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Tuesday
Jul142009

Dreaming in Chinoiserie

I have always admired Oriental embroidery. I find it so lush and decorative; it always makes me think of the decadence of nineteenth century decorative arts, when a craze for Orientalism swept Europe.

In the past I have owned a gorgeous silk kimono – I donated it to the Salvation Army, alas. Although I have visited Hong Kong and China’s mainland twice, on neither occasion was there time to have a silk robe made to measure, and I certainly did not see any ready-made that came anywhere near to fulfilling my fantasies. So on my recent trip to Vietnam (famed for its tailors), I determined that I would have one made.

On my first night in Saigon I was browsing in a tailor’s chosen at random, and came across some sumptuous brocades that made my heart go pitter-pat. What astonishing colour and detail! Fat roses burst into bloom and rioted in glorious richness all over heavy swathes of silk. And over the flowers were birds of paradise with wings spread, picked out delicately in pale gold – like line drawings over watercolour. I dithered over the various colourways, but in the end could not but choose my favourite turquoise. The brocade was so special that I had to put down a larger deposit than was usual so the tailor could purchase it.

…over the flowers were birds of paradise with wings spread, picked out delicately in pale gold…

We lingered over the plain silks, trying to choose the best colour for the lining. In the end I went with a bright lime, (the exact shade of gold I wanted was not to be had), although afterwards I wished I had gone for the paler yellow. By the time I reached this conclusion, I was floating down the Mekong and it was too late to change my mind.

Length of the skirts and sleeves were discussed in detail, and then the tailor briskly measured me up; took a deposit and told me to return in three days. Perfect. While my brocade was being cut up and my kimono assembled, I would be discovering the delights of the Mekong Delta.

Despite the three-quarter sleeves, my kimono is warm enough for the deep-freeze of a Melbourne winter… I just need some glamorous pyjamas to match.

The backdrop is of the Kowloon Walled City Gardens.

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