Qipaos are an instantly recognisable part of Chinese culture, ubiquitous in films and television as a symbol of femininity and status. The origin of the qipao dates back to the Qing dynasty (1644–1912), but it wasn’t until the 1920s when it began gaining popularity among Shanghai’s upper classes, and in Hong Kong in the 1960s. Known as the golden age of qipaos, it started due to a massive influx of Shanghainese people into Hong Kong. This iconic time is immortalised by Wong Kar-wai’s landmark film set in 1960s Hong Kong, In the Mood for Love, in which actress Maggie Cheung was featured in more than 20 different qipaos. All of her dresses were made by a talented team of tailors, one of which being Master Yan Ka-man, who also worked with high-end brands like Shanghai Tang and the costume department of Hong Kong’s leading television broadcasting company (TVB), making qipaos for famous local and international actors and actresses such as Tang Wei, Carina Lau, Michelle Yeoh, Lisa Wang, and Law Kar-ying.
“Before, I had to make three qipaos a day. Now, I only need to make three every week,” he explains. Unfortunately, not many tailor masters and qipao shops are left today. “In the 50s and 60s, qipaos were very trendy. I don’t think there’s many stores left now,” Master Yan adds. He has a steady stream of regulars, who are mostly from the older generation, but he has been receiving orders from younger clients as well. They mostly come through via referrals from his regulars, soliciting his services for weddings and other formal events.
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