A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Robes Rouge of Elegente to check out the website and review the cheongsams. Elegente is based in Quanzhou, a city in Fujian province, South China, and is an online shop that provides a wide selection of cheongsam dresses and some outer wears. Robes set up this store because of her love for the dress, and also as a remembrance of her late grandfather, who unbeknownst to her was a tailor in Shanghai. According to the story in the website, she was going through her grandfather stuff and discovered an old cheongsam with a photo of a Caucasian lady dressed in the dress. She found out there was a love story behind the dress from her grandmother, that her grandfather was in love with the lady but they were not able to get together. It’s a beautiful story though I think it would be more interesting if the photo is shown in the website.
Anyway the website is in English and caters to international customers. Elegente provides tailoring service as well where you can set up your measurement profile, and Elegente will will make the dress based on your measurements. This way you get a virtual tailor-made cheongsam though standard sizes are also available. The cheongsams are mostly made using silk fabric, and they are priced at more than US$300, which is the typical rate charged by the established cheongsam stores here. (Though for those high end stores like Hana, the cost for workmanship is even higher.) Shipping for Elegente customers is free if you purchase above US$100.
Now back to the subject in hand, the cheongsams. Looking through the numerous pictures, I find that most of the dresses are in the traditional style. I’m not sure if it’s because this is the preference of their customers, but there’s a “I’ve seen it before” feel to the clothes, or in culinary parlance, they are of one note. Sure they do look elegant, like these two below.
Then there are the typical floral prints, with some at calf length which is a little too long. The dresses would be considered as trendy in the 1960s, but in the 21st century we need an update, which is slightly above the knees.
Still, there are more modern styles, either modern print or modern cut, which are quite stylish.
Elegente also offers wedding cheongsams in modern designs, but in the traditional red and gold colors. It would be better if the store is more adventurous, and go with other colors like pastel yellow, or sapphire green with bronze combination, so that brides are able to wear them on other occasions as well. Like this short cheongsam wedding dress, with floral sleeves. It’s a beautiful dress but it’s strange for the bride to wear this after the wedding.
A formal long wedding cheongsam, which is only for the wedding banquet. Problem with getting a long dress is that one hardly has the opportunity to attend very formal event that warrants such a dress, and worse it’s in the wedding colors.
Elegente should try to check out other stores and even the major fashion runway shows for ideas, particularly for the prints and colors.
(Updated on 13 April)
I was alerted by a friend that Elegente is not what it portrays to be. Firstly it appears that their dresses are also available in the wholesale site Tao Bao 淘宝 at cheaper prices, http://item.taobao.com/item.htm?id=20592887418, compared to those offered at Elegente. http://www.elegente.com/leaves-pattern-traditional-chinese-clothing-dress.html. The dresses on Taobao are from the designer, Redshop. So is this a case of the designer putting them on Taobao and undercutting Elegente?
Also according to the friend, when she checked out the “About us” page, the photo shown was that of the shop front of Hana (a Singapore-based high end cheongsam boutique that offers tailored made dresses). Though when she checked again, it had been taken down and replaced with the current picture. My friend also pointed out that the old picture of the so-called tailor and his wife is fake. I checked out the website she sent me, http://english.cri.cn/8706/2013/08/06/2661s780271.htm. It turns out that the photo belongs to a Chinese author by the name of RAO Pingru, a 91-year old man who has never been a tailor. This may explains why the picture of the Caucasian woman in cheongsam is not shown; it seems to me that the whole story is made up.
To be honest I can’t remember about the picture featured in the “About us” section when I first checked it out, as my main focus then was to review the dresses. But the fake story leaves a bad taste in my mouth. So I suggest that readers check out Taobao site instead.
Now to truly modern cheongsams from Our Bitsy Prints. They launched wrap skirt designs for their latest collection last week, such as this lime green top with batik bottom, which I find rather pretty.
Personally I think what truly defines peranakan style is the nonya kebaya top. I had brought up this idea to Melanie from OBP, who also loves the kebaya but she finds it difficult to integrate it into a cheongsam. I agree; the intricate embroidered motif along the edges (known as sulam) requires highly skilled seamstress to produce. In fact kebaya embroidery is a dying art and there are very few women left who still possess the skill.
Here is an example of what a traditional nonya kebaya looks like. These two kebayas are from my collection. The top green one is made from voile and the yellow one is of cotton fabric. Take note of the beautiful scalloped embroidery along the collar, lapel, cuff and hem of the blouse.
Embroidered needlework is also found on the voile or coton fabric, and the embroidery is so well made that the underside looks almost identical to the topside. There is also beautiful chain stitching along the seams which is not found in the current blouses because it is very labor-intensive.
In the old days, the kebayas are paired with batik wrap (or sarong), but now, you can pair with tailored shorts, jeans (no holes please) for a casual look, or pencil skirt.
Anyway here is my fusion design of the nonya kebaya and cheongsam: incorporating the embroidered scallop edge of kebaya into the collar and chest fold panel of the cheongsam, pairing it with a batik wrap. A couple of kerosang faux button can be attached to the fold as well. (Kerosang is a brooch that holds the kebaya together as it usually doesn’t have buttons, and usually comes in 3 pieces.)