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Tue, Jan 20, 2009
The Business Times
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Cheongsam updated
by Melissa Lwee

IT'S that time of the year when thoughts of the Chinese heritage invade the consciousness of those who celebrate the Lunar New Year. To wear or not to wear, that is the question when one looks at the cheongsam - made so elegant by the actress Maggie Cheung in the movie In The Mood For Love.

Dr Jade Kua for one is a big fan of cheongsams and she hangs them proudly in her closet alongside her Dolce & Gabana and Cavalli dresses. 'It's nice to be able to celebrate your Chinese heritage,' says Dr Kua who makes her cheongsams at Lai Chan, a boutique at Raffles Hotel. 'I wore a cheongsam for my recent birthday bash and I was dancing all night in it!'

According to industry players, while the traditional cheongsam silhouette and tailoring techniques remain popular, cheongsam designs are still influenced by fashion trends such as seasonal colours and prints. The rise in popularity of the cheongsam among younger women has also necessitated more contemporary looks and designs.

As such, through the use of different fabrics (such as the Devore velvets and hand woven silk Jacquards available to Shanghai Tang's bespoke tailoring customers) and other contemporary elements such as back zips instead of side zips, the cheongsam can and has been modernised to suit the times.

'These days, cheongsams can be very versatile depending on how you play with the materials, colours, prints and cuts,' says Dr Kua. 'There are so many ways you can make a cheongsam look more interesting without losing the elegant silhouette of the dress.'

If you're inspired, here's where to go to get your own piece of the past.

H&W International
5000A Marine Parade Road,
#01-26 Laguna Park
Tel: 6241-3268

HER shop may be tucked away in a modest- looking HUDC estate all the way out in East Coast but there is nothing simple about Elisa Chew.

After all, this is the woman who - together with her team of Shanghainese tailors - for many years designed cheongsams for the late Mrs Ong Teng Cheong, who was known to be quite the cheongsam aficionado.

Best known for championing the "Singapore dress" by making cheongsams out of self-designed fabrics that feature orchid motifs, for the last 33 years, Mrs Chew has been the go-to woman for many politicians and VIPs looking to deck themselves out in the traditional garb.

"I love orchids and I love cheongsams," she says. "Even though few designers out there support the orchid motif, I will continue to do so until I retire. This is the least I can do as a Singaporean."

And illustrious though her clients may be, Mrs Chew remains adamant that her cheongsams are for everybody.

Depending on the materials used to make the cheongsams, Mrs Chew's off the rack designs range from a very affordable $69 for a cotton cheongsam all the way to $500 for one made of velvet. Made to measure pieces cost between $250 and $350 (not inclusive of the fabric used) for the workmanship involved.

"The prices of my cheongsams are kept reasonable so that everybody can afford to buy one," she reveals.

Recognising the importance of well-fitted cheongsams, her unique policy of making cheongsams in a wide range of sizes including in-between sizes (replacing small, medium and large with numbers) also makes it more convenient for women to just pick up a piece and walk out immediately even though alteration is free.

"There have been so many girls that come in and when they leave, they tell me, 'this is the first cheongsam I've ever bought'.

She concludes with a laugh: "There is a certain air of elegance that comes with wearing a cheongsam because the cut of the outfit makes women more aware of how they move and sit. It's true, one always has more poise when dressed in a cheongsam!"

HANA Fashion
21 Bali Lane #01-01
Tel: 63560856
The Arcade, 11 Collyer Quay, #03-24
Tel: 62210376

TO designer Summer Tang, the film In the Mood for Love has done more for the cheongsam than anything or anyone else before.

"It has really helped the cheongsam to reach out to many women in Singapore, especially the younger generation who previously only thought that cheongsams were limited to their grandmothers," says Mr Tang who owns cheongsam boutiques HANA and Lok's Tailor and who has been in the business since 1988 and whose shops are a favourite amongst socialites.

"The way Maggie Cheung looked in the film was so breathtaking that many young ladies came in saying they want to look like her."

At a minimum of $900 per off the rack cheongsam though and at least $800 for a made to measure piece, to look like Maggie Cheung certainly doesn't come cheap, but Mr Tang believes that it is money well spent, especially since all his materials, spanning from traditional looking fabrics to those featuring more modern Pucci- esque or geometric prints are sourced only from Europe.

In addition, all the cheongsams from his shop are made with the help of a veteran Shanghainese tailor - a rarity in Singapore, according to Mr Tang - using only traditional Shanghainese tailoring techniques in order to ensure the cheongsam is finished exceptionally.

He reveals: "It is not difficult to find a cheongsam maker in Singapore or a designer to create a cheongsam for you but you will be amazed by how difficult it is to have a cheongsam tailored by a proper Shanghainese tailor in Singapore, as there are may be only three left here because Shanghainese tailoring takes a lot of patience but the difference in quality of their workmanship is evident when you see it."

He adds that the versatility of a cheongsam also makes it good value for money, pointing out that a cheongsam is one of the few types of clothing that are acceptable for both day and night-wear.

"Cheongsams are so elegant and classy that you can wear them to work. But as cheongsams are also considered traditional wear, you could also easily use it as formal wear to a function and it would still be alright."

One on the Bund
80 Collyer Quay
Tel: 6221-0004

MANY people know him better as Chef Yeung of Hutong in Hong Kong fame and more recently the man behind One on the Bund, a Shanghainese inspired restaurant located at Collyer Quay.

But Calvin Yeung is also an avid designer who, apart from cooking up a storm, used to be a keen fashion designer as well.

These days, he is putting his creative juices to good use having started "One on the Bund" - the fashion label - selling made to order cheongsams for the first time ever.

"I have always loved designing so when I found the location for One on the Bund, I knew that I didn't just want to sell food there. It was the ideal place not just for a restaurant but also to showcase my designs," he says. "My aim is to bring a totally new concept to Singapore, focusing on cuisine and style in tune with today's fascination with all elements of lifestyle so the cheongsams will be exclusive only to this restaurant in Singapore, because I want it to be a part of the unique experience when one visits us."

The new collection ranges from $800 to $1,200 per cheongsam and is specially tailor- made in Shanghai by Shanghainese tailors before reaching the buyer.

However, Mr Yueng's creative mind was not content with selling just generic cheongsams. He decided to go one step further to design cheongsams with a twist.

Even though the silhouettes of his designs look distinctly like cheongsams, many of them come with non-traditional elements through the use of non-traditional cheongsam materials or tweaks in the silhouette.

For example, one of his cheongsams is made using leather which can easily be paired with boots for a more casual edgy feel while another features a toga-esque top, a fusion between East and West.

"I think that in multicultural Singapore, wearing a traditional costume like a cheongsam is a great way of embracing your heritage," he says.

"Modern Chinese women like traditional cheongsams but they are looking for cheongsams that are different, unique and come with a twist so they don't look dated."

This article was first published in The Business Times on Jan 17, 2009.

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readers' comments
Cheongsams are very beautiful, but maybe not very practical if you wear them to work everyday and you have to be on the run a lot. Maybe a cheongsam-inspired top, or a dress with Oriental motifs will appeal to more working women.

If you have any suggestions on where to get such apparel, please post them here.
Posted by Forum goddess on Tue, 20 Jan 2009 at 12:10 PM

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