Chinoiseries derives from the French word chinois, meaning “Chinese”, or “after the Chinese taste”.
We are a melting pot of cultures, ages and sizes in this grand wide world. Closer and closer they meld together particularly when it comes to fashion. One of the very first pieces of vintage I purchased at the tender age of 15 was a grey and white Cheongsam style blouse. Pictured here paired in this picture with a NZ Designer Label Liz Mitchell skirt, retro cork wedges and some vintage jewels.
To this day, more than 35 years later, I still wear this blouse and it stands the test of time when it comes to wearability and quality construction. To be fair, only minimal repairs have ever have to have been made!
Appreciation is acceptable
One of the stand-out conversations had in the store, when we had a physical space was a complimentary conversation about the dress I had on. It was a full length Cheongsam, and I was offered an invitation to walk with an elite Auckland group referred to as 'The Cheongsam Ladies'. This proud group of Chinese ladies walk at events celebrating their culture. All of them wearing traditional garments. I was absolutely floored to be invited and so humbled. We talked at length about appropriation vs appreciation when wearing traditional non-European garments such as the luxe and unique authentic chinoiseries.
Embracing fashion in all its forms is wonderful. Cultural appreciation is paramount - never wear traditional garments as costume.
Why love it?
Why this passionate love? A quick little delve into some of the 'why' Europeans love Chinese traditional fashion. And, how to wear it without looking like you are an imposter from the set of 'In the mood for love' with Hong Kong actress Maggie Cheung.
Everything is in good taste, and so well arranged, that there is not a single view from which all the beauty can be seen; you have to see it piece by piece
One the most coveted fashions of the aristocracy of the 17th and 18th centuries. China certainly held a mysterious allure. Fascinated by Asian cultures, Europeans continue the imitation of the culture and traditions. Like drinking tea. Originally, the height of fashion for ladies of good taste and breeding in polite society. Wearing ponytails (George Washington was a starter here) and the embracing of the decadent silk garments and homewares - all originated in China as we still see it today.
When it comes to traditional dress - early cheongsam didn't have the tight, figure-hugging shape the dress is known for today, and it was originally worn loose on the body. A resurgence of appreciation appeared in the beautiful fashions of the 1920s and 1930s. The shape changed and became tighter in Shanghai in the 1920s and '30s, a time often referred to as the golden age of the cheongsam in Shanghai. Later, Hong Kong experienced its own golden age of the cheongsam in the 1950s and '60s as seen on the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Grace of Monaco.
Red Carpet Ready
Are you an avid follower of Met Gala fashions? You can recognise the cultural nods in styling from well known designs that regularly emerge on the red carpet and runways for example from Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci and Prada. And, who can forget Rhianna in the epic golden gown created after 50,000 hours of work from Chinese Haute Couture designer, Guo Pei! Celebs such as Nicole Kidman, Kendall Jenner, Emma Watson, Margot Robbie (pictured below in Gucci) are are cheongsam wearers/winners!
One of my favourite things about these beautiful pieces are the motifs of cultural significance often seen embroidered and printed on the silks.
Dragons: Symbolizing strength and good luck. The dragon holds a special place in Chinese mythology and folklore. Emperors favoured the dragon motifs in both clothing and interiors and the intricate detailing is absolute art.
Foo dogs: The Foo Dog dates back thousands of years and they are actually representative of lions! They were made to stand guard outside palaces and temples. Foo dogs are usually depicted in pairs and represent the balance of yin and yang of male and female.
Nature scenes: Scenes including lush gardens, sprawling floral motifs and the joyful enjoyment of individuals frolicking in the garden. Marco Polo visited the summer palace of Kublai Khan at Xanadu in around 1275 and was one of the first to describe a Chinese garden.
Wearing Chinoiseries today
Stunning pieces from our collection are truly so easy (promise!) to incorporate into your wardrobe using the respect and appreciation they deserve. They are often adorned with beautiful brocades and embroidery, flattering silhouettes, and delicate details that you won't have to reserve for a special outing!
Choose blouses, jackets (both long and short) pairing with cropped or wide trousers to emulate a street style or 'Art Deco' inspired look with a luxe effect of silk. Blouses and jackets with simple jeans and T-Shirts or skirts can downplay an outfit for work or casual outings. You can mix patterns and textures while keeping the chinoiserie the focus piece. Feel confident with patterns. You can always change the scale of your prints by mixing bigger with smaller ones.
Make sure there is a common colour theme to keep things balanced.
Once you start, I am confident you will start to add additional adornments and frippery to finish. Such as: statement jewelry, lots of bracelets, long necklaces, vintage belts to cinch things up and show off your waist. Even throwing on heels and sleek hairstyles to emulate runway looks. If you are feeling especially game or crafty – why not grab a feather boa and stitch to the sleeve cuffs or collars for those couture-like trims!
Hopefully, we've got you thinking creative fashion … You can always graduate to the full shebang of a Cheongsam dress later!
One Chinese saying goes, 'Cheongsam is practical enough for the kitchen but presentable for the living room.'
'It Girl' Jenny Walton has a collection of stunning Chinese jackets to be reckoned with! The svelte ex-Fashion Director and Illustrator at the Satorialist, shows how to look immaculately 'put together' while keeping it simple with her ensemble.
Follow her lead with clean lines, textures and pleats. Add current pieces such as seasonal footwear and similar tones to emulate elegance yet a street style quirky look. Her pairing of vintage and current pieces brings her to muse status at Painted Bird Vintage.
There's no age limit for fashion appropriateness or interpretation either!
Take these ladies pictured below as a benchmark for the other end of the spectrum in event wear. All over 40's and stunning ... but who's counting!
Image 1 - New Yorker of Advanced Style fame 66-year-old New Yorker Tziporah Salamon
Image 2 - Icon for fashion, Anna Wintour age 72 who is a regular chinoiseries red carpet gal
Image 3 - Kim Kardashian 41 (apparently) love or hate her she is experimental with fashion for sure
Image 4 - Michelle Yeoh a young 59 stunning always the epitome of elegance and style
We know sometimes you need a bit of slow easing into a new look and its not always comfortable to push the boundaries of fashion-forward looks. Why not try our easy styling suggestions to start. For example, shorts and blouse or, jeans a T-Shirt with a jacket worn open like our muse Jenny Walton.
Most of all, enjoy the experience and the feeling of a little unique decadence in what you wear. Don't forget to also enjoy compliments and conversations like I did!
We recommend these pieces to start your journey embracing all that is Chinoiseries!