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Chinese Fashion Finds Future in Its Past

While Western-style fashion moves further into Chinese people's wardrobes, traditional-style dress is also creeping back into vogue. 

In particular, during Spring Festival, traditional-style garments have dominated shopping malls, boutiques, wholesale markets and even small tailor shops.


An increasing number of Chinese are returning to the Chinese silk jacket as a keynote item in their festival outfits.


"It only seems reasonable to wear traditional attire on these occasions," said Lei Lei, a 34-year-old editor with a Beijing-based newspaper who spent 500 yuan (US$60) for a custom-made silk garment in a tailor shop early last month.


"Besides, updated with modern design and fashionable colors, these rather conservative jackets have taken on a much more modern look to catch up with the times," Lei stressed.


In addition to silk jackets, the qipao, or cheongsam, a female dress with distinctive Chinese features, is also enjoying a growing popularity in the country.


Dating back to centuries ago in China, cheongsams are as traditionally Chinese as dynasties. Easy to slip on and comfortable to wear, the cheongsam shows off the female Chinese figure. Its neck is high, collar closed, and its sleeves may be either short, medium or full length, depending on season and taste.


Generally, the dress is buttoned on the right side, with a loose bosom, a tightly fitted waist, and a slit up one or both sides, all of which combine to set off the beauty of the wearer.


Made of different materials and varying in length, they can be worn on either casual or formal occasions.


"In either case, they create an impression of simple and quiet charm, elegance and neatness," said Wang Xiaolin, chief designer of Muzhenliao, a Beijing-based brand of traditional Chinese clothes.


"Fashion trends change every year, but traditional clothes like the qipao are always in vogue, especially if a few modern elements are added," said Wang.


Over the past few years, designers like Wang have devoted themselves to breathing new life into clothes like the qipao to help revive traditional attire.


"Our ultimate goal is to bring these traditional clothes back into people's ordinary life, not merely as festival outfits," said Wang Hua, a Beijing designer of traditional Chinese clothes.


While Chinese fashion circles have been seeing the revival of traditional clothes, chinoiserie, an ornate style based on Chinese design, has been becoming increasingly popular in the international world of high fashion.


It is extremely rare, indeed, for any European or American designer to send a collection without any Chinese influence.


Some of the top designers like Prada, Calvin Klein and MaxMara, have been including chinoiserie in their collections over the past few years.


Designers often take traditional Chinese ideas and do a more liberal interpretation of them.


Prada, for example, turns traditional Chinese qipao into a long green chiffon dress with a Mandarin collar. Underneath this sheer garment he puts a tight, long chinoiserie-style floral skirt. While the finished product is by no means traditionally Chinese, one can clearly see its influence.


The peony, a pattern motif in traditional Chinese clothes and still a symbol for wealth, was used as an inspiration by John Galliano in Dior's 2003-04 collection.


So what explains this popular trend in fashion?


"Perhaps it is the elegance and passion found in the clean lines, or possibly the purity and earthy floral essence present in many of the dresses," said Wang Xiaolin. "The outfits accentuate femininity and highlight colors and patterns distinct from those of other cultures. The simplicity of some of the Mandarin-collared solid color suits is almost futuristic, signaling possible fashion trends for coming times."


"This popularization is helping develop China's fashion industry. We can give traditional attire a fresh look without destroying its exotic feel of mystery, grace and restraint," she added.


(China Daily January 31, 2004)

Fashion With A Tang
Feminine Designs in Tune With the Times
Festival Dressed in Tradition
China Chic, A New Trend
Chinese Trend—Qipao
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