China Daily (Hong Kong) - - TREND -

Long be­fore the in­ven­tion of the qi­pao, or the cheongsam, there was a sim­i­lar­look­ing type of cloth­ing that most Chi­nese wore start­ing from as early as the 26th cen­tury BC.

Known as hanfu, or Han cloth­ing, this tra­di­tional robe-like at­tire fea­tured loose lapels and long flow­ing sleeves and was often adorned in vi­brant colors. While the de­tails found on the cloth­ing changed through the cen­turies, the style of the hanfu has en­dured even till to­day, with a grow­ing num­ber of Chi­nese de­sign­ers turn­ing to it for in­spi­ra­tion and in­fus­ing el­e­ments of it into their con­tem­po­rary de­signs.

“The old style is mo­not­o­nous and makes peo­ple think of elab­o­rate em­broi­dery pat­terns fea­tur­ing dragons and phoenixes. To make it ap­peal­ing to to­day’s crowd, we need to get rid of the orig­i­nal frame and be in­no­va­tive,” said Cai Wen­qiao, an in­te­grated de­sign un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dent at Par­sons School of Art and De­sign in New York.

For her fi­nal-year project, Cai de­signed eight pieces of cloth­ing that were in­spired by the Chi­nese prose called Peach Blossom Spring by Tao Yuan­ming, a fa­mous writer of the Eastern Jin Dy­nasty (317-420). Four of the de­signs are meant for daily wear while the rest are suit­able for for­mal events.

Cai used pink as the main color for all the pieces as it rep­re­sents the peach blossom. She has also in­cluded clas­sic hanfu el­e­ments such as em­broi­dery fea­tur­ing flow­ers and but­ter­flies. Silk, a com­mon ma­te­rial used to make Han cloth­ing, was also the choice fab­ric for the project.

“The eight years of study­ing abroad has taught me the dif­fer­ences be­tween eastern and western cul­tures. For this project, I wanted to find a bal­ance be­tween them,” said Cai.

Apart from the hanfu, the cheongsam is an­other piece of tra­di­tional wear that is fre­quently used as the ba­sis of mod­ern Chi­nese cloth­ing. One of the brands that is well­known for its con­tem­po­rary ren­di­tions of the cheongsam is Dan­mang.

Es­tab­lished in March 2015, the Chi­nese com­pany cre­ates a va­ri­ety of cheongsam-es­que clothes that can be worn for daily life, work and even sport. It also has sev­eral cre­ations that fea­ture hanfu el­e­ments. Dan­mang cur­rently sells be­tween 350 to 450 pieces of cloth­ing every month.

choose our prod­uct be­cause they want to wear clothes that com­bine ur­ban style with Chi­nese el­e­ments such as a small col­lar or em­broi­dery on the cuffs or shoul­ders,” said An Shiliu, a co-founder and de­signer at Dan­mang.

Apart from aes­thet­ics, an­other rea­son why Dan­mang’s clothes are pop­u­lar is be­cause they are prac­ti­cal and com­fort­able. Tra­di­tional Han Chi­nese cloth­ing and cheongsams are usu­ally long and fall below the knee, which could make move­ment cum­ber­some, and come with tight­fit­ting col­lars that could be un­com­fort­able.

To ad­dress these is­sues, de­sign­ers at Dan­mang have elim­i­nated the shoul­der pads, loos­ened the col­lar ar­eas, short­ened the skirts and even added pock­ets. Em­broi­dery is also kept to a min­i­mal.

The founders of Dan­mang ini­tially thought that their tar­get au­di­ence would be women aged be­tween 25 and 40 years old. To their sur­prise, Dan­mang’s de­signs have been well re­ceived by a much wider spec­trum of con­sumers aged be­tween 18 and 60.

An­other Chi­nese de­signer who spe­cial­izes in gen­tri­fy­ing tra­di­tional Chi­nese ap­parel is Uma Wang. Af­ter com­plet­ing her stud­ies at the China Tex­tile Univer­sity in Shang­hai, Wang pur­sued a fash­ion de­gree at the pres­ti­gious Cen­tral Saint Martins Col­lege of Art and De­sign in Lon­don.

She reg­is­tered her epony­mous la­bel in Lon­don in 2005 and has show­cased her cre­ations at fash­ion shows in Mi­lan, Lon­don and Paris.

Wang’s cre­ations have often been de­scribed as ex­per­i­men­tal. Dur­ing the 2014 Mi­lan Fash­ion Week, she un­veiled a col­lec­tion of ul­tra­lightweight clothes made us­ing Chi­nese pa­per that was pro­cessed in Italy.

“Mine is a con­tin­u­ous jour­ney from East to West. It is a free move­ment on a long road that leads to Italy,” Wang was quoted as say­ing af­ter the show.

Bao Mingxin, a fash­ion cul­ture re­search pro­fes­sor from Donghua Univer­sity’s fash­ion and de­sign school in Shang­hai, said there are sev­eral fac­tors be­hind the grow­ing trend of wear­ing Chi­nese-style cloth­ing to­day and among them is a sense of na­tional pride that stems from the rapid de­vel­op­ment of China’s econ­omy and its grow­ing stature in the in­ter­na­tional scene.

Mike Bastin, a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of In­ter­na­tional Busi­ness and Eco­nom­ics in Bei­jing and a se­nior lec­turer at Southamp­ton Univer­sity, wrote in a com­men­tary ear­lier this year that this trend of com­bin­ing the old and the new will not be go­ing away any­time soon.

“Nos­tal­gia pro­vides an un­fath­omable depth of her­itage for Chi­nese de­sign­ers and should con­tinue to fea­ture promi­nently in their work, now on dis­play across the in­ter­na­tional fash­ion land­scape,” he wrote.

“A fu­sion of nos­tal­gia and mod­ern in­flu­ences should com­bine to set fash­ion trends for some time to come, with Chi­nese de­sign­ers — often for­eign-ed­u­cated and Europe­based — well placed to con­trib­ute richly … fash­ion’s fu­ture is far from clear but what is clear is that Chi­nese de­signer in­flu­ence and Chi­nese her­itage in­fu­sion are here to stay.”

Mine is a con­tin­u­ous jour­ney from East to West. It is a free move­ment on a long road that leads to Italy.”

Uma Wang, fash­ion de­signer

He Qi con­trib­uted to this story.

Con­tact the writer at heqi@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

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