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October 11, 2009

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Look great in a sexy qipao

THE easiest way to catch people's attention is to wear qipao, agreed Anne Wu and Jane Zhu, two Shanghai-based young ladies.

In her early 30s, Wu has a closet full of qipao. The Shanghai native had her first qipao tailored before she went to the United Kingdom for study in 2003.

"I thought it'd be a cool idea to wear qipao to meet my new schoolmates and I could be easily recognized and remembered," she recalled.

Ever since then, the petite lady has fallen in love with this sexy, body-hugging traditional Chinese dress, which often features a high-collar style, designed to accentuate a woman's curves.

About three years ago, when she returned to Shanghai to work as a PR manager, she happened to find a qipao tailoring store on Maoming Road, or the "treasure house" as she described it, where she found hundreds of thousands of beautiful patterns that the qipao shifu (master tailor) would later turn into exquisite and, most importantly, one-of-a-kind dresses specially made for her.

Wu has more than 40 qipaos of various shades (from light pink to sapphire, from lemon yellow to emerald), patterns (flowers of different sizes, stripes, checks ...) and fabrics (silk, cotton, linen, velvet, lace ...)

"I wear qipao whenever I'm in a good mood," she said. "I'm used to being looked at by people when I have to take the Metro to work in the morning."

Although a traditional Chinese item, qipao is not accepted as daily wear nowadays. Most people tend to wear it either to formal occasions or parties.

"I'm also used to being told 'you look so great' at dinner parties, especially by foreigners," Wu laughed. "At the same time, it is one-piece dressing so I don't have to worry too much about what to wear together with it - simply a nice bag, a pair of nice shoes and maybe a watch or a bracelet."

Her favorite patterns for qipao are bold floral petals featuring paintbrush strokes and leopard prints. "Animal prints are so hot in recent years and they present a stunning effect when made into qipao," she pointed out.

She has a special feel for lace, too. "Everybody loves my beige lace qipao," she said.

"Lace is a very traditional fabric for qipao. It makes the wearer look very sexy in an understated way."

Compared with Wu, Shanghai-born, California-raised Zhu has a much more modern approach to the classic Chinese dress.

The Harvard graduate quit her job as a customer relationship manager at L'Oreal two years ago to become a full-time qipao designer and launched her Website:

"I have wanted to be a fashion designer my whole life but back in the United States, the competition is too furious and I didn't want to be a T-shirt designer," she said.

In Shanghai, she decided to take up qipao upon a whim that turned into an obsession. She remembered how stunning the role that Zhang Ziyi played in the 2007 movie "Jasmine Women" looked dressing up in qipao, and she determined to learn how to make qipao herself from an old Shanghainese shifu for three months.

"I believe there is a market for luxury fashion qipao not only in Shanghai but also elsewhere in the world," she said. "The biggest difference between my qipaos and others' is that, thanks to my background, I have managed to modernize the look of qipao by combining Eastern and Western elements."

She enjoys selecting fabrics, linings, pipings and buttons to pull together a perfect qipao, as well as experimenting with different materials and silhouettes. The young designer is about to debut her autumn/winter 2009 collection on October 27 during the annual Shanghai Fashion Week.

The new collection, she said, features qipaos made of winter fabrics such as cashmere, Angora wool and rabbit fur, all very unconventional materials for qipao.

"With silk, you have to make it fit the shape of the wearer," she explained. "But you don't have to with knitwear because it naturally wraps up the body."

Her recommended look for the winter is to wear a figure flattering qipao mini with a pair of thigh boots, the must-have fashion item of the season. "It gives the traditional dress a fresh look," she said. "Or you can wear the qipao mini over jeans to create an edgy street look."

Personally, Zhu prefers qipao with the length just below the knee because "it is perfect for either formal occasions or a fashionable night out."

Wear it with a pair of peep toe d'orsay shoes, and you look not only sultry but also demure, plus ultra feminine.

Jane's atelier provides a broad selection of fine fabrics, as well as traditional handwork such as exquisite manual embroidery, including silk cutting (traditional Chinese paper-cutting patterns made out of silk), and brush painting of Chinese characters using special ink so that the color won't fade.

"Anyone who thinks she looks good looks good in qipao," she said. "They are created for those who are confident about their figures and who are willing to show them off."

There are still some tips, though. For example, if you have big arms, try to avoid short sleeves because they wrap up tightly the upper part of your arms. Instead, you should go for either cap sleeves or three-quarter sleeves.

If you are not satisfied with your bottom size, make a qipao featuring intriguing patterns over the top so that people will be less likely to notice your lower part.

However, if you are confident about your shoulder shape, try the sexy halter style. You can also show off your cleavage by having a loop cut on the chest, or your long legs by making the skirt shorter.

The key is to show off your beautiful parts and hide the ugly ones. Be reminded that you don't have to show the beautiful parts all at once. Choose one or two and leave others to the imagination.

But Wu thinks differently - trying on the qipao is the best way to check her weight. "Wearing qipao encourages me to do more exercise, to keep healthy to look good in it," she said.

The qipao is a woman's dress with distinctive Chinese features and enjoys a growing popularity in the international world of high fashion.

The history of the qipao dates back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). When the early Manchu rulers (founders of the Qing Dynasty) came to China, they organized certain people, mainly Manchus, into "banners" (qi ) and called them "banner people" (qi ren ), which then became loosely the name of all Manchus. The Manchu women usually wore a one-piece dress which, likewise, came to be called qipao, or "banner dress."

Although the 1911 Revolution toppled the rule of the Qing Dynasty, the female dress survived the political change and, with later improvements, has become a traditional dress for Chinese women.

In the early 20th century, qipao was transformed, taking in Western influences in terms of its silhouettes, which were tailored to wrap up a woman's body to highlight feminine curves. Modern women have also shortened the qipao's hemlines to make it more convenient and comfortable for daily wear.

Starting from Shanghai, the qipao vogue soon spread throughout the country during the 1920s and 1930s.

Today qipao is a symbol of oriental femininity. Famous Chinese actresses such as Gong Li and Zhang Ziyi have all been spotted wearing qipao-inspired evening gowns to attend international film festivals.

The qipao fever was revived in the country in 2000 when beautiful Hong Kong actress Maggie Cheung appeared in Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai's film "In the Mood for Love" wearing exquisitely tailored qipao of various styles.

Since then, fashionable young ladies started to follow the trend. They went to old craftsmen in tailor shops to customize their very own qipao.

The beauty of qipao is that when made of different materials and to varying lengths, they can be worn either on casual or formal occasions.

In either case, it creates an impression of simple and quiet charm, elegance and neatness. No wonder it is so much liked by women not only in China but also elsewhere in the world.


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