In Praise of Silk: Fashion with Tradition in China
Silk has been accompanied us for the past five thousand years history of China. It is a gift from nature to all mankind, and was always the most noble luxury. Silk costumes made it possible for Sericulture and Silk Craftsmanship in China which listed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO to show its glamour, and also was a material to record the exquisite art of needlework. In this exhibition, China National Silk Museum meticulously selected nearly 30 pieces of silk garments to tell stories about China , from the aspects of history, technology and art.
Part 1 History
Chinese clothing has always played a significant part of Chinese culture. From the Shen clothing from Han Dynasties which shows the connotations of etiquette, the Ru Qun from Wei and Jin Dynasty with cover-up silhouette represents the spirit of humbleness, the exquisite yet mighty robe from Tang Dynasty, to the elegant and wavy Qi Pao, each and every one of them represents a Chinese spirit.
Printed Curvy Hem Robe
In the Han Dynasty (BC200 – 200), clothing was normally one-piece style. This printed curvy hem robe is a replica of excavated object from Changsha Mawangdui tomb (BC200). It is fitted design, with a triangle piece of fabric wrapped the buttock and then tied with ribbon. The pattern on the robe was printed and then hand-painted.
Resist Dyeing Ru Qun
During Wei and Jin Dynasties ( 300 – 500), women usually wear short jacket and long skirt. The upper body part is normally tight- fitted, with two wide sleeves. The trendy skirt at that time are pleated long skirt or with wide vertical stripes. This replica was based on fresco and excavated dress from Gansu province dated back to Wei and Jin Dynasties. Upper part using resist dyeing technique.
Geese Holding Ribbon in the Beaks Robe
The character for clothing from Liao Dynasty (916-1125) are well-fitted, long robe with long boots, and for both male and female, it is tied to the left. This replica is based on excavated item from Daiqintala, Inner Mongolia. The motif of geese with ribbon was standard fabric for high-ranking officials of the late Tang Dynasty, which represents a typical design for official robes.
Diamond Shaped Cloud and Phoenix Pattern Green Shirt with Skirt
Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) is a typical time period for Chinese traditional Clothing. The costume for female is shirt with long skirt. The top usually has cross-collar, square neck or stand up collar. Skirt is pleated. This ensemble uses a pattern of cloud and phoenix that each four clouds form a diamond shape and filled with round phoenix motif inside.
Red Satin Ensemble with Embroidery
During Qing Dynasty( 1644-1911), women are still wearing coat and skirt style, with embroideries on. It was very popular to embellish clothes with borders on the collar, edges and cuffs. To the late Qing Dynasty, the decoration border was taken up to one fourth of the fabric.
Qi Pao with Dragon and Phoenix Embroidery
Qi Pao is also known as Cheongsam, is well-known as traditional Chinese clothing all over the world. It was formed during 1920s, being popular during 1930s-40s. The characteristic of Qi pao is stand up collar, tight waist and well-fitted design, showing the natural curve of women’s body. Traditional qi pao uses silk and embroidery, is listed as part of China’s intangible cultural heritage
Part 2 Craftsmanship
The weaving technique of silk varies from area to area. Most famous brocade in the nation are Yun Brocade, Shu Brocade, Song Brocade and other ethnic brocade such as Zhuang Brocade. Upon the fabric, there are skills used as hand-painting, printing and dyeing, embroidery and so son. Today, these ancient skills still bloom in the modern fashion design, allowing us to see the crystallization of wisdom from thousand years ago.
Decorated in Red
Zhuang Brocade is one of the four most famous kinds of brocades in China which created by ethnic Zhuang. It is made of cotton or silk thread, uses a lot of geometric patterns, bright color and strong contrast. This set of women’s wear is in Chinese red, with colorful patterns and reflects Zhuang people’s admiration for the world and the pursuit and yearning for a better life.
Yun Brocade is originated from Nanjing area, and was listed as the world’s intangible cultural heritage. It has lustrous color and was for royal family used only during Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. It used lot of sequin and golden or silver thread to crochet. The designer of this Qi Pao is Laurence Xu, a famous haute couture designer, whose work has been collected by the Vitoria and Albert museums in the UK.
Idili silk also called Ikat, is a traditional silk fabric in Xinjiang, which was first produced in the Khotan area. It is patterned by resist dyeing yarns before weaving. The pattern is mainly composed of wide strips, crooked hooks, forked branches, and irregular blocks, which are bright and strong in color. This piece of dress is designed by a Xinjiang designer who has been abroad for 8 years, combined traditional pattern with modern dress perfectly.
Gambiered Guangdong Silk Dress
Gambiered Guangdong silk is a silk fabric popular in Guangdong area. The fabric was painted with dioscorea cirrhosa and mud containing iron oxide, turning the fabric to black. The inspiration of the dress is from chessboard.
The Story About Spring
Hand-painting is the oldest decorative method on silk. It was discovered earlier than embroidery, jacquard and printing for thousands of years. The hand-painted flowers fit perfectly with the shawl that is as light as the mist and as fine as gossamer.
The Goddess Chang’s fly to the moon
Suzhou embroidery is one of the four famous embroideries in China. It is the general name of embroidery products centered in Suzhou. The motif on this dress tells a story about The Goddess Chang’s fly to the moon, which is a famous folktale about the origin of Mid-autumn Festival.
Cloud Shoulder with Swing Hem Coat and Phoenix-tail Skirt
This is a Chinese traditional wedding costume. It has double-layered cloud shoulder and swing hem that inspired by Chinese ancient architecture. The designer Guo Pei is the first generation of Chinese designer, and also earliest haute couture designer in China. She was selected as the world’s most influential person in Times magazine in 2016.
The Flourishing Age
Chao embroidery is traditional embroidery in Guangdong area. It has the characters of exaggerated pattern and strong color. This dress is in black and white, balanced the overstate color in traditional Chao embroidery, and combined Chinese and western design perfectly together.
Part 3 Chinese Elements
The five thousand years of civilization has provided a constant source of inspiration for Chinese contemporary fashion designers. Terracotta Army, Mo Kao Grotto at Dunhuang, calligraphy, Chinese seal and other ethnic cultural symbols are interpreted by today’s design language, showing the unique charm of Chinese fashion.
Terracotta Army, is a category of ancient tomb sculpture. It was included in the world heritage list and is known as the eighth wonder of the world. This piece is made of all natural materials, such as coconut shells and palm. The designer Ma Ke also designs for Peng Liyuan, wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Empire of Kowloon
Chinese calligraphy is a form of aesthetically pleasing writing (calligraphy), or, the artistic expression of human language in a tangible form. This type of expression has been widely practiced in China and has been generally held in high esteem in the Chinese cultural sphere (including, historically, for example, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam). The context on the dress is the work of a Hongkong folk graffiti artist, and the graffiti works were on display in the 2003 Venice Biennale.
To Chinese, seals are an art of deep cultural roots, which combines the essence of both calligraphy and engraving and inspires generations to study, to appreciate and to collect. This piece of art is designed on 60th anniversary of People’s Republic of China, the seals were carved with all 60 digitals and the heavenly stems and earthly branches for lunar calendar year.
Paper-cut is a very distinctive visual art of Chinese handicrafts. They were used during festivals to decorate gates and windows and have become a very popular means of decoration among country folk, especially women. This dress uses leather as material, combined paper-cut technique.
Images © China Cultural Center in Tel Aviv