Seen in the dazzling, elegant costumes of the film In the Mood for Love, the Qipao is indispensable for showing Shanghai style of the 1930s and 1940s. A simple Qipao can give us a glimpse into the art of exquisite living practiced by the people of Shanghai…
Referred to as “the gown of the Manchu people,” the Qipao was originally worn by the northern nomads, but was eventually endowed with a more exquisite sense by the people of Shanghai. Dozens of different Qipaos by the famous Hong Kong fashion designer William Cheung became a highlight of the big original drama Forever Yin Xueyan, in Shanghai dialect, which will be performed in public for the second time—with a total of five shows by the original cast—at the Shanghai Culture Square, October 9 to 13.
Yesterday[Will readers know what day yesterday refers to? Need to give a specific date. ], an exhibition of William Cheung’s Stage Qipao Art was held at the Shanghai Culture Square. William Cheung is a first-class art director in Hong Kong filmdom and has won many Hong Kong film awards, as well as Golden Horse Awards for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design. He has worked with Karwai Wong on films like The Grandmaster and In the Mood for Love—a classic film that not only won Mr[In the US, the person’s full name is given the first time someone in mentioned in an article, and after that the person is referred to by their last name only: “won Cheung a big award.” However, I have put “Mr.” in front of Cheung for your article. Let me know which way you prefer.
]. Cheung a big award for costume design and modelling at the 53rd Cannes International Film Festival, but also bound him tightly to the Qipao culture of Shanghai.
This year is first time Mr. Cheung has participated in the creation of a stage drama in Shanghai. At yesterday’s[Insert the date instead; e.g.: “At the September 4 exhibition…”] exhibition, the seven classic and artistic Qipaos Mr. Cheung carefully designed and tailored for Yin Xueyan, the heroine of Forever Yin Xueyan, were on display—offering the audience a chance to directly experience and appreciate Mr. Cheung’s ingenuity and the beauty, gracefulness, and reserve of Shanghai culture.
Those invited to talk about the exhibition and the elegance of Shanghai culture included Yanhua, hostess of the Arts and Humanities Channel; Chunzi, the famous Shanghai writer and radio hostess; and the famous director of Forever Yin Xueyan, Xu Jun. They all recalled the aesthetics and essence of life in 1930s and ’40s Shanghai, and traced the context behind those aesthetics.
Dressed in a simple but elegant black Qipao, Chunzi shared her knowledge with fluency and ease. “The women of Shanghai like wearing Qipaos, and they are the most capable of showing the Qipao’s exquisiteness, retro style, and unsurpassed beauty,” she marvelled.
The stitched patterns on Qipao show Shanghai women’s exquisiteness.
“For many people, the Qipao will be the last beauty of old Shanghai left in our hearts. It seems to be on the inaccessible opposite shore, though close to us,” Chunzi said. She showed the audience an old photo given to her by famous Shanghai socialite Yan Renmei. The photo was taken on a Christmas Eve with seven Shanghai socialites, including Yan Renmei and Zhao Yidi[Would Americans or Europeans need more explanation as to who these socialites are? Are they still living, or from a former era?], sitting and smiling in front of a Christmas tree.
“In the past, the people of Shanghai usually praised a girl for having a fair background and being well-bred by calling her ‘elegant.’ You can experience the word ‘elegant’ just by looking at the sitting postures of these girls in the photo,” Chunzi told the audience. “The Qipaos worn by the girls are all simple, without too many complicated patterns or embellishments. I asked Yan Renmei why they all wore simple Qipaos. She told me that the exquisiteness of a simple Qipao lies in its fabric and cut. The fabric for the Qipaos is plumetis imported from the UK. The better the fabric, the simpler the pattern should be. Only in this way can the Qipao, with its matching jewelry[“Jewelry” is the US spelling; “jewellery” is a British variant.], look natural and elegant. If the design is too complicated, adding jewelry will make the Qipao look like an over-decorated Christmas tree.”
Like many who are nostalgic for old Shanghai, Yanhua also had a wealth of knowledge about the Qipao. She recalled, “Mr. Jin, the former boss of Hongxiang Fashionable Dress Company, was invited by us to explain the Qipao in detail when he was 84 years old. He told me that Qipao tailoring is a process of flattering the figure. Nobody has a perfect figure. The saying ‘cut the dress according to one’s figure’ means to make clothes that cover your defects and highlight your assets to the greatest degree. Even learning to cut an exquisite Qipao takes a long time. You need to take measurements from 36 different points on the body. The data from those 36 points can help to modify and flatter a woman’s figure so it is shown in the optimum way.”
An exquisite Qipao is cut from 36 measurement points.
According to his agreement with the famous writer of Forever Yin Xueyan, Bai Xianyong, and director Xu Jun, William Cheung took charge of the costume design and modelling—designing the whole set of Qipaos and costumes for the characters. Director Xu Jun marvelled at the process of tailoring the Qipaos. “Not until seeing William Cheung tailor a Qipao did I find out how much history it contained. From the trim pattern and the height of the Qipao’s slit, we can know which era it is from and what the fashion trends were at that time. Qipaos of the 1930s, for example, are different than those of the 1940s. Mr. Cheung has many teams of tailors who specialize in Qipaos of different eras.”
Maybe it’s difficult to imagine that a master like William Cheung is still tailoring the Qipaos himself, but the process is absolutely not as simple as assembly-line work. “He tailors Qipaos according to different eras but is not limited to any fixed model. He will discuss the Qipao’s style with you in advance, and then incorporate the relevant elements according to the time period of the drama,” Xu Jun said. Although there are many professionals on his teams, Mr. Cheung still starts by drawing a design, then has tailors cut the Qipao and hang it, and then he finishes the parts that need to be carefully tailored. “For each Qipao in Forever Yin Xueyan, Mr. Cheung manually stitched all the sequins and pearls himself, little by little,” Xu Jun explained. “He is like a painter who carefully finishes an artistic work.”
As we look back to the age when new things were burgeoning in rapid succession and with great momentum, we can find various Qipaos with low or high collars, with sleeves or without sleeves, with low or high slits. “I once thought that if the slit heights of Qipaos in different ages were connected into a curve, this curve would represent the fashion trends of Shanghai,” Yanhua said, smiling.