When it comes to style, it is believed that nothing ever stays the same. Trends come and go. Wardrobe must-haves are different each time a new fashion season arrives as well.

Yet, there are certain designs that have stood the test of time. Traditional outfits for example, are always a favourite – and remain to be as such across generations and lifestyles.

Consider the cheongsam or qipao. The design is ever popular, and not just for special occasions or festive periods. It is still considered to be the very epitome of feminine dressing.

According to Malaysian designer Khoon Hooi, cheongsams have evolved over the centuries but are still iconic. He says there is even a spike of non-traditionalists purchasing their first cheongsam these days.

“It’s not really an issue,” Khoon Hooi states, when asked about the challenging nature of staying true to traditional design. As it is, he has managed to come up with something young and fresh for his collection.


A fresh interpretation of the samfu, with palazzo pants adding a youthful feel. Photo: Khoon Hooi

“The formula is having the right cut. With that ‘foundation’ in mind, we explore and innovate with unique finishing and new brocades sourced from our buying trips,” he lets on.

Other designers have also often enough come up with their own version of cheongsams. Even international fashion houses have showcased designs inspired by Chinese traditional wear in the past.

East Meets West

Chinese traditional wear have long fascinated Western fashion designers and consumers. From designs and cuts to motifs and accessories, the culture has had a presence on international runways.

Tom Ford for instance, sent out a Chinese-inspired collection for Yves Saint Laurent’s Autumn/Winter 2004 show. It incorporated traditional prints and embroidery, as well as fabrics like jacquard and brocade.

In 2001, Ralph Lauren added many Chinese elements into his designs. They included the colours of vibrant red and emerald green, in addition to cheongsam designs and a robe with a depiction of a dragon.

While Kenzo has been observed to have embraced cheongsam details such as the side fastenings and applied them to ample tunics, Giorgio Armani sent down the runway Chinese-inspired collections featuring jade and coral jewellery.

Alberta Ferretti similarly borrowed from the Chinese tradition, with suggestions and details of the culture juxtaposed with the bright, beautiful Spring/Summer 2011 designs.

All in all, you could say that the cheongsam is probably one of the more well-loved garments in terms of its influence all over the world. Few other traditional designs have been so reinterpreted in the style industry.


Khoon Hooi: More and more non-traditionalists are getting their first cheongsam. Photo: The Star/Art Chen

New From Old

Khoon Hooi’s cheongsam designs for this year is inspired by the very beautiful oriental gardens. Just think of motifs like cranes, bamboos, peonies and plum blossoms.

Gorgeous embellishments the likes of jade, agate, pearl and handcrafted flower buttons against modern digital printed satin, make his pieces seem a whole more youthful too.

He has even added a modern version of the samfu to the collection, of which pairs a classic top with trendy pants. The look would not seem out place on runways.

“Looser fits have also been added. A cropped palazzo pant is paired with a belted top in royal yellow brocade. Perfect for the younger generation who prefer the modern take on traditional,” comments Khoon Hooi.

If you are wondering about how to style a cheongsam or qipao look, the secret is to choose the right jewellery. With the right bling selected, it seems that half the battle is won.

“Jewellery is often the icing on the cake. When combined, accessories help create a solid outfit,” says Khoon Hooi, who has released his own jewellery collection with inspired by traditional Chinese elements.