Lust, caution and cheongsams you can actually wear
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In the film "In the Mood for Love," Maggie Cheung reclines in an elegant cheongsam that flatters her and fires the audience's imagination. Tang Wei pulled a similar trick in the more recent "Lust and Caution." Sadly, the standard one-piece traditional Chinese dress isn’t for every woman.
Click 'View Gallery' above for more images of Lai Can's cheongsams.
“Two of my customers found the tailor who made Maggie Cheung’s dresses," says fashion designer Goh Lai Chan. "They chose the fabric and got her to make them, but in the end they didn’t wear their cheongsams. It might have looked good on Maggie Chueng, but it didn’t look good on them.”
Those women should have gone to Goh first. In addition to crafting made-to-order evening gowns and wedding dresses, the 47-year-old fashion master has been fitting women for cheongsams for the last 18 years at his Raffles Hotel Arcade boutique.
For Goh, cheongsams need to be relevant to modern women.
"The cheongsam is a beautiful dress, but traditional cutting techniques don’t flatter modern women’s bodies," he says. "So I play with cut and proportion. I keep the silhouette similar, but use different cutting and detailing techniques. I also use fine fabrics like Duchess satin, Czar silk, Shantung silk and French lace.”
Goh caters to a global clientele -- French, American, Indonesian, and mainland Chinese for whom the cheongsam is commonplace -- but one customer stands out in his memory, the late first lady of Singapore, Madam Ling Siew May.
“She was an architect," recalls Goh. "We used to talk about fashion and buildings. I used to make all her evening dresses when she was the first lady. Back then she was championing the Singapore orchid as a national flower, so I created many dresses with hand-embroidered orchid motifs for her.”
Deep pockets and patience are necessary for made-to-order cheongsams. A custom-made dress can cost S$5,000. Most customers place their orders six months to a year in advance. Goh's off-the-rack cheongsams generally cost between S$700 and S$900, depending on length.
Laichan, #02-10 Raffles Hotel Arcade, 328 North Bridge Rd., tel: +65 6338 4806
Monday-Sunday 11 a.m.-8 p.m.