The moves are graceful. The colors, vibrant. And as the music swells, it would be easy to believe that you’ve somehow gone to Heaven.
This is Han couture, a fashion show thousands of years in the making.
The fourth in NTD’s series of cultural arts competition, the 2009 Global Han Couture Design Competition brings you the best designers of traditional Han style attire in the world. In this two-day competition event, over two hundred unique dresses and robes are vying for attention as models gracefully glide down the runway.
“When I was wearing the Han couture its just like I’m walking in paradise.”
The colors and patterns blaze like the rich colors of an oil painting. Only for this unique style of art, it is the human figure that serves as the canvas. The models have trained for months to perfect the unique expressions and gentle yet firm motions that make human and clothing join together in a singular form of artistic expression.
[Michael Perlman, Documentary Film Maker/Performance Artist]:
“The way the women carried themselves with such grace and poise with that slight smile, was so refreshing to the usual pout and aggressive attitude you generally get at a fashion show.”
It is this almost spiritual aspect that gives Han Couture, or Hanfu as it is traditionally called, its uniqueness. These beautiful silken garbs inspire a sense of serenity and calmness.
[Suman Srinivasan, PhD Student, Computer Science, Columbia University]:
“It was actually very soothing. That’s what I would say. Very calm, very soothing. It wasn’t flashy or extravagant or like you know, titillating like most of the other fashion shows.”
Indeed, in a civilization where cultivating one’s conduct and moral character was so highly esteemed, clothing was used as an outward display of a persons inner goodness and beauty.
“Everybody should wear the Han costumes!”
But these elegant costumes aren’t merely imitations of the past, but an example of the cultural Renaissance that is sweeping the Chinese community, bringing alive the traditions of the past in this modern world. Even the children are getting into the fun.
“It’s really beautiful. I mean I’ve been to fashion shows before but I’ve never seen anything quite like this.”
It’s the final day of the competition and audiences are eagerly flooding into the Prince George Ballroom in Manhattan for a chance to catch a glimpse of Han couture. Only a handful of designers are left and preparations are underway for the big event. As the fashion show begins, audiences and designers alike anxiously look on, wondering who will win the gold prize, and the check for ten thousand U.S. dollars.
[Shirley Dai, Model]:
“Well since the stage is so close to the audience, I can hear their reactions. Every time I came out with something sparkly or beautiful, I can hear them go, ‘Wow, that’s so beautiful that’s gorgeous.’ I can hear it, I can hear it from all around the room.”
Each designer chose a set theme to inspire their creations, harkening back to the days of China’s most prosperous and culturally developed dynasties.
[Alan Valdes, Investment Banker]:
“I thought the show was marvelous. The colors were just so brilliant, the materials were fantastic. The silks, we loved how they flowed. We were lucky enough to be in the front row.”
And finally, after months of designing, months of training, and months of waiting, its time for the winner to be announced and none other that NTD President Lee Zhong will give out the award. And the winner is…Well, let's first see what the judges look for when picking a winner.
[Fan Hong, Judge]:
“We now emphasize tradition, whether the design is orthodox, whether the chosen fabric conforms to the characteristic of the dynasty, to see the craftsmanship and cloth, and the coloring combinations are very important. It is from these standards that we appreciate (the clothing)."
And now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for. No more delaying. No more stalling. The winner of the 2009 NTD Global Han Couture Design Competition. The one who captured the essence of Hanfu. This master of sartorial expertise is none other than contestant…Cheng Minghua, with her elegant menswear design. The Beijing native, who now resides in San Fransisco, shares with us her thoughts on Hanfu.
[Cheng Minghua, Han Couture Winning Designer]:
“Hanfu renaissance is not only the return of the style, but it is also the return of the human spirit and moral values. We are returning to compassion.”
In a final gesture, matching the grace and elegance of their costumes, Cheng Minghua and the other winning finalists line up on stage for one last farewell.
And that concludes this year’s Global Han Couture Design Competition. Join us again next time for the International Chinese Culinary Competition. See you there.
This is Chris Chappell, NTD, New York.