Where is James?

Last Sunday, I took Buddy to Kiddy Palace to get another water bottle for him, among other things. But we got distracted by the themed cutleries; there were those with images of Thomas and Friends, Frozen, and Dora The Explorer etc. While I was checking out the bowls and spoons, Buddy, was attracked by something placed lower down the shelves. They were training chopsticks, and of course he couldn’t  resist the Thomas and Friends series, where the chopsticks have front images of the main train characters on them. He said, “I want these” and took one set of Percy, then “I want these” again, and he took one set of James.
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So there he was, holding one pack of the chopsticks in each hand. I didn’t  think much of it. In fact I was prepared to get them for him, but only one set. I told him that he could only choose one. He was struggling to decide and finally he chose James.

When Buddy got home, he excitedly showed papa, who opened the package for him. I wanted to show Buddy how to use the chopsticks but he refused to let me take over. Unfortunately he saw them as his toy. My husband told me he wasn’t ready to learn using them yet, and they weren’t age appropriate for him; he might poke himself with them. Yes, in a moment of over indulgence, I agree I wasn’t thinking straight when I bought the set for Buddy. Worse, later that night, Buddy wanted to have the chopsticks with him in bed. But we insisted that he couldn’t have any toy in bed, and he looked woefully at us as we took it away. I kept it inside Buddy’s cutlery bin so that he wouldn’t be able to find it.

The next morning, Buddy asked, “where is James?”, and my husband turned to me and echoed the question. I was stumped for a couple of seconds and said, “James is missing. We have to look for him.”

That evening, when Buddy came back from daycare, he again asked for James. I blurted out, “he’s not around. Maybe he went for a vacation.” And the question was asked the following morning, “where is James? Where is chopstick?” My husband reassured him, “papa and mama will look for James. You can also help find him.”

My husband told me I had to find a replacement soon. So, for the past few days, I had been searching for a James die-cast train, but bloody hell, it’s been a difficult search! I’ve been to a few department stores and toy shops and couldn’t find a Take n Play James train. (There was a Trackmaster James but that seems a little too much of a replacement.)

The moral of the story: think carefully before getting anything for a kid. You might live to regret it.

An Italian lunch

A couple of months ago, my colleagues and I had a thank you lunch at Forlino restaurant at One Fullerton, #02-06. I didn’t  put up the review earlier because it was close to Chinese New Year and I was focused on cheongsam posts. Anyway, I guess that was a good thing because I am running dry on materials for my blog.

Forlino is an Italian restaurant and has been around for many years. But I never got to trying the food until colleague C suggested it for an expensive lunch venue. Well, since someone was willing to pay for it, why not?

Forlino interior has a bright and airy feel to it because of the surrounding windows. As befitting the restaurant, the decor is distinctive Italian with the chic chandelier and candle holder, the wall mural, and the ornate side table.
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There are two types of set lunches available, and the four of us had the business lunch course.
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At S$38++, it consists of appetizer, main and dessert with coffee or tea. So it wasn’t  really as expensive as it turned on to be, we did help colleague J saved some money. ;).

I chose the foie gras which cost additional S $10 (yes I know about the poor goose but it’s a weakness for me), pan fried sea bream, and passion fruit panna cotta for dessert.

There was warm bread and butter served prior to the appetizer, which was very nice.
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On the foie gras appetizer, though it was tasty, it was nothing memorable. There was nothing to make it stand out unlike what I had at Bistro DB a few years ago, where the liver was paired with sweet apricots.
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As for the other appetizers, those who had the Buffalo Mozzarella salad with Prosciutto like it.
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Our vegetarian colleague, S, had the sweet corn soup which she enjoyed very much.
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However we were disappointed with our mains. I felt the pan-fried sea bream was a tad dry for me, probably from being over-cooked. I didn’t even finish it.
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Colleague J had the pork loin “saltimbucco” didn’t enjoy it either because he is the sort who likes his pork with the meaty flavor. I guess he felt the dish didn’t taste like pork, but this is more of a personal preference.
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Colleague S had the spaghetti ‘Mancini, and she thought it was rather bland. But she’s an Indian who is used to spices and in-your-face flavors. She joked that when the Indians go holidaying in Italy, they questioned what was wrong with the pasta. (“Why is it so bland? Where’s the curry sauce?”)
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Dessert is usually the highlight of any meal, but unfortunately I chose the wrong one. The passion fruit panna cotta was a little tart for me. The sweet white chocolate ganache didn’t help.
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Whereas the Taleggio that my colleagues selected was much better. This is a bread stick with three different interesting dips: truffle honey, onion marmalade and a parmesan cheese grissini.
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So what do I think of Forlino? The food is really a mix bag. But for the price of S $38++, I guess I can’t complain too much. Besides the ambience was rather nice, the restaurant was not noisy, and service was quite good. But the best part was the totally enjoyable conversation, thanks to J.

(I like to give readers a heads up that my posts will not be as regular as before because I’m bogged down with work and at the same time, trying to get ideas for next posts. Apologies for this.)

An emotional farewell

When Mr Lee Kuan Yew was in hospital for severe pneumonia, many suspected he wouldn’t have very long to live. When my husband told me he would go to the funeral at his passing, my first reaction was “you gotta be kidding!”. Not because I didn’t  believe in his imminent death, but, as mentioned in my previous post, I was  a detractor, who have never supported the incumbent PAP, co-founded by Mr Lee. Yes, I had read about his contributions to Singapore, but I would rather focus on his draconian leadership and unpopular policies.  I guess I was subconsciously influenced by my mother, who supported the Barisan Socialist party in the 1960’s.

So, I surprised myself and my friends when I actually contemplated paying my respect when Mr Lee was laid in state at Parliament House.

During the past week, there were lots of information shown on TV on Mr Lee: past speeches, his life, his devoted  relationship with his late wife, interviews he gave, and interviews with people close to him, etc, which made me review my opinions. At the same time there were some dissenting voices pointing out that only the positive aspects of Mr Lee were portrayed, and he should be judged by the totality of his leadership which was regarded as dictatorial. The playwright, Alfian Sa’at, was non-apologetic and called him a racist. The WP leader, Low Thia Khiang, said in his condolence speech that though Mr Lee had contributed much to the nation, he also sacrificed a number of people as a result of his policies and the one-party rule.

These opinions were in stark contrast to the massive outpouring of emotions from the common people at the 18 tribute sites and at Parliament House. I even found myself to be very emotional over Mr Lee’s death, and wondered what had taken over me and many friends who were opposition supporters in the previous election. And it then dawned on me.

During the last election in 2011, there were much vitriol hurled at the PAP, and even Mr Lee was not spared the negative emotions, though to a little less extend. Even when his contributions were mentioned, they were largely dismissed. However, at his passing, when we had the chance to look at the archive, of what Singapore was like in the 1960’s and subsequently, we finally realized we had taken much for granted. So, we are not white washing history, as some detractors called it, but re-balancing our views.

To Alfian Sa’at, if you want to know what a racist is, try being a Chinese in Malaysia, who are treated as second class citizens in their own country. To Low Thia Khiang, the 1960’s was a tumultuous period in Singapore and the world when communism was in ascendancy. At the birth of a nation, power struggle is expected; more so when there is a battle of ideologies. At that time it was socialism/communism versus capitalism/democracy. If Mr Lee hadn’t cracked down on the Barisan Socialist, regarded with much suspicions by the then Malaysia PM and the British, we would have Malaysian troops marching into Singapore. What would we be now? A satellite city of Malaysia, with poor economic activity and serious brain drain problem.

My husband posed me an interesting question. If the Barisan Socialist party was so popular with the people, when the leaders were arrested, the public should have been up in arms and continued their ideology, like what happened to Nelson Mandela. Mr Mandela’s call against apartheid didn’t disappear after his arrest and in fact he became more popular because of wide spread support. But this didn’t happen in Singapore, because Mr Lee delivered what the people wanted.

With this acknowledgement, I decided to pay respect at the Parliament House, and even a group of my friends were encouraging each other to go. JS told us last Wednesday night at 11.30pm that she was joining a friend who was queuing in line. She was able to do it in an hour, and we were impressed. Then the next morning, CL had it even better when she went at 8am and left the viewing hall after 35 minutes. Later she even showed us a drawing of the hall interior on the best position to view the casket and bow to it .

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I guess CL was so excited by the short timing she achieved that she agreed to accompany a colleague to the Parliament House after work. But this time it took them 4.5 hours and by the time they left, CL moaned her feet were killing her. Another friend, JG, went on Thursday night and was struck by the huge crowd at the train station. She and her friend joined the queue undeterred, but they were then herded into a tent inside the padang field. It was pitch dark and stuffy, and there were no volunteers around to provide snacks and drinks. The tent was crowded with so many people that no one could sit down. Everybody were using their cellphones to generate light. At 3am, after nearly 4 hours standing and waiting, JG and her friend were feeling giddy and tottering on their feet. She lamented that she couldn’t continue to wait, and both of them left the line. JG asked a duty soldier the direction of the Parliament House, and both she and her friend proceeded to bow three times in its direction. AW was luckier when she starting queuing at 5.50am on Friday morning, she managed to pay her respect after 2.5 hours wait.

As for me, I was wondering whether my husband and I should bring Buddy along on Saturday early morning, but decided against it. At Friday lunch-time, I checked the advisory on the Remember LKY website, and the public was told not to join the queue because wait time was 8 hours. But I decided to try my luck and was pleasantly surprised to find that I could proceed straight to the padang. Inside the tent, we were told to wait around before moving on. There were lots of volunteers around offering water and ice-cold canned drinks, snacks, umbrellas, tissue packs, and even plastic fans and disposable ponchos. Unlike JG’s  terrible experience the night before, the wait got on a postivie start for me. A group even offered me a piece of newspaper to sit down on the field, and for those without papers, the solders standing around provided cardboard. After 30 minutes, we were told to proceed and people cheered.  But it turned out we were not moving in the direction of the Parliament  House, but towards the Esplanade.

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The maze inside the padang


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Was told to wait under the tentage

It was a long detour for us to enter the viewing hall; a long walk past Esplanade, a convoluted maze further down, and a U-turn back to Victoria Memorial Hall. All the while I was chatting with friends in Whatsapp, and some of us kept egging JG to join me in the line. She finally did at the Asian Civilization Museum point, and was so relieved she didn’t  have to wait for another 4 hours. (For the record, my wait time was nearly 4 hours.)
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I must admit that inside the viewing hall, I didn’t  feel much emotions. The big turnout of people crowding around trying to view the casket didn’t  help. Both JG and I had to quickly take our bow and hurried out. But we were glad we did it. For me, what lifted my spirit was the dedicated volunteers and service personnel. Their considerations for the waiting crowd were really touching, and I have much respect for them. I saw for myself how the passing of Mr Lee brought everyone closer, and it was even more heartening than what I experienced at the election rally in 2011.

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Waiting to enter Parliament House

Mr Lee’s funeral procession took place last Sunday under heavy rain. I will not deny that I cried watching it and the eulogies delivered later. The emotions among those lining the street and watching at home were spontaneous, not coerced ala North Korea. And to those who sneered at us being zombies, we don’t  agree with all of Mr Lee’s polices but we are touched  by a man who dedicated his life for the country and for this we are deeply appreciative.

Finally I like to share the video of 2 young Singapore girls who played a duet of the beautiful National Day song “Home” as a tribute to Mr Lee and the old guards.

(Lyrics of Home)
Whenever I am feeling low
I look around me and I know
There’s a place that will stay within me
Wherever I may choose to go
I will always recall the city
Know every street and shore
Sail down the river which brings us life
Winding through my Singapore

Chorus:
This is home truly, where I know I must be
Where my dreams wait for me, where the river always flows
This is home surely, as my senses tell me
This is where I won’t be alone, for this is where I know it’s home

When there are troubles to go through
We’ll find a way to start anew
There is comfort in the knowledge
That home’s about its people too
So we’ll build our dreams together
Just like we’ve done before
Just like the river which brings us life
There’ll always be Singapore

Repeat Chorus x2

For this is where I know it’s home
For this is where I know I’m home

Written by
Dick Lee

Mixed emotions at the passing of a great leader

On Monday (23 March), at 5.30AM, my husband woke me up and said that Lee Kuan Yew had passed away. Though bleary eyes, I checked FB for further information and found out that he died a couple of hours earlier at the age of 91. Even before his death, we all knew it would be imminent when he was hospitalized for severe pneumonia in February and had been in critical care since.

To be honest, my feelings toward Mr Lee are mixed. I was a long time critic of him and the party he co-founded (PAP) as I felt he was unscrupulous in persecuting the rival Barisan Socialist party in the 1960’s (Operation Coldstore), and cracking down equally hard on political opponents in the later years as well as on the so-called Marxist conspiracy (Operation Spectrum) in 1987. I disliked his draconian rule which instilled fear among the people, and felt he was given too much credits when the other first generation team members should have been equally lauded.  I was also pissed by his comments in his memoir “Hard Truths”, that Singaporeans were from the peasant stock and didn’t  have the capabilities like the Taiwanese or Hong Kongers.  And who can forget his remark about Singaporeans needed spikes in our arses  to spur ourselves forward because we had become soft and not hungry like the Chinese.

But I realized recently, even though this country was no fishing village when the British left in 1963, the systems put in by the latter were not enough to guarantee any form of success. Mr Lee arranged a merger between Singapore and Malaysia, after the British granted independence to the Malaya Peninsula in 1963, to ensure our survival. But the leaders in both countries had very different ideologies, and when we were kicked out of the merger in 1965, the future of the country was very uncertain.

Perhaps we under-estimated the difficulty of governing a small country, thinking that it’s actually easier to control. The truth is small countries usually don’t do well and unlikely to survive, especially if there is no natural resources or the protection of a bigger country, and governance is not just about controlling the people. So it is actually pretty amazing that this country not only survived those initial tough years without a hinterland nor a protector, but thrived and became a global metropolis. I know that credits should be given to the entire first generation team, however I realize that there had to be a leader to take charge, and Mr Lee was that leader who moved everyone forward.

It’s true that Mr Lee ruled Singapore with an iron grip. Though I am ambivalent about it, I understand it actually provided a stable platform that enabled huge foreign investments to pour into the country, generating tremendous economic growth. You can say that Singaporeans gave up civil liberties for prosperity, which I felt we also gave up our political power, but I think that was what majority of the people at that time wanted: a better life. After all, majority of the population were living in squalid and cramped conditions. The PAP government had to quickly decide on the policies to lift the people out of poverty, they took big risks and executed successfully.

My husband told me that a leader has to be a little machiavellian, and even great leaders were not perfect and might have to resort to unsavory tactics. But these leaders did it for the interests of their nations. Mr Lee had used high-handed methods to put down opposition to create a stable environment for business, and he had said to the western press that he didn’t think western-style democracy can be imposed on other societies. I guess, from the various examples in the world, he is right. But I thought he could have done it better, instead of using a hammer to solve every problems.

Not all policies enacted were the right ones (the “Stop at 2 children” policy that started in the 1960’s is one example), but on the whole, there was more good than bad. I admit I am still not a fan of Mr Lee, but I respect him for what he did for this country and for making us proud to be Singaporeans. Though I gripe about the political stranglehold of the PAP, I can’t help but feel pride when I receive accolades from foreigners on Singapore. This is the result of what Lee and his team did for the country.

In death, Mr Lee unites all of us. We are seeing a historic outpouring of emotions and respect for him during this week of national mourning. Even after 6.30pm this evening, there is still a long line of people waiting to pay respect to him at the wake in Parliament House. The wait time was up to 8 hours from lunch time today!
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I am also amazed by the simple acts of kindness shown to people paying respects at the wake.

No matter which political party we support or how political apathetic we are, the people do recognize the tremendous contributions Mr Lee made to this country and we thank him for it.

Majulah Singapura!
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My take on the online cheongsams

Some time ago, Ann from Joli Pretty  suggested that I provide reviews on the dresses from JP. I realized then that I had never provided any feedback in my blog on these cheongsams from the online retailers. So I thought I would put up a post after the Chinese New Year.

I have four dresses from Our Bitsy Prints. The first one came from the first collection, a white lace top with batik flare skirt. It was also the first time I had a cheongsam with flare skirt.
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The dress has a front flap on the right with functional fabric buttons, studs and a side zip. As it was OBP’s initial attempt at modern cheongsam, there were no side pockets sewn in. But I like the batik print and the 4cm collar.

On the website, the dress is described as light pink eyelet on blue batik. But for the life of me, I don’t see any pink on the top. It looks white to me. Maybe it’s like the case of that famous blue/black or white/gold dress on the Internet.

I had altered the dress a few times. The first time it was done, the top was a snug fit, but I thought I should loosen it slightly to make it comfortable. So now the top is not entirely fitting, and I wonder if I should alter it back. Anyway, because of the plain top, albeit of a lace fabric, I accessorize it with a vintage brooch on the collarbone.
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At other times, I wore a plum flower brooch from Tong Tong Friendship Store on the left chest instead.
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I have another OBP flare dress, Red Ruby Finch, from the 15th collection, and this comes with pockets.
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The original has a turquoise colored hem (same color as the piping).
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I had a discussion with the seamstress when I took it for alteration, and we decided to have the hem removed because it made the dress looked kiddy. The design looks better without it, and my colleagues had complimented it for the rich colors and print.

Another OBP cheongsam is this Abstract Art Berries A-line dress which is not apparent as a qipao. I regard it as a casual wear for Fridays or weekends. (Even the ruby finch dress can also be considered as casual.) One thing I wish this dress has is pockets.
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Finally, there is this interesting wrap skirt design for a cheongsam, Paisley Field.
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I really like the pretty and vibrant color combo for this dress, but I have a grouse with the zip length along the right side. It ends at the waist and makes putting on and removing the dress a little difficult because it gets tight on the hip. Also, I find that the zip doesn’t pull up easily. I have to tug it gently to pull it up. Another thing is the left collar which is a little out of shape. If you look at the picture on the website, it is also the same with the model’s dress. I wonder if it is a problem with the fabric. On a separate note, in one of the website pictures, the dress is wore with a thin belt which I think is redundant.
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Instead I matched the dress with a purple beetle brooch.
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This paisley dress comes with side pockets, but because I have to alter it, the seamstress could only do so on the left seam to avoid messing with the zipper. So I had to sacrifice the left pocket. One thing about the dress is that, because of the thick fabric, it is rather heavy thoigh I don’t feel the weight when I have it on. Still, this means that you shouldn’t walk too much in it because you will end up sweating like a pig.

Next, there is Joli Pretty from whom I have three dresses, and they all come with box pleats. This cheongsam, with a netted petticoat, was from the first collection. I like that the petticoat adds volume to the skirt, much like the 1950’s style. The whimpsical print has also received much compliments. By the way it doesn’t come with pockets. Since the top is black, I accessorize it with a pearl brooch.
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A more recent dress is this green colored pleated cheongsam without petticoat. Ann from JP initially thought I got it because green is the lucky color for this Chinese New Year. It was really for more practical reasons: its simplicity and the side pockets. I find that the collar does start to go out of shape.
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To brighten up the dress, which does look somewhat like a school uniform, I wore a bird brooch.
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Below is another dress with netted petticoat. But the material is different from that in the whimsical mustache dress, and I find the skirt doesn’t pouf as much. Compared to the website picture, the mustard color is richer (see below).
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When I took this yellow dress for alteration, I found out from the seamstress that the sleeves holes are not cut in proportion. See picture I took below. The right sleeve hole is a little too high, compared to the left. It’s not very obvious and it took a professional eye to spot it. Anyway the seamstress had to adjust the other sleeve hole higher to balance the look.
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One thing I find about the metal studs on both the JP dresses with front open flaps is that they don’t clasp tightly, and tend to come loose. I have to resort to changing them.

The Happy Cheongsam has more interesting designs but they are also priced higher than those from OBP and JP. This pastel blue tulip cheongsam, made from shantung silk, is also from the first collection. I like the design which comes with side pockets and the whimpsical faux buttons with cupcake inage, but don’t like the short collar (slightly more than 3cm).
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I wore another brooch from Tong Tong with this dress which is not obvious in the picture above.
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The collar height of the dresses in subsequent collections is raised to 4cm, like this A-line dress which is inspired by Mt Fuji. It’s a whimsical design, but I feel a thicker or stiffer fabric would have been better to give it structure.
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The dresses from these online retailers are rather comfortable and despite the imperfections mentioned above, the workmanship is generally rather decent. I might sound like nitpicking because inevitably there is a comparison with the store brands.

OBP is the most popular among the three and so the products sold out within minutes of launch. Unlike both JP and THC, there is no online shopping on its website. I guess that is not necessary since you literally have to be fastest fingers first to get a dress. Anyway THC is the only one who provides a preview of the collection before launch. All three of them have come a long way since they first started not too long ago. (OBP in 2013, and both JP and THC in 2014.)

The Cheongsam Grandmaster – Peter Kor

I have written about Peter Kor of Studio 55 in a previous post “The Search For Cheongsams Continues …” dated 23 Aug 2014, but I didn’t include any pictures then. When I went to see him before the Chinese New Year to make the request for photos, I was a little surprised to learn that he had read the post though I didn’t  give him my blog name. It turns out to be a good thing, as he readily agreed to my request.

Studio 55 is located at 15 Purvis street in a non-descript shop which is not easy to spot. (It is opposite Killiney coffee joint by the way) In the day time, the surrounding area can get really warm with so much concrete around and hardly any greenery. But inside the cool and spacious boutique, it was relaxing and soothing, and this makes a pleasant shopping experience.

Peter is the owner and designer at Studio 55, and he has two seamstresses working for him. He is a person who speaks his mind. He admitted during the short chat that he had self doubts sometimes, and for a long tine, he wondered if he was truly creative. It was only recently that he finally affirmed it to himself. He is also one who strives for perfection. He likes the challenge of tackling difficult designs, and so he finds that the modern cheongsam with flare skirt is not particularly interesting.

I used to think that Shanghai Tang has the most sophisticated cheongsam collections, but after seeing those from Peter and Laichan, I have to say the latters’ collections are just as good, and in terms of craftsmanship, an edge over ST. Case in point in this stylish red linen dress with amazing nipped-in details on the tummy, which is really gorgeous. The  lace covering the collar and running along the hemline makes the dress really elegant as well. It also comes in purple color, which I saw a customer trying it on and I must say she looked fabulous. (The dress is S$499 if my memory serves me right.)
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Look at the details that go into the underside!
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An amazing cheongsam with kimono print and an  interesting tie on the left waist.
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Another version of the dress with lace covering the collar and the right shoulder.
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The interesting waist tie.
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The lace covered collar.
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The skilled tailoring seen in the underside seam.
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A different version of the floral printed cheongsam dress, with lace on the  collar and right shoulder.
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The same design comes in a beautiful blue floral print as well.
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Peter wanted to challenge the notion that horizontal lines make you fat, and so created this interesting cheongsam which he described as looking like a rugby shirt.
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There is also the vertical stripey dress, which is good for work wear.
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The dresses, though not unique, come only in one piece of small, medium and large each. So yoi can say they are rather exclusive.

I have sent Peter the list of Q&A (like the one sent to Laichan), but he was too busy to answer them except for one question. In a few articles on him, he was mentioned to be deeply influenced by the famous Japanese designers, such as Issey Miyaki.  So I asked if his cheongsams were also influenced by them and they were not.

The vintage cheongsam (Updated)

Some time ago, a reader, Ed, forwarded a few pictures of 1950s/60’s cheongsams to me, and I like to share them here. I have also taken pictures of a couple of pages from the book “In The Mood For Cheongsam”, which provides an amazing history of the iconic dress in Singapore. This book was published in conjunction with the cheongsam exhibition held in 2012 at the National Museum of Singapore, which I wrote about in my post “Who’s In The Mood For Cheongsam?” dated 12 April 2012.

Below are two pictures of formal events held in the 1960’s (the second photo, taken in Singapore, is also found in the book). The women wore the classic figure-hugging cheongsams with high collars. There is this elegance about their styles that is not commonly seen nowadays. I have to admit, despite the convenience of side pockets and flare skirt of the modern design, few can match the gorgeousness of a well-made classic cheongsam. I guess this is also why there are some who still prefer the classic form.

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Ed also forwarded me a picture of a singer from the 1950’s in the clsssic cheongsam. (The hourglass figure was made possible with corset, which was popular then.) [Ed updated me that she was a Singapore singer by the name of ‘Chong Sit Fong’.]
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Here is a 1960's picture I found online. (Archive picture from Sotherby.) To be honest, it has not been easy to get hold of such photos. When I did a Google search for 1960’s cheongsams, a lot of 21st century pictures turned up instead.
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According to the above-mentioned book, the cheongsam became an everyday dress, wore even by working women, in the 1960’s in Singapore. Though some chose to wear a loose fit for comfort, there were many who wore the figure-hugging design, which they felt portrayed a feminine look.
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The 1960’s were the heyday of the cheongsam in Singapore, unfortunately it’s popularity started to wane in the 1970’s because women found the dress constricting. Since then it has never regained it’s footing. Maybe with more
modern versions appearing in the market, there will be more women wearing it. Still, I only see more glimpses of the cheongsam during the Chinese new year period. There are only a handful of women who wear it on a regular basis, me being one of them.

Going back further, in the 1930s and 1940s, we have here a picture of Soong Mei-Ling or Madam Chiang Kai Shek, wife of the generalissimo who fled to Taiwan after being defeated by the Chinese Communist Party in late 1940s. Madam Chiang was known to wear the cheongsam almost everyday. (Picture taken from cultural-china.com.)
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Another picture of Madam Chiang with a group of older women, also in cheongsams. These women did not have the slim physique of the younger ladies, but they sure looked rather dignified. The dresses are loose fitting and the sleeves are elbow-length, which allow even women without the”right figure” to look presentable. (Photo from shme.com and also found in the book.)
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Another reader, Dionne, approached me in end January if I would be interested to purchase her mother’s vintage cheongsams which appear to be the loose-fitting design. There are three of them, and the workmanship seems pretty decent. I declined though, since I find them too old style for me. I suggested to her to approach the museum. If any reader is interested to collect any of them, do let me know and I can connect you to Dionne.

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On a separate note, there is something which has intrigued me about the design of the cheongsam: the layout of the front flap or faux flap. In the traditional form, the flap has been on the right. But some modern cheongsams have it on the left. I asked a couple of designers for their thoughts. Lai Chan remarked that he was told during the Qing dynasty, the Chinese wore the dress with the flap on the right, whereas the foreigners (barbarians) wore it on the left. But this is not verified. While Lilian from Dayglow Vintage told me that her most recent designs have functional buttons, and she felt that it would easier for the right-handed wearer to button the flap on the left. So it was just a practical reason for her to change the design. If anyone knows the real reason why the flap was placed on the right, let me know.

A follow-up to “Unsupporting You” – it’s worse than I thought

(I am interrupting my regular posting for this follow-up political post.)

I wrote a post called “Unsupporting You” on  25 February 2014 where I stated for the record that I was not supporting the Worker’s Party (WP) any longer, and my reasons for it. At that time, the Auditor General office (AGO) was directed by the Ministry of Finance to conduct an audit on the financial accounts of Aljunied Hougang Punggol East Town Council (AHPETC), at the request of the Ministry of National Development. (Note that the AGO was only asked to audit the 2012 accounts.)

To refresh our memory, the reason for the AGO stepping in was because the auditors appointed by WP couldn’t give an opinion on the financial statements. The latters found various issues in the 2012 accounts, more than what was discovered in 2011, and so the statements could not be signed off.

Now, one year later, the AGO finally released it’s report earlier this month. In it was listed five major lapses found during the audit: not transferring monies to sinking fund, poor internal control, no system to safeguard documents, inadequate oversight on related party transactions, and no system to monitor arrears.

Following the release, there was a parliamentary session to discuss the report. I won’t go into details of the report nor the discussions, because the information is available for all to read. Instead I want to put down my thoughts on the misconceptions and disingenuous references that are inferred from the findings, as well as the attitude of WP.

First of all, the AGO went in to conduct a financial audit, like what the WP’s auditors had done previously. But it was much more thorough, and that was why it took a year. (Usually an audit takes about a week to a few weeks.) The AGO did not conduct a forensic audit with the intent to investigate fraud. I am not sure if everybody understands how audit works, but basically the auditors will randomly select documents (or sampling) to verify the numbers in the financial accounts. In a forensic audit, which is done by specially trained auditors, it is a process of reviewing a company’s or person ‘s financial statements to determine if they are accurate and lawful. It involves tracking and collecting evidence since this is usually a matter of legal concern, and the evidence can be used in court.

It was therefore wrong to infer from the AGO report that there was no fraud detected, since it wasn’t the objective of the AGO to conduct an investigation in the first place. But one thing is sure, the appointed auditors and, subsequently, the AGO discovered there were missing documents that couldn’t verify the accounts of AHPETC. Together with other serous issues like lack of a system to monitor arrears of conservancy and service charges and others mentioned above, the AGO concluded that the financial statements cannot be regarded as accurate and reliable, and that it cannot ascertain if public funds have been properly accounted for. These are also the same reasons why the appointed auditors couldn’t provide an opinion on the statements. Basically they don’t know what the hell is going on with the finances. Now, don’t you think this conclusion is cause for concern?

A number of people don’t seem to think so, with one comment even suggested that WP could engage a better accountant. The thing is this is not even about better accounting process. It is about basic accounts management. A financial statement is a basic requirement of an organization that collects money for whatever reasons. It provides information on the financial activities within the firm. Even the mafia has documented accounts; otherwise how the hell would the boss know how much money is going in and out of the organization?

If AHPETC was a listed company, this would be a big scandal and it would have to stop trading on the exchange pending an investigation. In fact the shareholders would have rushed to the office immediately and demanded an explanation. For those who still don’t get it, it’s like your bank telling you that due to insufficient IT resources, it can’t give you a bank statement and it doesn’t know how much money you have in your account. Now, would you jump and scream bloody murder?

So please stop blaming the PAP for a lack of financial statements. This is internal accounting procedure, nobody is stopping AHPETC from keeping track of the money. Worse, how can documents go missing? How can there not be a proper system to keep track of who paid or not paid the service charges? Even a mom and pop shop would have proper records. Again, don’t blame the PAP for the town council not having the system in place, because nobody was stopping them from having one developed. Besides, the party secretary, LowThia Khiang, had a town council in place in Hougang for more than 20 years when he was the MP there, so he should know what are required. To me, there are only two possibilities for this mess: either the town council’s management is seriously crappy, or there is something fishy going on. Either scenarios don’t bode well for WP.

During the first year, when the auditors couldn’t certify the accounts, that should have raised alarm bell among the WP leadership. As MPs, they are like the board of directors of the town council, and they are responsible for the operations even though a management company is engaged to run it. They should have started an investigation or engaged a consultant to restructure the internal processes. Yet nothing was done, and the same issues were highlighted the following year by the auditors and more.

In parliament, Low Thia Khiang said WP would look into hiring a consultant to look into the matter. Why only now, after four years of accounting mess? And why did the town council only put in monies into the Sinking fund after the AGO questioned about it. And there was still a shortfall after it had done so. (I am not sure if AHPETC had since put in the remaining amount.) Then there are the related party transactions. The General Manager of the town council who approves of services and payments is also the same guy who owns the company that provides the services. Seriously???

AHPETC only makes up of one GRC and two small SMCs. Imagine if WP had taken over power as the government. If they can’t be bothered with the town council accounts, what more the byzantine accounts of the nation’s finances?

WP had accused PAP of not being transparent, and yet it has not been acting in a transparent manner either. And stop accusing the other side when your mistakes are being pointed out. Two wrongs don’t make a right!  But the supporters love to use this argument; as if this exonerates WP from the mistakes it made. If WP had apologized for the mess and vowed to reform the party and change the internal structure for the better, it would have earned the party respect. Instead, this mess makes them look evasive and suspicious.

During the parliamentary session, WP MPs were rather defiant. Pritam Singh had the audacity to remark that he would only answer to the residents of Aljunied GRC. Hello? The parliamentarians are representatives of the people. AHPETC doesn’t just received money from the residents there, but also public funding (dispensed by the Ministry of National Development) which comes from all tax payers. He answers to all of us!

At the conclusion of the parliamentary session, the minister from MND told WP MPs that AHPETC had to submit audited financial reports by June for the year of 2011 and 2012. So let’s see if WP will comply. The first thing they should do is to announce a forensic audit to retrieve the missing information in the accounts. At the moment, no one is saying there is fraud, but it doesn’t mean there is nothing wrong. WP is given a chance to rectify the situation.

Some people have challenged the government to call in the corruption investigation bureau or the Commercial investigation department. Unfortunately even though this is a legitimate action to take , particularly for listed companies and charity organizations, you have to be very sensitive when it comes to politics. And the weak Town Council act doesn’t help matter.

The National Solidarity Party (NSP) called for a depoliticizing of the town council. Initially I had thought MPs should not be responsible for it. But after this episode, it looks like this is actually a good test for the opposition MPs. It allows voters to judge the management skills of these MPs, how they handle obstacles, whether they observe corporate governance, the integrity and transparency of their systems. Running a GRC is a little like running Singapore, with far less complexity. This will test the MPs’ mettle as leaders.

I also want to touch on the lack of clear-thinking debate among the supporters of various parties. Very few rebut the points raised, and instead resort to personal attacks. Like WP supporters tend to accuse anyone criticizing WP as a PAP mole. When we are talking facts, let’s be rational. WP called for a first world parliament during the last election campaign, and in such parliament, there is check and balance. Since WP wants to check the PAP, then it has to be subjected to checks as well. Otherwise it is only a party of double standards.

As Singaporeans, we should be pro-Singapore and not blindly follow any party. If the government rolls out polices good for the country and people, then give credit to it. If there are mistakes made, we point them out. Same goes for the opposition parties. We should be looking for the best people to lead us, instead of looking for those who “appear less bad”. I do want opposition party in parliament to check on the government. But I disagree on supporting any opposition party for the sake of opposing the ruling PAP. We should give our votes to those who make effort to provide alternative policies. We may not agree with the proposals but they are a starting point for a debate.

Singaporeans must learn earn to be politically mature, analyze the facts and debate rationally on them. Though, honestly, I think this will only happen with the younger generations, who have gone through or are going through the analytical curriculum.

The Cheongsam Grandmaster – Laichan

(Foreword: A couple of weeks ago I approached Laichan of Laichan boutique and Peter Kor of Studio 55 to allow me to take pictures of their cheongsams for the blog. While making the request, an idea formed in my mind of puttting up a series of posts on the cheongsam grandmasters. Each post will feature the designer’s background and design philosophy.

I am really pleased that both Laichan and Peter are supportive of the idea, and are willing to spare time answering my questions despite their busy schedules. I like to express my deepest appreciation to both great designers.)

Bespectacled, soft-spoken, with a slim physique, Laichan impresses me with his sincere and humble personality. Though I call him a cheongsam grandmaster, he designs gowns and other attires as well. But I am only interested in the qipao, and this is what I will focus on.

Laichan boutique is located at #02-10 Raffles Hotel. The interior has the feel of an art and fashion gallery because high on the display shelves, above the racks of vibrant-colored dresses and tops, are interesting sculptures made by Laichan’s brother, Eddie. And they are for sale as well. I was there at the shop a few times, and during the photo taking, Eddie was very kind to help me with the mannequins and clothes, and gave me a bit of history as well. image

Upon entering the boutique, what caught my eye was a mannequin in a lavender cheongsam top with exquisite detailed embroidery of flowers and a bird. It is an attention-grabbing piece which would pair nicely with a pencil skirt.

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Laichan’s cheongsams and tops are famous for their iconic bead buttons, which go from the collar down across the right chest and run along the side. Here is a dress with pretty floral appliqués.

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The cheongsam is not lined, and on the underside, the seam is beautiful sewn with piping. image

On another mannequin is this Japanese fabric cheongsam with gorgeous print. The fabric is a combination of cotton, viscose and lycra.

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For this qipao, the underside seam doesn’t have piping but look at how well it is folded and sewn.
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A cheongsam top with the iconic bead buttons on a beautiful tropical print.

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Laichan’s repertoire goes beyond the classic cheongsam. He showed me a few modern designs, such as this stylish-looking pale grey linen dress with front flaps. I thought it reminded me of the classic trench coat.

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The excellent workmanship is clearly seen in the pictures. And just like those dresses shown above, the same skill is applied on the lined underside as well. Doesn’t the workmanship remind you of a well-made jacket?

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A flaming red modern cheongsam design with front zip. image image

I am amazed by Laichan’s attention to details, like having piping along the inner seam.This is the first time I’m seeing this. It’s absolutely amazing how even the underside of the dress or top looks as good as the exterior. I think it is due to his desire to create the best for his customers. Laichan told me that he doesn’t believe in only showing a beautiful exterior, he wants his customers to know that the tops or dresses they are wearing have the same quality inner details as well. I thought about it, and realized the significance of such thoughtful care. You can judge the attention put in by the designer and the craftsmanship of the seamstress by how the underside of the attire is sewn. It is a reflection of excellence!

Laichan is also known for his evening wear, like this stunning lace cheongsam. image image

You must have a fabulous back and physique to wear this!

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A simple but absolutely elegant cheongsam evening wear with the iconic bead buttons.

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All the clothes in the boutique are unique, one-off piece. The regular cheongsams are made in the standard M size of the midi length, which is also the traditional length. Of course you can have it altered, within a reasonable range. Eddie told me that they will make sure the dress fits well on the customer. If they can’t alter the dress to fit, they will rather not sell it. He cited a recent instance of a very petite lady who wanted to alter a cheongsam, but he told her it couldn’t be done because the alteration would be too drastic and would make the dress looked odd. He suggested she had one custom-made instead.

On another occasion, there was a lady who would only buy a dress that fits her because she has had bad alteration experience. Eddie persuaded her to have the dress altered, and if it didn’t fit her, he would refund fully the cost in cash. She relented, and when she tried it after, she was very pleased. Naturally this bespoke service comes at a price. A regular cheongsam dress sets you back at S$788, but you can be assured that you have bought a beautiful unique piece worthy of collecting.

Laichan believes in continuing to improve his techniques. He is passionate about innovation to make the cheongsam better fits the customer, as well as to make it comfortable. You will have noticed by now that his dresses are mostly in the classic form, and that is because he wants to improve on the basics. He likens it to a tree that has to have deep roots before stretching its branches outward.

Laichan believes that strengthening the foundation in what you do is very important. But even when it is strong, you cannot be complacent in what you have achieved, and there is always room for continuous improvement and innovation. This applies the same way to designing: when a strong foundation is laid in the basic cheongsam form, can a designer then branches out to other fashion trends like the flare skirt for instance. Laichan is like the master ramen chef in Japan, who is always striving to perfect his craft, and the classic cheongsam form is his craft.

Laichan showed me a dress which he is working to refine before putting it on the rack. This is an amazing red cheongsam in a wool/synthetic knit that is pure gorgeous. It is not made in the conventional way because the fabric cannot be cut, otherwise it will unravel. Instead the dress is hand-knitted on a machine according to the specs give by Laichan. You will require a fabulous figure to wear it, given the figure-hugging material.

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Laichan’s staff have specific tasks when making the cheongsam or other attires: he has a couple of cutters and the rest are sewers. Eddie told me that the cutter is responsible for cutting out the fabric according to the draft, and this requires someone who is highly skilled. If a cutter doesn’t do her job well, regardless how good the sewing is, the attire will be out of shape. Of the cutting staff, one has been with the company for more than 30 years and is already 80 years old. I asked Laichan about looking for new cutting staff, and he admitted he hasn’t done so because he feels that the younger generations have different mind-set and they are very reluctant to take on the job. In fact he even admitted that he had no plan for anyone to succeed him.

Laichan hopes that with my blog, I can keep his work as well as the cheongsam culture alive.

Q&A with Laichan

Q: When and why did you start learning sewing?
A: I started designing first and sewing came along naturally. It started in the 80s and I am still excited that there is always something new to learn and improve on everyday.

Q: When and why did you learn to make and design the cheongsam?
A: I started designing Qipao for my mother back in the 80s. Qipaos were of the usual standard designs so I decided to rethink the way cheongsams are cut and made.

Q: What is the biggest challenge in designing the cheongsam?
A: The biggest challenge for designing the Qipao would be making the dress comfortable to wear while looking gorgeous at the same time.
The modern women lead an active lifestyle. The usual technique to cut and make a traditional Qipao does not allow the mobility and comfort.
I am constantly developing different cut and techniques and fabrication to make the Qipao wearable and flattering.

Q: Do you think that cheongsam designer must have the technical knowledge of sewing/tailoring?
A: It is helpful if the Qipao designer has some technical knowledge of sewing. Or at least a practical imagination of how the cut and tailoring can work for or against the woman wearing it.

Q: How do we attract more younger women to wear the cheongsam? Can the cheongsam be further modernized?
A: Basically, any woman younger or otherwise wants to look good wearing any type of dress. So one way to attract more younger women to wear the Qipao is to make it beautiful, practical and wearable.
I also believe that while the Qipao can be further modernised, it is equally important to respect the tradition and essence of the Qipao.

Q: What do you think of the proliferation of online cheongsam retailers offering modern versions like flare skirt,  addition of side pockets and shorter collar?
A: I think it is only natural when designers, myself included, start to offer variations of the Qipao with anything and everything possible for the consumers. Flare skirts flatter some women better, while the shorter collar are more comfortable.
However, such dresses that are totally modernised are just an ‘extension’ of the Qipao. The correct approach is not to remove too much of the original and replace with things foreign.
What is more challenging and interesting is to retain the essence of the Qipao while redeveloping the technique of the draft and cut to make it wearable and comfortable.
Anything else too unrecognisable from the original Qipao and without its DNA would not quite qualify as a Qipao anymore.

Q: What is the biggest influence in your designing?
A: My beautiful family and friends are my greatest influence and strength in my design.

Q: I notice that certain dresses have lining, but not others.  Like the light grey linen dress has lining, but not the cheongsam made from the Japanese fabric.
A: Yes the lining is there or excluded for various reasons, some of which are technical. They are left out or included intentionally.
Like the cheongsam in Japanese fabric (mix of cotton, viscose and lycra), the reason for not adding lining is to work with and not against the fabric. The lycra is in the fabric for comfort and stretch. Adding a layer of lining would restrict the effectiveness of the lycra.
Mobility is so much a part of a woman’s active lifestyle now, so this fabric choice is most suitable and appropriate.

Q: Where do you usually source your fabrics and what is the type of fabric that you most often use?
A: I source my fabrics from anywhere and everywhere so long as they are suitable. I usually consider the weight and texture of the fabric together with prints and colours.

Q: You have separate cutters and sewers. Can you have one person doing both, or is it better to separate the tasks with only the experienced person doing the cutting?
A: This is probably different from the earlier era when Qipaos were entirely made slowly by the one same old master tailor. Lifestyle and consumer demands are different now. The way any products, Qipao included, are made have undergone changes. The assembly line is organised to make the best of time, skill and talent for both practical and economical reasons.

Q: your brother told me that you have a reason for making each dress. What is your reason for making the red knitted cheongsam? 
A: The reason remains the same. It is always the continuous search and exploration to develop new Qipao for the future. Can the traditional Qipao find itself relevant now and in the distant future. If it does not move ahead, will it be left behind? I cannot take un-calculated risks to assume it can be relevant based on its original form. I have to keep it alive and that would include both the very original and its new improved versions.

I like to end here by expressing my deepest gratitude to both Laichan and Eddie for allowing me to put up this post. It has been a wonderful experience knowing both.

Finally, given that today is Chinese New Year eve, I like to wish everybody a great and healthy year ahead!

A medley of cheongsams for the young and old

Two Fridays ago, a friend sent me a link to an article from Her World Plus, featuring cheongsams from 11 stores, with prices ranging from the cheap to expensive. I notice that, other than one (Intoxiquette), I had featured these retailers in my blog. Personally, I feel it was a half-hearted article, and the writer could have chosen better pictures to feature the dresses. Anyway I’m doing my own medley of cheongsam selections for both the kids and adults, so that you can still go for some last minute shopping.

Before I begin, I want to say that I have thought about how I can showcase better cheongsam pictures. Seriously, some of the window display photos suck because of the glass reflection. After advice from my husband, I decided that the  best way is to approach the retailers (for the established brands) to request for website or FB photos. So that was what I did, and I’m happy to say that some retailers have agreed: Mama & Misse, Dayglow Vintage, and Jobs and Shop (this online retailer finally got back to me with approval).

First, let’s start off with Bloom B, a children boutique, which I think is from Singapore. I say this because there is no mention on where it originated from in the website, and the store locations are mainly in Singapore, with one in Malaysia.
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The cheongsam dresses for the little girls are rather pretty, except for the one with the glittery waist band. (Really, what’s with shiny objects and the female species?) Bloomb B dresses go for above S$60.

Over at Château de Sable, a French children boutique, there is a set of Chinese New Year clothes for the little girl, boy and baby, in salmon red with sheep print. I thought they look rather adorable despite the simple design. Goes to show that simple can be beautiful. And they are all below S$60, which is competitive to the online retailers

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Then there are the little cheongsams which can be considered as the mini “getai” (stage show) dresses. Goes to show the adults can transplant their gaudiness to kids.

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Now for the adult’s selections. Shanghai Tang has some early arrivals of their SS2015 collection. I like the design of below black dress that also comes in white, and it has such a pretty side knot. But I am more amazed by the price, which is S$1153. I did a little research, and found out that the textured jacquard fabric used (even though it is polyester in nature) is rather expensive. (Jacquard weaving requires time, specialized skill and expensive machinery.) At the same time, I learned that there are merits to polyester fabrics: fast drying, wrinkle resistant, stretch resistant and very durable. By the way, I am not marketing the cheongsam for ST, because, personally, I wouldn’t pay this price for a mass-produced dress.
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For a less formal look, here’s a dress from ST with a much shorter collar and in silk/cotton knit at less than S$500.
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I haven’t covered Sissae for quite some time. Here are a couple of the cheongsams from the latest Eurasian Doll collecton. Sissae’s dresses are characterized by formal and loud designs with a modern twist.
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When I contacted Mama & Misse, to allow me to use its website and FB pictures, I was half expecting no response. So it was a pleasant surprise to get a ready agreement considering I didn’t ask for permission the last time. (I first wrote about M&M in my post “The Search For Cheongsams” dated 6 Aug.) The designer/founder turns out to be a pretty nice person with a good sense of humor.

M&M sees itself as a team and does not differentiate or feature anyone in particular. The email replies are always signed off as “Mama & Misse”, and the word “we” is used when describing how they work, and so I shall follow as well.

I was told by M&M that they design all their dresses, prepare the drafts, and they are also the seamstresses. Their cheongsams lean toward the classic form, and this is what they believe the cheongsam to be. Instead of changing the form, they use fabrics to give the dress a modern twist by using colors and prints. Though there are trimmings such as lace, they are more subtle. M&M sourced their fabrics locally, ranging from the Indian sari to French lace. Their cheongsams cost at least S$250 for those in cotton and more than S$400 for those with French lace.
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Here is one of the latest CNY dresses from M&M, which I thought the design and print are a little too traditional for me.
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Now for the more affordable cheongsams in the mid-range. I was alerted by a reader to the qipaos from Dayglow Vintage. I had heard of this online retailer but did not look into the dresses closely, so I contacted the site. Lilian, the designer/founder responded readily in agreememt to my request to use her pictures. She is also willing to share information with me, which I am very appreciative.

From her profile in the website, I found out Lilian was a seamstress before starting the Dayglow Vintage (DV) online store, and she designs clothes, including cheongsams, under the “Dayglow” label. Perhaps it is her sewing background that makes Lilian rather particular when it comes to the fabrics. She mostly uses 100% cotton fabric from USA, and will soak the yards of materials to pre-shrink them and test for color fastness. Her design process starts with drawing out the design, and once she is happy with how it looks, she prepares a life-size draft, then the pre-production sample, and finally send it to the seamstress.

Lilian strives to bring perfection to the dresses she created for her customers. I want to put on the record that I have not seen any of them, but the reader who brought DV to my attention is a regular customer. She told me the dresses are of good quality and reasonable pricing. Personally I think the comment on quality is likely to be true. I find that designers who have backgrounds as a seamstress or tailor are meticulous in their quality process. They understand the technicality, and able to use that to improve their designs and know what works.

On the cheongsams from DV, to be honest, I’m not particularly wowed by the retro styles. Maybe it’s because I’m not a big fan of the look. But one interesting observation I have of the website  is that Lilian provided pretty detailed description and specifications of each dress, which is rather rare. So the customers get full details of the dress before buying.

The following dress “A Date With Spring” is currently sold out but still available on a pre-order basis before CNY.
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This dress below, Caffe Lady, has been very popular and is now sold out.
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A couple of the current cheongsams:

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Nine Lives Cheongsam

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See You At The Bund cheongsam

For those going for budget cheongsams, there is a limited selection from Joop boutique , which has many outlets located in malls, one of which is at Raffles City. The dresses are less than S$70 each.
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For even cheaper cheongsams at less than S$30, there is Job and Shop . Like what I mentioned in my post on cheap cheongsams dated 13 Jan, the style reflects the price. I am definitely not a target customer.
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Before I end off, I like to inform everyone that May Loh from Walking In May is organizing a first campaign for her blog site called ‘#CheongsamConfidence’. She is requesting women to wear the cheongsam on the second day of Chinese New Year (20 Feb), to make a step towards positive body image since the cheongsam is known to be a challenging dress and unforgiving to its wearer. When May approached me, I told her that being positive about your own body means wearing clothes that fit you well. The wearer has to know what her physique is and find the right design. Though a master cheongsam designer can help to hide the flaws and accentuate the assets (as long as the flaws are not overly excessive), but the master’s work comes with a price.  Well, I’m still supportive of women coming out in cheongsams and I’m sure that will be a sight that harks back to the heyday of the dress.
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