Fashion and shopping, Melbourne style

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Tuesday
Dec252018

A Christmas Angel

Hark! the herald angels sing, 
“Glory to the new-born King! 
Peace on earth, and mercy mild, 
God and sinners reconciled” 
Joyful, all ye nations, rise, 
Join the triumph of the skies; 
With th' angelic host proclaim, 
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.” 
Hark! the herald angels sing, 
“Glory to the new-born King!”

Well, I knew this song had been around for a long time, because they don’t write lyrics like they used to, but I didn’t know that it was written in 1739 by the famous Methodist preacher Charles Wesley. Interestingly, he requested slow and solemn music, and it was not until one hundred years later that the more joyful music still used today was composed by Felix Mendelssohn.

Wesley had based his lyrics on the angelic choir I talked about in yesterday’s Christmas Eve story, so today’s picture is a fitting, if more stylised extension, as I depict the angel heralding the shepherds.

I decided to go for a Renaissance style angel in gloriously colourful and billowing clothes, sumptuously golden wings (large antiqued wall ornaments, borrowed from Hurn & Hurn – which you can actually buy – fantastic!) and a deliciously gold background reminiscent of some paintings and frescoes of the era, or Byzantine icons (another art period I love).

Merry Christmas! I hope you have a wonderful and celebratory day, however you spend it.

~

Fashion Notes

I am wearing a blue top with silk puffed sleeves by Australian designer Lisa Ho, a silk taffeta vintage 70s skirt, beautifully dyed and embroidered fabric that I think must have been a sari as it is so long (I bought this in a vintage boutique in Sydney when I was a teenager!), and a copper metal headpiece of flowers by which label I remember not.

Photo: December 2018

Tuesday
Dec182018

In the Mood for Qipaos

I don’t remember what first inspired my admiration for the traditional Chinese cheongsam, or qipao – very likely a Chinese film – but I am sure it had a lot to do with the sumptuous silk embroidered fabric that many are made from. Many years ago I once owned a beautiful example made from oyster-hued silk, embroidered heavily in red, silver and gold. Unfortunately it was a little small for me, and I stupidly culled it from my wardrobe in a mad fit of minimalism in my late 20s, since I thought I would never wear it. Ever since then I have been looking for a new one.

Qipao of the Daoguang Period (1821–1850); Empress Xiaoshen, image from WikipediaThe history of the qipao is long and complicated, and (according to Wikipedia) its origins are controversial. Generally people believe that its origin is in the Qing dynasty (1644–1912), but some scholars argue that in fact the cheongsam was first worn two millennia prior, in a period between the Western Zhou dynasty (1046BC–771BC) and the pre-Qin era (221BC–207BC). Whatever is the truth, the qipao of the Qing dynasty could not be more different from the style common today. It was floor-length and loose, and cut in an A-line that revealed the figure not at all. Only the head, hand and the tips of the toes were visible.

Chinese singer and actress Zhou Xuan wearing a cheongsam in 1930s in Shanghai; C.H. Wong Photo Studio; Image from WikipediaIn China, women’s liberation had as much effect as it had in other parts of the world at the turn of the 20th century, and the Republican period (1912–1949) is known as the golden age of the cheongsam. It is from this era that the cheongsam as we know it took form. Along with the ending of traditional foot binding, women began to bob their hair, and took to wearing this formerly exclusively masculine attire: one-piece clothing called Changshan or changpao. Now, too, the style was influenced by western fashion – the body-skimming bias-cuts popularised by Hollywood stars – hugging the figure, with hemlines gradually rising and formerly merely practical splits running much higher.

While the Communist Revolution virtually ended the popularity of the cheongsam, Shanghainese emigrants and refugees took the fashion with them to Hong Kong and Taiwan, and kept the style alive there.

Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love, 2000Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love, 2000Wong Kar Wai’s beautiful and bitter-sweet film In the Mood for Love is based on the Shanghai diaspora from the Revolution, and is set in Hong Kong in 1962. Its heroine, played by Maggie Cheung, wears a gorgeous collection of cheongsams – I remember seeing the film in the cinema when it was released in 2000, and I found the costumes no less breathtaking than the cinematography.

I was very excited when I finally found my new cheongsam, on my Day of Yellow Bonanza, the miraculous Saturday a few months ago when I found several yellow items scattered in thrift stores across Melbourne, including a 1940s ballgown. The cheongsam is made from a luminous pale-yellow brocade of chrysanthemums, which is a popular flower in Chinese culture. It is one of four seasonal symbolic flowers representing autumn, and is also the flower of the ninth moon. The dress probably dates from the 60s, and the fabric is rayon. It actually needs to be tailored to fit me a bit better, which is why you see me with hands on waist to disguise the bagginess there. I am wearing it with a pair of patent yellow stilettos by Aldo, also found in a thrift store.

Read more about the history of the qipao here, and about Maggie Cheung’s wardrobe for the sublime film In the Mood for Love here – I am inspired to watch it again.

Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love, 2000

Photos: August 2018

Thursday
Sep132018

The Golden Boots I Didn’t Know I Needed

A few months ago I waltzed into one of my regular op shop haunts and no sooner than my eyes fell upon a pair of golden boots in the glass cabinet at the front of the store, where all the best treasures are usually kept, I was instantly seized with that well-known phenomenon: shoe lust. I adore Asian embroidery, in any form, and I immediately enquired about them.

One of the staff said, “I was just about the photograph those for our Facebook page!” I generously suggested she still could, but she laughed and shook her head. She must have divined that I fully intended to purchase them, for they were exactly what I was looking for. (That was the shoe lust talking.)

… I was instantly seized with that well-known phenomenon: shoe lust

She had told me the size, and although they were actually a size bigger than I would normally wear, I knew fabric shoes were often an iffy prospect, especially stiff satin. These were barely worn, and sure enough, they were a little loose though not so stiff after all, and with socks I decided they would be fine. The brand is Sofree, which seems to originate from Asia, possibly Korea, although I can’t find much on them googling.

The first time I wore them I chose a day I was sure it would not rain, and pranced out into the sunshine with them. Not five minutes after I left my house, a passing cyclist exclaimed in delight at the sight of them. Validation!

Some shoes you just have to have, even if you don’t need them.

Photo: This week

Monday
Aug132018

Jade Rainbow

Many people are surprised to learn that jade comes in a rainbow of colours: lavender, red, orange, yellow, brown, white, black, and gray. After green, lavender is the most valuable, and black and red (as long as it has no brownish overtones) are also popular.

Jadeite, to give it its proper name, is a sodium and aluminium rich pyroxene, while the similarly coloured nephrite is a mineral of calcium, magnesium and iron. Nephrite is the native stone of China, with more than 5000 years of history in that culture, while jadeite was not introduced to China until the 1800s, by Burmese traders.

Nephrite jadeHow cute are these tiny jade figurines?Red jade is not considered as valuable as the prized green ‘imperial jade’, which is a vibrant emerald colour and almost transparent. Once, the royal court of China had a standing order for all imperial jade, and it is amongst the world’s most expensive gems.

Red jade: bangle from annaandjade.com; bowl from icollector.comTransparency is also highly valued, with the least desirable being completely opaque. I must be very contrary, because I deem the green common (you see so much of it, real and artificial), and I like opaque the best. Red is also one of my favourite colours.

When I was in Hong Kong many years ago, a carved jade bangle was on my wishlist, and accordingly I scoured the jewellers in one of the biggest markets for them. I was immediately drawn to this red bangle, attracted by its strong colour and weightiness. This type of jewellery cut from a single piece of rough stone is called a hololith, and results in a great deal of weight loss. For this reason hololiths cost more than several pieces joined together by precious-metal hinges.

Lavender jade: stone from soaprocks.com.au; carved jade and diamond bangle from katybriscoe.comIt is carved with dragons and flowers, and certainly was expensive! I didn’t dither too long making a decision however, as I knew I would be unlikely to find another, and certainly not a cheaper one. The bangle did not have a ring that matched exactly, but the one I purchased is carved with ornamental swirls. I don’t wear them all the time – scared that I’ll smash them! – but as on last Friday when I wore them last, I always enjoy them when I do.

Monday
Mar192018

Shanghai Silk

I am a total sucker for anything embroidered. It draws my hand irresistibly like a magpie to shiny things. (I also love shiny things.) This vintage 1960s, exquisitely decorated silk blouse, one of two I own, was embroidered by hand in Shanghai.

The real heyday for such embroidered garments were the 1950s and 60s, when the label ‘Made in China’ did not have the connotations it does today. The labels on both my blouses are written in English as well as Chinese, indicating that they were made for the tourist market. Perhaps they were unwanted souvenirs, for neither look worn.

Embroidery and most other needlework arts are believed to have originated in the Orient and Middle East. Paintings and pictures on sculpture illustrating embroidery with silk thread, precious stones and pearls indicate that Chinese thread embroidery dates back to 3500 BC – no wonder this example is so fine: they’ve been practising a long time! Elaborate embroidery on garments, household goods and religious artefacts has been a mark of wealth and status in many cultures since.

Just look at this detail!While the Industrial Revolution brought machines that replaced hands, and made embroidery more accessible for the masses, freehand embroidery has never died out, and its fineness cannot be contested when it is laid side-by-side with a cheap, mass-produced item. One can only marvel at the skill and patience needed for such fine needlework.

I am lucky enough to own a short-sleeved silk blouse embroidered in a similar style, as well as two other plainer Chinese silk blouses. All of them were found in the same Salvos store on separate occasions. I always wonder: Who gets rid of these beautiful things?

Vintage lovers will also be familiar with the beaded and sequined knits of the same era, and detailed beaded evening bags, most of which declare Hong Kong as the origin – look out for more on these in coming days.

~

I am also wearing a modern silk skirt by Carolyn Taylor, and belt by Alannah Hill.

Photos: March 2018