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In Hong Kong, in Pursuit of the Perfect Dress

CHERYL LU-LIEN TAN The New York Times 04/02/2011 23:01
The author is fitted for a cheongsam, the traditional Chinese dress, at Linva Tailors.

The author is fitted for a cheongsam, the traditional Chinese dress, at Linva Tailors.

CHEONGSAMS have long captivated me. Growing up in Singapore, I remember seeing sepia-toned photographs of elegant women wearing the form-fitting, high-collared traditional Chinese dress, their ears studded with pearls, their hair immaculately coiffed. Later in life, images of the beautiful actress Maggie Cheung wearing them in films like “In the Mood for Love” only fueled my obsession.

The dress has been popping up in the fashion-consciousness of the United States recently: at the fashion shows in New York this winter, the quintessentially American Ralph Lauren showed luxe versions of the dress on his runway.

So last fall when I went to Hong Kong — the capital of fine tailoring in Asia — I resolved to have one custom made. There was one catch: I had just five days. But I was also determined, and so I mapped out a blueprint and set about fulfilling my quest.


Hong Kong may be a city that is rich with with tailors, many of them highly skilled and able to churn out suits and dresses in a matter of days, but not all of them make cheongsams (or qipaos, as they are called in Mandarin). Even fewer cater to tourists, like me, not well-versed in Mandarin or Cantonese.

Upon hearing my request, people were generous with suggestions. A stylish Hong Kong aunt nudged me to check out the Shanghainese tailor she frequents, my sister Daphne in Hong Kong e-mailed a list of tailors who she’d heard could stitch together a mean cheongsam, and a Singaporean cousin urged me to stop at the place that had not only done her wedding cheongsam but also, supposedly, Maggie Cheung’s on-screen dresses. Armed with this list, I hit the streets.

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