In the past fifty years, Chinese dress has had a considerable impact on Western fashion, with many designers from Dior and Christian Lacroix taking elements of Chinese design and adapting them to suit Western style. Perhaps one of the most famous exponents of the Chinese style was Yves St. Laurent who found great inspiration over several collections.
Chinese Influence on Fashion in the West
Perhaps the most copied and modified Chinese garment in the world of Western fashion, both in terms of Haute Couture and the high street is the qipao or cheongsam. Traditionally a loose garment that covered the body from head to foot, it underwent a transformation in early 20th Century Shanghai, think Susie Wong, and became a figure hugging dress quickly adopted by upper class women in China at the time. The West was quick to assimilate the cheongsam into fashion and with its mandarin collar and side split skirt, it was an enduring hit. One of the most beautiful examples of the qipao or cheongsam in couture was the John Galliano version for Christian Dior in the Fall 1997 collection, a stunning black silk creation with fur lined cuffs and a pearl embroidered collar.
Other Chinese Dress Adopted by Fashion
Another traditional Chinese garment which was to be a massive influence on Western fashion, is the hanfu dress. Often wrongly referred to as kimono, the hanfu dress is a silk robe with wide sleeves and a wide belted waist, traditionally the accepted dress during the time of the Han Dynasty. Western fashion modified the hanfu dress and it quickly gained popularity as a robe or lingerie item. However, not all designers chose to keep this look for the boudoir. Who can forget Jennifer Lopez in Versace’s green hanfu inspired dress at the 42nd Grammy Awards in 2000? A stunning creation with its bamboo print and studded with citrines, this dress went on to become one of Versace’s most iconic, making the stamp of China on Western fashion much more than a passing fancy. The Mao Suit or Zhongshan Suit should also be mentioned. This simple garment was the Chinese equivalent of a Western business suit, though worn by both sexes during the communist era. Designers in the West have since shown it in many forms.
Lastly, don’t forget the motifs such as lotus flowers and cherry blossom, often used in embroidery or beadwork in Western fashion. Wide belts traditionally part of hanfu dress, are now a great favourite as an accessory. The Mandarin collar or the fan, and many more. Chinese style is here to stay.
Picture: Gordon Bussiek – Fotolia