Shanghai Glamour Tribute in NYC Chinatown

1940 Qipao (cheongsam) designed and worn by Madame Wellington Koo, the wife of China's ambassador to France. Note the tricolor piping.

1940 Qipao (cheongsam) designed and worn by Madame Wellington Koo, the wife of China’s ambassador to France. Note the tricolor piping.

If you think Shanghai is the most modern city in China today, its association with forward-looking design and trend is nothing new. It’s been on the vanguard of style back for over 100 years, and the Museum of Chinese in America is paying tribute by looking back to the 1920s, when it was called the “Paris of the East”.

MoCA’s fashion history tribute, Shanghai Glamour: New Women 1910s-40s, is mounted in an intimate gallery on the first floor, right next to it’s acclaimed show of contemporary Chinese-American fashion designers, Front Row. But this show takes you back to a time when women in Shanghai began breaking out of traditional roles, pursuing academic careers, and sporting unique, cutting-edge fashion that was all their own.

Dance-hall hostesses and courtesans in Shanghai led the charge toward 20th-century fashions as early as the 1910s, and other “modern” women didn’t want to be left behind. Shorter dresses and more fitted styles were leaving behind the traditional wide-cut Manchu cover-ups. Check out the slim look of the aviatrix depicted in this 1918 magazine. Whether Shanghai women were flying planes back then or not, Shen Bochen’s magazine illustration indicated the shape of things to come.

Modern 1918 aviatrix, as illustrated by China's leading socio-political cartoonist Shen Boehen

Modern 1918 aviatrix, as illustrated by China’s leading socio-political cartoonist Shen Boehen

Although it was a time when coquettes still flirted with ostrich feather fans, modern Shanghai women were being celebrated in special issues of Vogue and other pop culture magazines. It’s nice that MoCA’s curator has featured a few magazines right alongside the fashions, which are no loan from the China National Silk Museum in Hangzhou.

Take a look at the installation on our Flickr feed, where you can glimpse the evolution of Shanghai’s famous form-fitting qipao, or cheongsam, one of China’s most iconic contributions to world of fashion.

By the Twenties, cheongsams got tighter and more embellished as they were adopted by movie stars, daughters of the rich and powerful, diplomats’ wives, really smart women, and other over-achievers. Throughout the 20th century, Hollywood appropriated Shanghai’s sleek invention to represent exotic beauty, intrigue, cunning, and glamour.

Green silk and black velvet evening shoes worn by fashionable women in the Twenties, lent by FIT

Green silk and black velvet evening shoes worn by fashionable women in the Twenties, lent by FIT

Get downtown to Centre Street before November 3 to go back in time with dancing dresses of silk georgette, embroidered and embellished silk silhouettes, colorful silks, vintage films of Shanghai style, and several pair of stylish strappy silk shoes on loan from FIT’s collection.

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