In the high-speed world that is China today, we at Nicely Made in China (NMiC) find it reassuring to discover that some things don’t change! NMiC recently met with Mr Lau, a qipao or cheongsam tailor, in his workshop in Hong Kong. A sprightly sexagenarian with a mischievous smile, he has for 50 years been hand-making exquisite qipao – a form of traditional Chinese dress. Originally from Shanghai, he came to Hong Kong aged 14 to learn the craft and is now one of the last remaining ‘Shanghai tailors’, as they’re known in Hong Kong, still working today.
Mr Lau, how did you begin in this profession? Why did you become a tailor?
I arrived in Hong Kong in the early 60’s with my parents – my father had been a tailor in Shanghai – and began as an apprentice with a master qipao maker who worked for local tycoons. I did not choose to become a tailor. I learned the craft and that was it.
What is the favored fabric to make a qipao?
It can be made of different materials. The lining is usually made of Chinese silk but for the outside I use either Italian silk or French lace from Calais. With Italian silk a qipao can cost around HK$ 5,000. This increases to HK$ 10,000 if we use French lace. It takes about one month to make a qipao.
How and when does a lady wear a qipao? Are there any trends?
Helping women choose the appropriate qipao for a particular event is part of my job. Tradition dictates that if you are hosting an event you should wear a long qipao, and if you are a guest you should wear a short one. There are no trends to speak of. In the 70′s when the mini skirt arrived, we made some short qipao but now it’s mostly the long one for brides and a shorter one – but still below the knee – for older ladies. As for the length of the sleeves, it’s entirely up to the client.
Who is your typical client?
I have many Hong Kong socialites and actresses coming to my shop – the actress Ms. Zhang Ziyi is a client – as well as ladies from Shanghai and further afield like Taiwan and Australia. Generally they are all ethnic Chinese except for one woman who visits me from England every year.
Is wearing a qipao a ritual for young Chinese women?
Not really. Young women like to wear a long one on their wedding day – usually for the banquet – but that’s all. I made one recently for a young woman introduced to me by her mother. Years before, I had also made the bridal gown for her!
Can you give NMiC readers some tips on what makes a genuine qipao?
First the collar must be straight, then from the hips downwards a real qipao narrows. Another tip is that on a long qipao, when you are standing straight, the slit should fall down vertically and not gape open.
NEW KINS’S FABRICS COMPANY
Mr Lau On Hing
3/F Yip Fung Bldg
18 d’Aguilar street, Central, HK
Tel: +852 3118 7672