Jour­ney to the West

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By ZHOU WENTING in Shang­hai


Li Xi­afang, who was born in Shang­hai in 1946, only switched to qi­pao de­sign­ing at the age of 52 but soon hit the pin­na­cle. She has al­ready de­signed more than 1,600 qi­pao, in­clud­ing one for for­mer United States Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton.

When Clin­ton pre­pared for the se­nate elec­tion in New York State in 2010, her think tank ap­proached Li for a tai­lor-made qi­pao.

“The dress had to be Chi­nese and also Western, and gor­geous so as to suit her sta­tus. I bought top-qual­ity sky­blue silk and made a dress with a stand­ing col­lar and a V-shaped neck­line,” Li said.

She re­ceived a let­ter of thanks from Clin­ton in Novem­ber that year.

“I didn’t see it as a per­sonal achieve­ment. I (merely) was de­lighted be­cause qi­pao was ap­pre­ci­ated in the West.”

Li grad­u­ated from the Shang­hai Theatre Academy in 1966 and was a soloist of pingtan, a sto­ry­telling and bal­lad singing form in Suzhou di­alect. Per­for­mances were banned dur­ing the “Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion” (1966-76) and she be­came an of­fice worker.

How­ever, she never gave up her dream of per­form­ing. She has sung part-time since the early 1980s and founded a pri­vate art troupe that gave singing and danc­ing per­for­mances in 1987.

Qi­pao be­gan its re­vival in the 1990s and Li be­lieves it a duty for peo­ple at her age to bring the dress back to promi­nence. “I saw my mother and teach­ers wear them when I was a lit­tle girl but it had been ne­glected for three decades. We must not fail to pass down this na­tional trea­sure to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions,” she said.

Li at­tended China Textile Univer­sity, the for­mer Donghua Univer­sity, for a course of ad­vanced fash­ion de­sign for a year in 1998 and opened a store selling her de­signs.

“The ul­ti­mate goal for a singer is a solo con­cert, which I’ve achieved, and for a cos­tume de­signer it is a show of his or her col­lec­tions,” Li said.

She has since held four col­lec­tions show­cas­ing her latest mas­ter­pieces. Af­ter Li was des­ig­nated a rep­re­sen­ta­tive in­her­i­tor of Shang­hai-style qi­pao, an in­tan­gi­ble cul­tural her­itage, in 2007, she es­tab­lished a troupe that com­bined show­cas­ing qi­pao de­signs with dance per­for­mances. They per­formed in Shang­hai and Hong Kong and, in 2003 and 2004 they went to Paris.

“I was touched when the show was held be­side the River Seine. The French were fas­ci­nated and no­body left even when rain sud­denly poured down,” she re­called.

Li’s dream is to take the troupe on a world tour to show the grace of the Chi­nese gar­ment and Chi­nese women.



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