The List: Old Arts, New Arts

2012/10/12 The List (extract from original article)

Old: The Cheongsam Tailor

Cheongsam-making is a traditional art form that has been around for hundreds of years. Although cheongsam is rarely worn these days outside of special occasions, quality pieces are still to be found in Hong Kong—some made by Kan Hon-wing, who owns an 80-year-old cheongsam tailoring shop.

One of the last of its kind in the city, Mei Wah Clothing is a long-standing cheongsam shop offering bespoke pieces for each and every customer. “If [Mei Wah] ever closes, essentially there wouldn’t be a single authentic cheongsam tailor shop left in Hong Kong,” says owner Kan Hon-wing, to whom the shop was passed on from his father and grandfather.

“With a shop like ours situated in an older neighborhood, we rely largely on word of mouth to get business going,” says Kan. “To run a business, you also have to be practical. Being a cheongsam tailor, the craftsmanship has to be beautiful while the price has to be fair.” Cheongsam-making is a skill unlike any other, as Kan explains: “every inch has to be meticulously measured, and every piece of stitching done by hand, which makes it a rather difficult craft.” Indeed, making a piece of cheongsam takes Kan three to four days. For pieces with more intricate designs—for example, those featuring floral patterns or specially designed buttons—might take even longer.

What sets Kan apart from other tailors? “[A tailor’s] skills and craftsmanship in cheongsam tailoring can be grasped right away through his work. Simply put, you either have it or you don’t,” Kan proudly proclaims. “As soon as you [compare] two pieces of cheongsam [by two different tailors], you can see right away which one is made better than the other. Cheongsam tailoring really does depend on talent. Without it, it’s just not the same.”

Nowadays, hardly anyone is willing to enter the industry and learn the craft; there just isn’t a huge demand for tailors, says Kan. “People very rarely have a cheongsam made to be worn on a day-to-day basis.” However, Kan also points out the reasons why cheongsam still enjoys a steady following. “A cheongsam is a very special item of clothing that perfectly represents Chinese culture. But that is not the only reason why people still wear them today. When women wear cheongsam, it reveals a special kind of beauty which differs largely from any other style of fashion.”

Mei Wah Clothing
76 Queen’s Rd. West, Sheung Wan, 2543-6889.

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