Early Sixties Chinoiserie

Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love (2000)
Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000) Image: WWD.

This year’s big Costume Institute exhibit, China: Through the Looking Glass, broke the attendance record previously set by Savage Beauty in 2011 to become the Met’s most-visited costume exhibit. (See WWD.) Andrew Bolton’s catalogue, illustrated with original photography by Platon, is available from Yale University Press.

Andrew Bolton, China: Through the Looking Glass. Fashion, Film, Art (2015) Image: Yale / Google Books.

One of the show’s major draws was Wong Kar-wai’s art direction, with styling by William Chang Suk-ping. (See Rosemary Feitelberg, “Chinese Arts Examined at the Met” or read the press release here.) Like Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men and mid-century American dress, Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000) and 2046 (2004), with costume design by William Chang, have virtually defined the image of mid-century Hong Kong fashion.

It’s possible to find vintage sewing patterns showing a Chinese influence, especially cheongsam patterns, from about the 1950s on. The earliest Vogue patterns I’ve found that show a Chinese influence date to the early 1960s.

Two circa 1962 Vogue patterns I’ve had in the shop got me thinking about early ’60s Chinoiserie. One is for a cheongsam and pants, the other for a cocktail dress and sheer cape or ‘Ming’ stole:

1960s cheongsam and pants pattern - Vogue 5571
Vogue 5571 (c. 1962) Cheongsam and slim pants. Image: PatternVault shop.
1960s Ming stole and dress pattern - Vogue 5648
Vogue 5648 (c. 1962) Cocktail dress with ‘Ming’ cape stole. Image: PatternVault shop.

Interestingly, although Vogue 5571 is clearly a pattern for a cheongsam or qipao, the envelope text says nothing to identify the garment as Chinese. Vogue 5648, on the other hand, calls its voluminous coverup a ‘Ming’ stole—a garment for which I can find no evidence whatsoever.

The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) is known for its voluminous clothing. Vogue 5648’s Ming stole has deep, two-piece sleeves and back fullness released from gathers at the neckline. Here’s the back view:

Back views, Vogue 5648 dress and Ming stole
Back views for Vogue 5648 (c. 1962)

The back neckline detail recalls this Balenciaga evening wrap featured in an earlier Costume Institute exhibit, Orientalism: Visions of the East in Western Dress:

1950s pink Balenciaga evening wrap in the collection of the Costume Institute
Balenciaga evening wrap, 1954-55. Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

By contrast, the instantly recognizable cheongsam or qipao is a product of the modern period, a hybrid garment with a complex history traceable to Manchu dress in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Vogue Patterns’ mid-century Chinoiserie seems inseparable from the context of the Cold War. In 1962, it had been just over a decade since Mao’s 1949 proclamation of the People’s Republic of China. The Hollywood films Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955) and The World of Suzie Wong (1960) had helped popularize the cheongsam in the West with their depictions of love affairs between an American man and a qipao-clad Chinese woman in mid-century Hong Kong.

Poster for Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing Jennifer Jones wearing a cheongsam
Jennifer Jones wears a cheongsam on the poster for Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955) Image: Wikipedia.
Poster for The World of Suzie Wong starring Nancy Kwan
Nancy Kwan wears a cheongsam (upper left) on the poster for The World of Suzie Wong (1960) Image: IMdB.
Nancy Kwan on the cover of Life magazine, October 24, 1960. Photo: Bert Stern for Paramount Pictures. Image: Google Books.

For more on the cheongsam/qipao see Juanjuan Wu, “Reinvented Identity: The Qipao and Tang-Style Jacket,” chapter 6 of Chinese Fashion: From Mao to Now (Berg 2009).

For discussion of the exhibit see Holland Cotter, “In ‘China: Through the Looking Glass,’ Eastern Culture Meets Western Fashion” and Susie Bubble, “Through the Chinese Looking Glass.”

Happy Labour Day, everyone!

Punk: Chaos to Couture

Sid Vicious, 1977, Photograph © Dennis Morris - all rights reserved; Right: Karl Lagerfeld (French, born Hamburg, 1938) for House of Chanel (French, founded 1913), 2011, Vogue, March 2011, Photograph by David Sims
Sid Vicious, 1977. Daria Werbowy in Chanel, Vogue, March 2011. Photos: Dennis Morris, David Sims. Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This year’s Costume Institute exhibition, PUNK: Chaos to Couture, is devoted to punk and its influence on high fashion. The show relates the punk ethos of DIY (do-it-yourself) to the custom-made garments of haute couture, devoting sections to the distinctive elements of punk’s aesthetic vocabulary: embellishments and techniques such as hardware, graffiti, and distressing. In addition to curator Andrew Bolton, the exhibition team includes Nick Knight as creative consultant and design consultant Sam Gainsbury, who was creative director of Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty.

It seems the punk theme is presenting a challenge for some celebrities attending the Met’s Costume Institute gala on Monday. (See Eric Wilson, “Would Anna Settle for a Safety Pin?“) You can watch a live stream from the red carpet this Monday, May 6th at 7pm EDT.

PUNK: Chaos to Couture runs from May 9th to August 14th, 2013. If you can’t make it to New York this summer, the exhibition catalogue is out next week from Yale University Press.

Book cover - Punk: Chaos to Couture by Andrew Bolton (Yale University Press, 2013)
Punk: Chaos to Couture by Andrew Bolton (Yale University Press, 2013) Image: Yale / Google Books.

This week, in the punk spirit of DIY, I’ll be posting about two punk-inspired patterns in my Free Designer Patterns series.