This is a little project that has taken longer to complete than I anticipated, but it has been such a pleasure doing it. I’m sure that many of you, like me, fell in love with Maggie Cheung’s (Mrs Chan in the film) stunning wardrobe of qipaos (cheongsams) when you watched Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love. Re-watching it to get a count of every one of Mrs Chan’s qipaos was not an easy task, but it is such a beautiful film that every replay was as mesmerizing as the first time, if not more so. For those of you are as captivated as I am, enjoy this – In the Mood for Love dresses: the complete list of all 20 qipaos worn by Mrs Chan.
In the Mood for Love tailor
Before jumping into the dresses, I did a quick search in the hope of finding the tailors who made these exquisite qipaos. There is no complete or official listing online, but I did find two tailors that seemed to have been involved in the tailoring.
The first is Hanyi (瀚艺／瀚藝), a Shanghai-based qipao establishment with its famous tailor master Chu. As of the writing of this article in 2012, he was 94 years old and still going strong. Master Chu started making qipaos when he was 16, and miraculously survived the purging during the infamous cultural revolution. His store is located on the historical Changle Rd in Shanghai, which can be literally translated as the street of Eternal Happiness, just a few minutes away from my apartment (217-221 Changle Rd, 长乐路217-221号).
The second is Hong Kong based tailor, Linva Tailor (年華時装公司,Cochrane St in Central, Hong Kong, 中環閣麟街38號). If you read my mini series on the history of qipao, you will know that many of Shanghai’s best qipao tailors escaped to Hong Kong in the late 40s through to 50s due to political and social instability. And while qipaos virtually disappeared from mainland China after 1949, it continued to flourish in HK in the 50s and 60s. So today Hong Kong still has some of the oldest and best qipao tailors in the world, many of whom have carried the tradition for several generations. Mr and Mrs Leung of Linva Tailor have not been making qipaos as long as Master Chu, but still a very respectable 50 years or so – you can read more about them here and here.
The ethereal Mrs Chan
Part of the reason I love this film is because despite being outlandishly beautiful and having a wardrobe of perfectly fitted qipaos, Mrs Chan is depicted in very modest surroundings. The room that she rents is tidy, but small; she carries a stainless steel soup pot to the local outdoor stall for noodles; and she repeats her wardrobe, with almost every single one of her qipaos appearing at least twice in the film.
Somehow the banality of all these things makes the film ever more tasteful. It seems like she is almost amongst us, within reach, but not really. You could try to stretch your hands to touch her, and almost get there, but discover that she is really above us, floating, shrouded in her quiet melancholy.
In the Mood for Love qipao style
Pretty much all of the In the Mood for Love dresses are “revised” qipaos with the same cut and style (“revised” qipaos refer to those zipped up rather than enclosed with traditional pankous). There are many variations of material, piping and adornments, but always there is that same elegant silhouette.
The cut is an extremely slim one, with a diagonal joint down the front of the right chest, a hemline reaching just below the knee, and two side slits. They are either sleeveless or have small capped sleeves, and the most striking feature of all is the high, stiff collar, sometimes almost reaching the chin. In fact, the collar of some of the dresses seem to be stiffened by an acrylic backing of sorts, as the material looks distinctly different from the rest of the qipao.
Even though most of the dresses appear at least twice in the film, Mrs Chan definitely has her favourites, with some qipaos being much more prominent than others. And that is also the way I have chosen to list them, starting with ones seen the most often and making the most visual impact.
The most prominent qipaos
I chose these In the Mood for Love dresses as being the most prominent ones because either a qipao has appeared multiple times in the film, or it appears in a very important scene.
Dress 1: Red and blue floral qipao
This is the qipao that opens the film, and personally my favourite dress (I do have a thing for florals). I love the contrast of the colours, it is bold but very feminine. I also love the scene of Mrs Chan in the diner, wearing this dress and drinking coffee from a jade coloured vintage coffee cup. Stunning.
Dress 7: Navy-red-yellow vertical striped qipao
I love the scenes of her wearing this qipao in the kitchen and waiting down at the noodle stall, the contrast between her being so put together in this dress, and her banal surroundings, especially at the noodle stall, shows her vulnerabilities really well.
Dress 9: Black and white horizontal striped qipao
This is the qipao that Maggie Cheung wears in one of the most memorable scenes in the film (at least for me), where she and Tony Leung pass each other slowly and for the second time under on the dimly lit staircase that leads down to the noodle stall, and then in the empty space where they were, raindrops fall down. I think this scene pretty much sums up their relationship through the whole film – two people, passing by, leaving behind an air of sorrow and emptiness.
Dress 12: Orange daffodils qipao
This qipao appears in one of the more iconic scenes, where Maggie Cheung is looking out forlornly from the window, sipping from a glass, while her landlady and neighbours play mah-jong behind her. It’s a scene of so many floral patterns – on the dress, on the curtains, on the lampshade… but somehow it all works with the bright yellow window frame.
Dress 15: Black and white floral qipao
This qipao does not appear in as many scenes as the previous ones, but it is a very visually striking dress, made even more so by the red trench coat worn over the top in one of the most climactic parts of the film, where Mrs Chan rushes over to Mr Chow’s apartment after receiving his call, only to stop at the door and say: “we will not be like them, see you tomorrow”.
14 other qipaos
Dress 2: Checked qipao with blue floral lace edge
Dress 3: Orange and grey splashes qipao
Dress 4: Red-blue-green spirals qipao
Dress 5: Black and white vertical gradient striped qipao
Dress 6: Lime and brown splashes qipao
Dress 8: Olive with orange sheen qipao
Dress 10: Lime green diamond qipao
Dress 11: Black and white chiffon layered qipao
Dress 14: Red geometric print qipao
Dress 16: White textured material with blue lace qipao
Dress 17: Purple-green-magenta floral
Dress 18: Blue chiffon see through with lace qipao
These last two dresses are technically not from the same wardrobe as they are from a later time when Mrs Chan revisits the apartment. I think they have a different, more mature feel to them –
Dress 19: Brown with white and yellow print
Dress 20: Red and white checked
The 13th qipao… the elusive scarlet qipao
This qipao appears very briefly in the film, but in a rather climactic scene, where Mrs Chan and Mr Chow are suggestively together in a hotel room, yet look despondent and unable to carry through doing “it”. The qipao is a striking red but its appearance is so brief that we are unable to see much of it, creating an air of mystery around it.
Curious, I googled to try and find out why this qipao does not appear any more than it does. Well, it seems that there in fact was a much longer series of scenes shot which were deleted. These can be watched in the director’s cut here on youtube if you’re interested. The qipao can be seen much more clearly in this cut.
But you know what, I think Wong Kar Wai did the right thing – I like the film more without these scenes.