One Stitch After Another, Year After Year
A pair of presbyopic glasses is perched on his nose, and his eyes are fixated on his worktable. He is qipao master Chen Zhong-xin, and what is in front of him is a traditional craft that has historical and cultural significance. When he first entered the industry, his posture was tall and straight. Over the years, he became stooped, perhaps because he spent long periods of time sewing. However, what has not changed is his focused and determined expression.
The Little Tailor of Memories
Master Chen was born in 1952 into a family of tailors. His father was a Fuzhou native and a tailor of Western suits, while his mother was a dressmaker. He was only an elementary school student when he began darting around his father’s tailor shop, helping him to measure clients, mend clothes, and do other chores. His childhood recollections are all interspersed by the “da da da” sound of sewing machines.
“Yufeng Qipao Shop” is tucked away in an alley in Dadaocheng. It opened its doors during the 1960s, right when Taiwan’s economy was taking off. At that time, the area was full of bars and many of their hostesses needed qipaos. Master Chen and his father decided to make qipaos together. The younger Chen visited the bars to measure the ladies for their custom-made dresses. At that time, qipaos needed to be durable and practical. The dresses also had extra cloth in them so that they could be altered if the wearer’s figure changed. The master learned how to be precise and fast, because the dresses had to be completed in a short amount of time due to the high demand.
As Flourishing as Smoke but the Same Craftsmanship as Always
He was the eldest son, so he took over the family business after completing his compulsory military service. Along the way, he witnessed the rise and fall of Dadaocheng, from nights filled with music and song to the ban on entertainment that sounded the death knell.
Despite all this, Yufeng Qipao Shop was able to continue deepening its roots. There are two long and narrow worktables arranged inside the narrow space. Fabric rulers, scissors, and needles are readily available. The tablecloths have iron scorch marks of differing depths, as if they’re recounting the stories of the qipaos that were born here over the years.
He shows us a work that he’s proud of, a black qipao hanging in a corner. The sequins on the top half were sewn on by hand. The master himself designed the blooming flowers and growing buds on twigs. The black velvet fabric highlights their delicate brilliance, and the dress gives off an elegant and understated impression. The most surprising thing is that this qipao is over 40 years old. The extraordinary craftsmanship of the master has sublimated it into a classic object, which is exactly what Tsuchiya Kaban has pursued all along.
He tells us about the qipao-making process. He says it starts the moment the customer walks in the door. He uses his “practiced eye” to take in everything at a glance. While he’s chatting with the customer, he’s also thinking about which material will be suitable and which cut can “praise virtues while concealing flaws.” Master Chen has a photo album of his clients. Every one of them looks stunning, regardless of their figure, when wearing one of Master Chen’s bespoke qipaos. This fully demonstrates the exquisite pattern making and tailoring skills he developed over the years.
Under the Lens, Every Stitch is Meticulous
He tells us about the qipao-making process. He says it starts the moment the customer walks in the door. He uses his “practiced eye” to take in everything at a glance. While he’s chatting with the customer, he’s also thinking about which material will be suitable and which cut can “praise virtues while concealing flaws.” He has a photo album of his clients. Every one of them looks stunning, regardless of their figure, when wearing one of Master Chen’s bespoke qipaos. This fully demonstrates the exquisite pattern making and tailoring skills he developed over the years.
Life becomes imprinted on
We brought a “Tone Oilnume Antique Boston”
along with us on our visit for the master to try out. As soon as he laid hands on it, he praised the leather texture as soft yet tough. What’s special about leather is that traces of the user’s life becomes imprinted on it and it becomes more lustrous over time. This type of distinct aging also applies to the master’s qipaos, which mold to bodies over time as they are worn.
After scrutinizing the bag, the master observed through his keen craftsman’s eye that Tsuchiya Kaban’s craftspeople used the “edge finishing” technique on the handles to give the exposed edges of the cut leather a neater and more visually pleasing look. We asked the master what he likes about the bag, and he responded with a bit of astonishment that “this bag’s capacity is even bigger than it appears, it can even fit a sleeve board.”
We also brought along a “Tone Oilnume Roll Pen Case” to share with the master. In our introduction, we told him that the pen case could be used not only to hold stationery, but also barber tools, makeup, and other items. His response was, “It’s just right for my tools,” and he laughed as he collected his scattered tools. Epilogue: We conversed with the master while waiting for the camera to be set up. We discovered that he has another identity in addition to qipao master. Master Chen is also the leader of an “Eight Generals” temple procession troupe. He carefully researched the costumes and props of the eight generals, and even personally designed the patterns on their costumes. He became very animated when talking about this subject, conveying to us his fascination with and respect for traditional temple culture.