A search for cheongsams continues…

…at Studio 55 where designer, Peter Kor, creates comfortable and stylish cheongsams with premium cotton fabric from Japan.

I went to the boutique last week, which is located at 15 Purvis Street. For your  info, it’s across the road from Ya Kun coffee joint. That was what Peter told me when I couldn’t find it, and with this landmark guide, it became easy.

Studio 55 has a rather classy decor of simple but elegant Chinese furniture, with soothing operatic music playing in the background. It is also rather spacious, and because I was the only “customer” there, the place feels rather serene. There is a curtain at the back of the shop and I could hear the sewing machine operating behind it. Currently, the clothes are on sale, going for 50% off, and some even at 70% off.

Peter is a very slender man in his 50’s, with greying short hair, glasses, and a slouch. He speaks well, in a gentle manner, and rather friendly too. When he found out I was looking for cheongsams, he offered to show me the designs available. (A note here: I didn’t take any photos because it didn’t seem appropriate to do so inside the shop, and Peter is a nice guy. But I guess I could have asked.)

There are not many cheongsams since it is the end of the “season”. A couple of the dresses are in the straight cut form with plain prints. Then there is one that has a flamenco hemline which I really like. Peter told me he wants to make an interesting design, and I have to admit it it, and unique as well. There is a dress (last piece) in a beautiful sapphire blue color that has puffed sleeves with front key – hole opening. I was told that the color may look aging, but it is popular with the younger ladies who make the dress looks vibrant. In fact it was designed for the Chinese New Year this year.

I thought the fabrics of the cheongsams are silk, but turned out they are Japanese premium cotton. Seriously, they are of such high quality that they can passed off as silk. I asked Peter why he opted for cotton instead, and he explained that it is a fabric that is more comfortable for our humid climate, and also easy on cleaning. Unlike silk, cotton can be hand washed and there is the option of saving on the dry cleaning cost.

Peter is insistent on using only Japanese premium cotton fabrics for his dresses; in fact the blue colored fabric mentioned above is a kimono print. With the summer season drawing to a close soon, the autumn/winter season will see a change in prints with beautiful and rich patterns. Peter is already planning his next collections which will be available starting next month.

I noticed that all the dresses have hidden back zip, and there are only faux buttons in front. Peter explained that he had in mind the busy working women, who cannot afford too much time getting dressed in the morning. The dress is easier than separates, especially with just a zip. I have to admit this is true. Even since I had Buddy, I hardly put on separates (except on Friday when sometimes I will wear tights, also easy to put on). I rather have dresses, so that I don’t have to wreck my brain on what to wear. In fact when I’m running short of time, I’ll grab a cheongsam with back zip. Those with multiple fabric buttons are reserved only for days when I have extra minutes to spare, which is not often, but luckily I don’t have many such dresses.

Peter said that with separates, there’s a risk of pairing mistakes like clashing prints, which would make you look like a fashion disaster. He expressed dismay at the attires of some younger ladies who wear totally inappropriate outfits to work, like micro-mini skirt, and low cut tops, which look more club wear than work wear, and wondered why the companies tolerated it. I have to agree with him; I have raised my eyebrows at some women at Raffles Place. The hot weather here is no excuse for dressing like a night club hostess. I guess their bosses are men and enjoy ogling at them.

Our conversation moved on to a pertinent part of the cheongsam: the collar. In this respect, Peter is a traditionalist, like me he believes that the high collar is the essence of the cheongsam. So he insists on the minimum length of  1.75″ or about 4.5cm. In fact his preference is 2″ or 5cm. Some customers asked if he could reduce the collar length and he declined. He feels that with the high collar, the wearer is then made to straighten her back with the neck held up. (I can attest to this. When I wear a high-collared cheongsam, that is what I do automatically.) 

The cheongsam looks best on a woman with the right posture, and slouching is a big no-no. So the high collar does enable the posture needed to make the woman looks good in the dress. Short collar will just make it looks stunted, and worse, if the wearer slouches. In fact, I personally think a high-collared cheongsam makes the lady looks more elegant and regal, though some might argue it is not comfortable. But Peter will not back down. He  told his customers that they either accept it, or they can forget about getting the dress. He will not compromise.

Peter also took the chance to show me a red cheongsam with a luxurious red lace overlay. The lace is not monotonous, unlike many I saw, with a 3D pattern on it. Peter is experimenting with interesting fabrics and prints like gingham. He has also used kimono fabrics but found them hard to handle because they come in 14″ width panel. Basically you have to sew the blocks together to make the dress (which was described in The Lady General’s website on the making of the kimono fabric cheongsams). The problem also is that the fabric can be rather stiff, like brocade, and doesn’t drape well on the body. Peter then showed me a beautiful deep gold jacket using a Chinoiserie brocade, saying that the fabric is better used for the jacket instead.

I think I must have spent at least half an hour chatting with Peter, and it was really enjoyable talking to him. I will like to return next month to check out the new designs, especially the prints. By the way, before I forget, the dresses are not very expensive, the prices hovering at around S$300, or slightly more for lace cheongsam. Peter only make each piece in a couple of sizes.


2 thoughts on “A search for cheongsams continues…

  1. Hi Maria,

    really enjoyed reading your last 2 blog posts, glad to see you picking up the courage to approach a similar cheongsam enthusiast. Most Singaporeans are probably too reserved to do such a thing.

    A tad disappointed that you didnt take photos at studio 55 but I love the cuttings and style of those from Mama and Misse (I still prefer the traditional body fitting A-line cut with high collars), though not so much the fabirc and colours of some of them. Somehow a couple of those of which pics you posted reminded me of those Maggie cheung wore in “In the mood for love”. I think i better stop gushing over them now, im beginning to sound like a woman. 😛

    Both you and Peter mentioned zips on cheongsam, with ease of wearing being the main reason why zippers are gradually replacing buttons on cheongsams. I can add one more reason why alot of cheongsam wearers (or rather my female colleague can, as this is her real life example) prefer zips, especially down the side of the dress. My colleague had a traditional cheongsam tailor made while she was in Hong Kong a couple of years back and like all cheongsams should, hers was tailored to fit her body perfectly.

    She instructed the tailor that she wanted a traditional piece and didnt want any zippers to be included, the only exception was 3 or 4 small metallic buttons to hold up the dress at specific “strategic points”. This meant that her dress was lined with intricate and beautifully designed frog buttons, down from the collar (which had 3 buttons), down to the side of the dress above the slit. (It probably took a long time to even put on that dress). The dress was gorgeous and she was a head turner when she wore it to attend her cousin’s ROM. However, she hasnt worn that dress since and its not because of a lack of opportunity to wear it.

    The main reason was that there were a couple of “unglam” photos of her, in a seated position, from a side view, which showed her dress being stretched and the buttons at the side being “pulled apart”. My colleague is a size 2 or 4, slim and petite, yet the dress made it look like she ate a bit too much for dinner. The tailor had made the dress a perfect fit for her (when in a standing position). And it was still a perfect fit and looked elegant and regal when she sat down. But once the evening wore on, it was hard at times to keep the “straight back, puffed out chest position”, and at times, the slouch sets in, which caused a strain on the side of the dress, hence the unwanted effect at the side of the dress. This is something that can be avoided if those buttons were replaced by a zipper.

    Having said all that, I think the modern woman wants her dress to make her look good, but most are unprepared for the additional effort (after putting on the dress) to make the dress look good.

    • Hi Vincent,

      Thanks for your comment again.

      I didn’t take any pictures at Studio 55 because there was no cheongsam at the window display. They were hanging on the racks and I didn’t think it was right for me to snap them. But I admit I should have asked Peter, and perhaps he would agreed to it.

      Anyway I do really feel for your colleague. I guess she must have wished she could erase all evidence of the unglam looks in the cheongsam. Actually even in a zipped cheongsam, as long as the dress is fitted In the traditional form, you either have to eat like a bird or you have to accept bulges as the day passes. I think we have to accept the fact that it can be very unforgiving. So in order to look good in it requires good posture at all time, and try not to have food. Which is why the modern designs are getting really popular, particularly those with flared bottom or pleated skirt. There are few women who can put in the effort to wear the traditional form. Alternatively we just have to hide the bulges while sitting down or put on a cardi, which I do. Moral of the story: only take pictures early in the morning in the beautiful dress, before breakfast.

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