Checking out the Clothier Cheongsams (Updated)

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from Ping, the owner of Cloth.ier, inviting me to her boutique to look at the collections for Chinese New Year. For those not aware, Clothier was one of the first dedicated cheongsam shops in Singapore. They used to have a few outlets located at Raffles Place, Parkway Parade, Great World City and Liang Court. I had been to all except for the one at Great World City.

In those days, 6 or 7 years ago, Clothier offered cheongsam tops, jackets and dresses in the clsssic form. (I know I sound like an old foggy recounting history here.) There was none of the modern forms like the pleated or flare skirt or A-line silhouette. In fact, if you wanted to wear the cheongsam then, there was only the traditional straight fit available, albeit with back zip.

There was this time the boutique launched an iconic cheongsam which is still featured on its website. To this day, I remember the poster featuring that beautiful floral printed dress hung prominently at Chevron House (then known as Caltex House). I was immediately attracted to it, and so checked out the Raffles Place outlet. The dress was made of raw silk and so rather expensive (off hand I can’t remember the price but it was probably more than S$250). I thought about it long and hard, and finally bought the dress. So here’s me in the cheongsam for the company’s Dinner and Dance, passing off as the character played by Maggie Cheung in the movie “In The Mood For Love”. image

Since that purchase, I also bought another Clothier cheongsam. Unfortunately, due to difficult retail conditions (high rental), Ping had to close down the stores, the last one being the Great World City outlet in 2012. Instead, she focused on the brand, JiXiangZhai (吉祥斋), a franchise that she brought into Singapore in 2011. The boutique is located at the Shoppes @ Marina Bay Sands (#01-69), and carries Clothier ‘s products as well.

Except for the initial posts on cheongsams, I didn’t mention Clothier because I wasn’t aware of the JiXiangZhai boutique. It was only sometimes in September last year that a reader told me about the Clothier pop up store at Takashimaya, and the JXZ boutique at MBS. However I didn’t have time to check out Takashimaya until end December, but there was no pop up store to be found. It was only when I met up with Ping that she explained that she only set them up during the September/October months, and during the CNY period at major department stores like Isetan and Takashimaya. For the rest of the year, customers will have to go to the JXZ boutique.

Before I met with Ping, I thought I would likely spend an hour or less checking out the products. But turned out we had a good discussion for more than 1.5 hours. Clothier has both the mid and high-end dresses available. For the mid range, there are the casual polyester printed dresses and tops, as well as the stretch cotton cheongsams. Ping didn’t want to go direct to the supplier for the polyester fabrics since the market is flooded with these cheapr materials. So she created her own prints and went directly to the fabric manufacturer to have the textiles made. This way, it ensures that the prints are not used by other retailers. The polyester dress is selling fot S$128, and there is a 15% discount at all stores. All designs are rather modern, and even the mandarin collar height is short. Personally I think those dresses in the top picture are pretty alright, but I have reservations on those in the bottom picture. I don’t fancy casual ankle length dresses. At such length, they look rather matronly. image image

For the cotton dresses, Ping buys the whole bale, with the same rationale that other retailers wouldn’t have the same prints. To be exact, the fabric is stretch cotton, and there is no lining to optimize the wearer’s comfort. The cotton cheongsam is retailed at S$148, before 15% discount, though I think the halter neck dress is cheaper. In fact the halter neck is 90% cotton and 10% lycra.

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Another picture of the halter neck cheongsam in black. Next to it is a qipao top with water color print in polyester, and the sleeves and back in cotton/lycra knit. I think the cotton dresses make for good casual wear, like on Friday or weekends, and besides you don’t have to dry clean them. There are only a few retailers offering good quality cotton cheongsams in the classic form. So Clothier is a good place to check out for a dress which is not too expensive.

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At Clothier, the high-end silk cheongsams have the typical floral prints. There is no dresses of the raw silk fabric like the one used in the iconic dress because the material is rather expensive, and many customers cannot appreciate it. (As I don’t have the dress with me now, I can’t say for sure the type of silk fabric. But from my recollection, it might be Thai silk.) The fabric has a coarse or nubby texture because of its characteristics, and many customers thought these were defects. So they asked to look at all the iconic stocks available to select one with the least nubs.

But on the existing silk fabrics (which I think are from China), Ping has no advantage on their exclusivity. They are also more fragile and there is a filmy cotton backing to strenthen it. When Ping showed me the dresses, she admitted that the below yellow print might have been on an Elegente cheongsam as well. These silk qipaos go for S$328 each.
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When Ping asked me for my thoughts on the collections, I told her that I found the silk dresses rather conventional. They don’t stand out, and I can’t differentiate them from those offered by Elegente (the fact that there is a similar piece of fabric is an indication) or even those available on Taobao.com. In fact they are also similar to those qipaos from Allure and Fraiche. This is unlike those from Hana or Vougeois. As I mentioned in my previous post on high-end cheongsams, Hana’s dresses tend to be a little loud, a little over the top; whereas Vougeois’ come in block colors and even the trimmings like sequins tend to be of similar color tone. So they have their distinctive characteristics.

Ping told me that she had considered going the modern route like what many of the online retailers are doing, such as making pleated or flared skirt cheongsams, but that is not what she is good at. I told her that there are absolutely gorgeous silk printed cheongsams in the classic form, and I had featured them in one of my earlier blogs. So for her, she should aim to provide the best clsssic cheongsams in the market, which will then become a way for her to differentiate herself. I also suggested that she checks out the European fashion shows to get ideas, which she can then incorporate into her cheongsams.

I was also shown the collections from JiXiangZhai (吉祥斋), which are much more expensive. Apparently the silk fabrics are spun with a type of incense ashes and so they have a brownish grey tone with a sheen. Looking at the style, I have to say it is rather traditional and a little ornate, despite the designer trying to go modern. I have seen a Chinese fashion designer coming up with sophisticated western attires, but when it comes to the cheongsam, I haven’t seen any that would be considered as sophisticated as those from Shanghai Tang. (I’m sorry to say but ST is a western brand, because the Swiss Richemont Group purchased it in 1998.)

Ping revealed to me that she has had a cheongsam designed for the plus size women, and sold on Zalora. Unfortunately she doesn’t have the stock picture to provide. It comes in black and white and the former was sold out rather quickly. I’m glad that she has thought of modifying the cheongsam for bigger women since many of the existing designs don’t work well on the big physique.

(Updated on 7 Feb)
Yesterday Ping sent me pictures of a loose cheongsam design, not so much for plus size ladies, but modeled on the M size. It has elbow length sleeves and is catered to those who are not keen on a figure hugging dress. The fabric seems to drape on the bodice unlike a muu-muu, and I think this gives a nice shape for plus size women. By the way, these dresses are sold out at the retail outlets and only available on Zalora.com.
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