From as far back as the mid 1940s when I started to wear cheongsams (or qipaos), I was made to understand that the most experienced and skilled tailors were from Shanghai.
I soon found this to be true when I discovered this Shanghai gentleman who tailored for the customers of the then Seremban Silk Store. A truly rare and precious find (especially in Malaysia, in those days).
The store stocked beautiful fabric from brocades to silk, and laces of all types and textures, probably from Switzerland and France. I remember the Shanghai tailor as a rather lean and quiet man with graying hair, who spoke Cantonese with an interesting accent.
He only popped out from the back of the store to measure the lady customers for their outfits or to bring the clothes out for fittings. As I made only cheongsams, he would take down the measurements with each order – just to be sure the outfit was perfectly fitted when made. Oh – it has to be emphasized that it took a good few weeks before the first fitting – as he stitched everything by hand. As to be expected, the cheongsams fit like a glove, and one could never find a fault anywhere. He hardly looked up or smiled, except when the customer praised and thanked him for his perfect stitching.
That was my first encounter with a truly skilled Shanghai tailor. Decades later, when we visited Beijing, we were told of a fantastic husband and wife team who tailored beautifully. The husband had the best hand for drawing the paper pattern and cutting – and of course, they hailed from Shanghai. When asked how many Shanghainese were amongst their team of tailoring assistants, she replied that they were ALL from the surrounds of Shanghai, as the skill seemed to be dying down amongst the Shanghainese. That was in the 90s.
A few years later, we befriended a gentle but good tailor in Shanghai (who moved there from another province). The polite, clean cut Mr Zhu soon became our favourite tailor across the miles for the longest time. He made most of the cheongsams in my batik collection.
Today, Shanghai is still well-known for tailoring and here are tips on the best qipao or cheongsam tailors there….. please click onto cnngo.com’s article here.
To read more about how the cheongsam is appreciated in China and Malaysia, click onto the following links: The return of the cheongsam, Cheongsam culture booms in Shanghai and Decades of the cheongsam.
Thank the good Lord for tailors…from Shanghai or otherwise!