellow gold, decorated with 15 round brilliant diamonds and hand-painted with vibrant red guilloche enamel for luck and prosperity. The iconic Russian jeweller plans to unveil new lockets with all the different animals of the Chinese zodiac in the coming months. 

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