Cheongsam update at Lai Chan 

I know I haven’t been putting up new posts regularly in my blog for the past couple of months, and it’s because work has been really busy. I have little time to look for materials for the blog, amidst juggling between family and work. Anyway I finally made a trip to Lai Chan a few days ago to check out the new designs. So, let’s take a look at the dresses first.

The cheongsams are mostly in classic Lai Chan style with semi precious stone buttons, though I spotted quite a few retro prints among them, like this white polka dot black dress.


This tweed fabric cheongsam is slightly different from the rest in that it has stud buttons, making it easy to put on. I find the seemingly simple design belies an  understated elegance.

Below we have a Japanese cotton fabric with a retro flair.


Another easy to wear cheongsam with back zip, though there are few classic styles available with such wearability. But I am not into this print; I feel it looks a little matronly.

When I first saw the below dress with abstract print, I didn’t think much of it until I took a closer look. I like how Lai Chan used the polka dot binding to juxtapose against the print, creating an interesting combination. However, I wish the dress has stud buttons instead. Though the stone buttons make the cheongsam looks good, they can be a pain because they really test your patience.


Another cheongsam with retro print here.


One of the few cheongsams that Lai Chan made with pockets. This design was actually launched end last year but in solid colors. This time Lai Chan used what looks like jacquard fabric, which gives it a regal look, but the color is not easy to pull off.

We have a new design here, a modern cheongsam for the formal occasion. This will please those looking for something different from the classic style.


Other than dresses, there are a number of cheongsam tops available. One is an elaborately embellished vest which I find is a little too ornate for me.

I do like the below modern top with the stripy collar and polka dotted front with side zip. Combined with a yellow back panel, this is pretty striking.

Most of the tops are in the classic style with side stone buttons, and some are designed with denim back panels.




If any of these pieces caught your eyes, do check them out at the store at Raffles City mall. Since these are one-off pieces, I cannot say they would still be available though. But it’s nice to browse through the collection, and you might fancy something not featured here.

Going for the non-red cheongsams

Many women are not into looking like a red packet during the lunar new year. Some will prefer subtle colors, though bear in mind that it is not easy to carry off pastel/light colors especially on photos. Most times, the person looks washed out in them. So, instead of red, I think blue is a really nice color. If you are adventurous, there is also purple, green, yellow, and of course, an offshoot of red, pink! Even black with splashes of red is acceptable as well. 

There are many options for non-red cheongsams available right now, in various price range. Check out these if you  want to be non-traditional!

Couture by Szan @ Changi Airport T3 (below S$100)

Mazzario @ One Raffles Place (from S$159)

 

Utopia @ Parkway Parade (below S$120)

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Seoul Fashion @ Raffles Xchange (from S$129)

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Nana @ Arcade (below S$200)


Miz Apparels @ One Raffles Place (below S$200)

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Peter Kor @ Studio 55 (from S$250)

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Y by Yann @ Isetan Scott (from S$329)

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Lai Chan @ Raffles Hotel (from S$780)
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Hana @ Arcade (from S$1,000)

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The fabulous cheongsams for the seasons

I know it is not even Christmas yet least alone Chinese New Year, but I am sure some are eager to check out the stunning Cheongsams available for the festive Seasons. Besides, who says you can’t wear qipao for the yule tide celebration?

When you pick a gorgeous dress, it is not just about the design, it has to show quality workmanship. I am presenting here some cheongsams from two boutiques known for their fine tailoring skill. First of which is Hana. I know I have mentioned a few times that its cheongsams can look a little ornate to the point of seeming matronly. But they certainly do get a  second look because of  the excellent fabrics and sewing. Some of the dresses do have amazing prints or the embroideries like this cheongsam on the left below. I like the floral print which reminds me of a painting. Anyway, you’ll be seeing lots of red color around since it is  a favorite for Chinese New Year, and is also appropriate for Christmas. 

The other brand featured here is Lai Chan. I have mentioned, numerous times, the exquisite workmanship of his clothes and of course, the beautiful fabrics and interesting designs.  Though these dresses are in the traditional straight cut style, Lai Chan knows how to spice things up with little details; be it fluffy binding, faux pearls or crochet floral embroidery. In fact he has always been bold in trying something new. Check out the tweed cheongsams below! Few use unconventional fabrics like he does.



Granted, for these high quality cheongsams, the price tags don’t come cheap. But that is to be expected because you certainly do get what you pay for, and besides these are one of a kind dresses. There is no worry of anyone wearing the same dress as you anywhere. If you ask me for a comparison, I will say that a Lai Chan’s dress, at half the price of Hana’s, is much more value for money. The former has a big edge in terms of beautiful and interesting designs. If you are thinking of getting a special cheongsam, check out Lai Chan’s boutique, and by the way, this is not a sponsored post. I am truly impressed with his dresses!

Check out the Lai Chan’s cheongsams

I popped by Lai Chan’s boutique the other day to see if there were any new designs. Though there is nothing significantly different from what I had seen previously, I spotted two white lace cheongsams which are absolutely gorgeous for wedding luncheons. Check out the designs below.

The first dress has frilly floral appliqué which suits those for a taste of ultra femininity. Look at the amazing details and the white stone buttons! This makes for a standout wedding dress.


For those those prefer a more toned down look for the wedding, here is an option for you. A classic dress that exudes grace and is no less beautiful.

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Instead of new designs, the cheongsams come in new prints. There are various types of floral patterns, from the classic, the abstract, to kimono print.

 

Initially I thought the kimono print would look better if it is brighter, but I realized that the darker colors make for a more elegant look.

If you are sick of floral prints, there are the block color cheongsams with a floral appliqué along the right side of the dress to spice up the dresses.

There is the loose fit which I had featured before. This design is good for the pregnant lady or those who want a casual look, though it is not something I will go for.

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Finally, we have the cheongsam top, with pretty floral applique on left shoulder.

The return of Lai Chan cheongsams 

A couple of days ago, after a long hiatus, I popped by Lai Chan boutique to catch up on the new designs. I met up with the man himself and Eddie, and it was good to see both of them looking well. 

Eddie told me they managed to clear some custom orders and launched new clothes from the backlog designs. There are beautiful classic dresses with the semi-precious stone buttons are available in new fabrics and prints. 

First on the list, we have this cheongsam with an interesting retro print. Though it is not lined, it still retain the amazing workmanship! The fabric is a mix of cotton with elastane and other polyester, and so there is some stretch to it.

Despite having reservations about floral print, I really like this dress with a chinoiserie image of large peonies and mandarin ducks against a pink backdrop. I am attracted by its bold and striking look!

Lai Chan has created a cheongsam for the T-shirt crowd, using T-shirt material: a basic cotton cheongsam with stud buttons and no piping. For those looking for a casual cheongsam, this is it! However, I feel the sleeves make the dress looks rather matronly.

Below is an elegant cheongsam with floral appliqués. 

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Another floral dress, which is part of the new collection, featuring Japanese kimono prints. The fabric is cotton, and the collar comes with checkered piping.

Lai Chan’s cheongsams are mostly sleeveless. This cap-sleeved cheongsam is created in response to requests from the older customers (“aunties”) who want short sleeves to cover the flabby arms. However, this length is seriously not going to help, and Eddie agrees with me. You would need something longer, like elbow-length, which will then make the wearer looks even older. 

Here is a gorgeous long cheongsam, made from silk brocade fabric with a beautiful sheen. Eddie told me such fabric is hard to come by, and it is only sufficient to make a couple of dresses.

And here we have a modern piece for the plus size lady. According to Eddie, this dress is also for women who want a loose fit, and it even has a side pocket at the hip (see third picture). It also comes with a zip for easy wear. 

From dresses, we go to jackets. Lai Chan had made some avant garde pieces which may take some getting used to.
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 Guess what? Surrounding the collar of this jacket below is a layer of real bird feathers! 

 An elegant  bright red cape which is light enough to be worn in Singapore.

Finally, we have a regal-looking top that is partly  made from silk brocade fabric (front and collar). Another beatitude creation from Lai Chan!

The amazing cheongsams from Lai Chan

Last week I visited Lai Chan boutique again, hoping to see some new designs. Eddie, Lai Chan’s brother, told me that the new collections are again delayed because of custom orders, but they managed to complete a couple of pieces. As expected, they were sold out in a jiffy once they hit the store. Thank God Eddie managed to take a few pictures before the customers collected them! Check out this interesting denim design! It is a cool rugged look.

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Take a look at this cheongsam with unique rope binding and wooden buttons. I find it absolutely gorgeous!

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It also comes in red (see below), but I thought the bright yellow looks better. Some customer has the same view and bought the yellow dress (again, thanks to Eddie for providing the above pictures).

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Here is a stately looking dress, glammed  up with beads and ready for formal occasions.

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For those looking for office wear, there are dresses in polka dot prints and come in navy blue and black. Personally, I prefer the navy blue with the contrasting white buttons. The black version looks like something a school teacher or principle will wear. It has a no-nonsense feel about it.

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Another cheongsam for office wear, made even more convenient with back zip instead of the usual buttons.

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A whimsical design from Lai Chan, with a zipped front panel and a crochet pocket. I think a mini version of this dress will look good on little girls.

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Check out this new design: a cheongsam capelet. It even has a Burberry-print binding. It can be an alternative to the cardigan or jacket, though it’s not something I will go for.
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This time, there are more cheongsam tops available, and the designs are beautifully done. Look closely at it.
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The top is not made from a whole piece of fabric unlike the usual blouse. It is actually different colored blocks of varying shapes sewn together. The workmanship is simply astounding!
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Below is an amazing-looking blouse, and I really like the assymetrical length and the combination of different fabric materials.
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Look at how the different fabric pieces are sewn seamlessly together. It’s a stunner!
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Eddie told me that, hopefully, the new collections will be available in July, and he will alert me when they hit the store. I can’t wait to check them out.

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!