There are things that I never thought I would do, but ended up submerging myself in. There are things that are destined for the landfill, but ended up as exhibits in history museums or precious treasures to collectors. If “slow fashion” is all about being slow, I think we should compliment it by learning to savor life and go with the flow.
It’s like restoring a broken piece. It starts with a tear or a hole. But then imagination sparks (usually inspired by the unique characteristics of the fabric), and the simple act of restoration turns into adding something extra to the original design; sometimes it’s a flower, sometimes it’s a heart.
「各人住在各人的衣服裏」—— 張愛玲 〈更衣記〉
“Hey, I’ve just collected a new pile of clothes. Why don’t you take a look!” said Pat from Wontonmeen.
“I found these cheongsam in the old suitcases and wooden shovels that the scavenger from Keelung Street brought to me with a platform truck. There was also some other stuff like an old newspaper from 1956 and packaging bags. I suspect he didn’t care what was inside those suitcases and shovels…”
Among the two large bags of cheongsam, there are a few long robes for men. Some are cotton-padded, while some are fur lined. Either way, they remind me of heavy snowstorms. There are also ladies clothes of various types. Some are made with the traditional Chinese xiao cai cloth-cutting technique, and some are made by draping. There’s delicate hand stitches and irregular sawtooth hem produced by pinking shears. Nothing luxurious. These items are most likely part of the daily wardrobe from the 1920s to the 1960s. Buttons and zippers. Sleeveless in silk. Woollen Cheongsam with three-quarter sleeves. These clothes not only reflect the evolution of fashion but also document the life of their owner.
“Each of us lives inside our own clothes.” A Chronicle of Changing Clothes by Eileen Chang.
Detailing the interaction between everyday life and clothing design during the 1920s to the 1940s, this short essay gives us a glimpse of the time and space where the owners of these cheongsam once lived.
“Our tailors take no initiative and can only follow the vast, unaccountable waves of communal fancy that become apparent from time to time. And it is for this reason that Chinese fashions can be more reliably read as representing the will of the people.”
I have a liking for everyday clothes that best reflect life and culture; in particular, those that are without fancy details are the ones that I like the most. For that same reason, I am intrigued and inspired by the popularization of cheongsam among women in the 1920s and very much interested in exploring the xiao cai tailoring technique, which makes use of folding and ironing to shape, to create the perfect placket in cheongsam.
“I’m so happy! I haven’t been this happy for a long time!” A classmate of mine said to themselves.
Indeed, every time I put on a thimble and pick up a needle to work, I experience a surge of happiness. The needle and thread run through the fabric. Stitch by stitch the cheongsam comes into shape. The most important thing is that I have a teacher who shows me that only with passion and selfless devotion can traditions be passed down to the generations to come.
Takashi Murakami once said that the imagination of beauty by people who desired to be Japanese is inevitably “soy sauce” in nature; for that he means the “soy sauce” is the cultural essence of a place and a group of people.
Nowadays, the word “cheongsam” is still widely used by Hong Kongers when referring to the special clothing and was included in the Oxford dictionary way earlier than the word “qipao”. It is a vivid representation of the old times and a kind of slow-fashion that is unique to Hong Kong.
Like long-lost neighbors, cheongsam and this space are finally reunited here and now.
長衫狂想曲 Cheongsam Rhapsody
Date: From 19 November to 4 December 2022
Click HERE to see the details