(Text by Reporter Xing Beilin/Photograph by Reporter Yu Ruwen) On the streets of Shanghai a century ago, women were walking gracefully with gorgeous figures shaped by chi-pao, who were elegant and charming. But the young tailor Jing Hongxiang, who had come back with the tailoring techniques of western women's dress learnt in Harbin, predicted in the chi-pao-prevailing era boldly that western women's dress would replace chi-pao to become the most popular female fashion in Shanghai. 10 years later, Jin Hongxiang creatively adopted western tailoring techniques and launched a brand-new style integrating the western and Chinese essences among tailors of Shanghai style and Hongbang tailor representing western tailoring in Shanghai. Meanwhile, the popularity of western women's dress began to expand from foreign women to the whole of Shanghai with “Hongxiang” being the first choice of tailor-made dresses for women pursuing fashion and the “wind vane” of fashion.
Nowadays, the century-old “Hongxiang Garment” is still shedding the light of glamour through the inheritance of four generations. This century-old brand continues its journey of beauty with the premium techniques of designers and tailors, endowing women wearing “Hongxiang Works” with the quality of intellectuality, feminity and elegance brought forth by its perfect quality.
Ushering in the “era of Hongxiang” in Shanghai with ingenuity
In 1917, young tailor Jin Hongxiang established the specialized “Hongxiang Tailoring House” for western women’s dress. Gradually, “Hongxiang”, though a small store, won its reputation for superior quality and a wide range of styles by the exquisite tailoring techniques. In 1928, Jin Hongxiang expanded the business scale, officially put on the signage "Hongxiang Fashion Company", and established the first fashion company set up by Chinese in history. The Chinese term “Shizhuang” coined by him also became the name of western women’s dresses.
“Hongxiang Garment” has made many wonders of “No.1” in Chinese garment industry, including the stereoscopic tailoring. The Reporter found in garment-tailoring room that the third-generation inheritor of “Hongxiang” Chen Jian was putting the whole piece of cloth on the model closely to make various styles with pins according to the body shape, and cut garment samples ready to be used with neatly swinging of scissors in crisp sounds. This is the “Swinging Scissor” stereoscopic tailoring created by Hongxiang, which is even superior to shape-based tailoring. Garments crafted with this technique fit the body perfectly and win the title of “perfect dress” for the natural fine lines and cozy wearing experience without any defect, thus ushering in the new “era of Hongxiang” in Shanghai.
“Hongxiang represents the No.1 techniques of crafting women’s dresses in Shanghai. Among celebrities, women will wear Hongxiang dresses to show their social status.” When it comes to the century-old development path of Hongxiang, Chen Jian is exceptionally proud. He told the reporter that Hongxiang, having been specialized in women’s dress, has never abandoned its “superior skills” of chi-pao tailoring, though it wins its prosperity by fashion and overcoats. In 1933, at the Chicago World Expo in the United States, the six new-style chi-pao exhibited by Hongxiang was stunning and won the honor of “silver medal” of silk chi-pao for the weak China then by integrating set-in-sleeve and shoulder-seam-opening techniques of western tailoring and the Chinese crafts of bordering, inlaying, wrapping, edging, embroidering and so on and attaching the abundant changes of being high and low, being long and short to collars, sleeves, hems and side-seams. This is the best proof of its strength.
When ingenuity works with a mind adept in marketing and managing, “Hongxiang” is recognized surely as “the queen of women’s dress” in Shanghai. In 1947, learning that Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom was about to hold her wedding, Hongxiang crafted timely a Chinese style red silk embroidered cloak for her, which featured in the phoenix patterns embroidered by gold threads showing the sophistication of embroidering skills. And this cloak was presented to the queen by an acquaintance working in British Consulate. What brought staff of “Hongxiang” more excitement was that there was a response for the present they gave - a “thank-you letter” with the personal signature of the queen mailed from Buckingham Palace. This “thank-you letter”, thence, became one of the “spokesmen” in Hongxiang’s show window.
Now, for staff working in "Hongxiang", it is their priority and commitment to adhere to genuine manual customization, carry forward the intangible cultural heritage of Hongxiang women's dress skills, and tailor every dress on their hands perfectly and neatly to satisfy customers.
To inheriting the tailoring skills of “time-honored brand” with the consistent craftsmanship
“Bring forth the new through the old; create natural beauty with superior skills; becoming the essence of national brands and boosting the city’ prosperity with management.” As the inscription by Soong Ching-ling states, lineal apprentices of Jin Hongxiang, with their scissors and ingenuity, have finely inherited the century-old crafting skills and cultural heritage of “Hongxiang”, demonstrating the “Shanghai essence” of century-old “Hongxiang” to citizens of Shanghai. the third-generation inheritor, Chen Jian and Wu Zhiqiang, having learnt respectively from master of velvet and silk dress Ying Xingen and grand master of traditional handicraft of producing woolen suits and overcoats Jia Qixiang, have fully inherited crafting skills of “Hongxiang” women's dress, including “light carrying and fabric fitting, pushing, closing, pulling, embedding, inlaying, edging, cutting, embroidering and wrapping” and so on. In 2012, they were honored the inheritor of municipal intangible cultural heritage (crafting skills of “Hongxiang” women's dress).
When the reporter visited Wu Zhiqiang, he was cutting fabrics. “A customized ‘Hongxiang’ women’s dress will use 20% more cloth than those of other brands, as we have to ensure the vertical texture of the cloth and the proper seam at the joints. Therefore, all garments are produced with enough materials and efforts. Also, the lining of silk dress is real silk.” Said Wu Zhiqiang. He also told the reporter that, today “Hongxiang” still adheres to its traditional feature of “shape-based tailoring and customization” with a Hongxiang dress to be made through over 30 craftsmanship, including design, cloth selecting, tailoring, sample choosing, trying, sample removing, crafting and so on. “Regardless of overcoat, professional dress, Chi-pao or dress, it may not be eye-catching in style but surely be made by master’s craftsmanship stitch by stitch. Every garment can be taken as a classic.”
“We need to measure the body at 26 positions. And in the last process of crafting, we will take apart the hand-pinned garment for trial and craft with more accuracy by accurate skills of removing samples, pushing, closing, pulling and so on, following customer’s suggestions on revision after fitting.” Also, the other inheritor Chen Jian told the reporter that, focusing on customers’ experiences, a dress customized at “Hongxiang” has to go through 7 processes, namely body-measuring, cloth selecting, sampling making, trying, revision, crafting and notifying.
Accompanied by scissor, needles and threads for about 40 years, Chen Jian and Wu Zhiqiang have devoted their whole life to dress crafting. While creating the legend of “Hongxiang” in dresses wore by customers, they hope their apprentices could inherit the “time-honored brand” tailoring skills. “We now have several apprentices, and we really hope that they can carry forward this craft fully, so that people in the future can also wear the dresses of Hongxiang.” Chen Jian said.
The Reporter has also learnt from Hongxiang Company that “Hongxiang”, celebrating its 100th anniversary, is about to launch a new upgrading transformation to instill vitality to the century-old brand and convey brand value of “Hongxiang” to customers, through giving play to brand recognition and craftsmen’s creativity, improving the capacity of design service and so on.
"Hongxiang Traditional Skill Acquisition Institute" and "Time-honored Brand Supporting Fund" will be formally established in the near future, to support the inheritance of "crafting skills of Hongxiang women's dress and further expand the brand social influence and awareness of "Hongxiang".