What makes a cheongsam?

Is it the distinctive Mandarin collar that conjures an air of regality? The close-fitting contours that show off the wearer’s figure? Or the rich, intricate fabrics that are used to craft the traditional Chinese dress?

Whatever your answer, there is a wave of contemporary fashion labels putting their own spin on the qipao for women of today — and to covetable results. Whether they do so by introducing unexpected prints, cuts or silhouettes, one thing is for sure: the cheongsam is a wardrobe staple that is well worthy of outings beyond Chinese New Year visits.

Below, we round up the brands from which you can get your hands on one (or several).

the missing piece lace cheongsam
Photo credit: The Missing Piece

The Missing Piece

For The Missing Piece, the secret to modernizing the cheongsam lies in the details, whether that means adding cape sleeves, lace collars or one of the label’s signature (and flattering) cut outs. We’re particularly intrigued by this convertible cheongsam from its Chinese New Year 2020 collection. It features a detachable peplum that lets you transform your look as you see fit, whether by draping it across your shoulders or wearing it around the waist (especially when when you’re porking out on bak kwa). That level of craftsmanship is seen all throughout the label’s offerings, which are handmade in small quantities with fabrics like lace and jacquard from South East Asia and the US.

ansein kimono cheongsam
Photo credit: Ans.ein

Ans.ein

Ans.ein has a fondness for batik prints, Peranakan patterns and elements of the Japanese kimono, all of which you’ll find across its range of cheongsams, jumpsuits and cheongsam tops. That surprisingly harmonious blend of cultures isn’t the only thing that the brand has going for it. It also uses sustainable design techniques like paperless pattern drafting and cutting, so you won’t have to worry about the environmental cost of your cheongsam. Another bonus: the label’s designs come with matching pieces for the little ones.

lark & peony cheongsam
Photo credit: Lark & Peony

Lark & Peony 

Lark & Peony’s cheongsams are a treat for anyone with a penchant for bold colours, vintage fabrics and standing out. And because they’re produced in small quantities, you won’t ever have to face the awkwardness of turning up in the same outfit as someone else. A word of caution, though: Lark & Peony’s designs are known to sell out, so don’t hesitate to get your hands on one that catches your eye. Aside from dresses, the homegrown label also has matching sets of cheongsam-style tops and skirts that you can easily style with other, contemporary pieces in your wardrobe.

Krinou cheongsam
Photo credit: Krinou

Krinou

If you lean towards romantic styles, look no further than Krinou. The Indonesian brand, which is stocked at local multi-label retailer SocietyA, creates cheongsams straight out of a fairytale. These are made with luxurious fabrics (think satin and organza) and are embedded with handcrafted touches like embroidery and delicate beadings. With their sheen, Krinou’s dresses are best reserved for fancy soirées.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B7H45wvlUxr

Ong Shunmugam

Singapore-based fashion designer Priscilla Shunmugam is celebrated for her refreshing take on traditional Asian garments, especially the cheongsam. At her label Ong Shunmugam, the Chinese dress is often dissected into contemporary Western silhouettes, such as tapered trousers and puffy-sleeved crop tops. A look through the brand’s new Chinese New Year collection will show that Shunmugam hasn’t lost her experimental touch. The designs feature intricate pleating, special brocades and batiks, as well handmade textile flowers by European artisans.

Shanghai Tang cheongsam
Photo credit: Shanghai Tang

Shanghai Tang

No list of cheongsam brands is complete without Shanghai Tang. After all, it was behind one of the most iconic qipaos in existence: the one worn by Maggie Cheung in the film, In the Mood for Love. The Hong Kong luxury label has taken liberties with reinterpreting the dress for its recent collections. Its latest designs features shorter hemlines (a “mini qipao”, anyone?); tweed, a traditional menswear fabric; and a specially designed chinoiserie toile.

Pameyla Cambe
Senior Writer
Pameyla Cambe is a fashion and jewellery writer who believes that style and substance shouldn't be mutually exclusive. She makes sense of the world through Gothic novels, horror films and music. Lots of music.