TV show highlighting attire of the ages reveals the rich heritage and complexity of Chinese culture, report Xue Mengchen and Xu Fan.
When picturing a bride, the first thing that comes to mind is perhaps an elegant white wedding dress decorated with exquisite lace. Well, that's if you follow Western folklore and fashion styles. Interestingly, Chinese brides once fancied much darker colors in which to tie the knot. For instance, there was a time when Chinese brides would wear black or red wedding dresses, depending on the dynasty.
To find out why, and uncover many other anecdotes related to fashion in Chinese history, many viewers are tuning in to watch Chic China, a 10-episode TV show that started on CCTV-3, a channel of China Central Television, in November. It has brought to life ancient fashion with a combined stage show and host voice-over, with each episode concluding with comments by Fan Di'an, director of the Central Academy of Fine Arts.
Spanning thousands of years, the show revisits the history of Chinese clothing, from ceremonial attire to the cheongsam and Dacron-made clothes that prevailed between 1970s and '80s.
Li Sisi, producer and host of the show, says: "After almost two years of planning, the program is finally being shown to the public. We wish to present the beauty of Chinese clothing as well as the aesthetic behind it with originality and from multiple perspectives."
Before the filming started, Li, a graduate from the School of Journalism and Communication at Peking University, and her crew, traveled to conduct research in Suzhou and Nanjing in Jiangsu province, along with Hangzhou in Zhejiang province－all areas known for their silk or brocade production throughout the centuries.
Inspired by the journey, Li says the production team realized that stage shows could showcase traditional attire in dramatic and innovative ways.
One of the most emotional scenes occurs in the second episode, which is themed around weddings. Jiang Ruoxi, a young princess, played by actress Yin Shuo, puts on layers of a wedding dress with the outermost gown in black, before she embarks on her marriage to the ruler of another country on behalf of her own nation during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC).
Two other shows in the episode respectively recount the stories of a young man from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) who recites poetry as a means to win the heart of a beautiful woman, and Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) artist Tang Yin's ecstatic moment when he fell for his true love in a peach forest.
Li also highlights the third episode－which discusses military uniforms－as her favorite, due to a personal attachment to the important men in her life.
She says: "My father and my grandfather are both veterans, and I have never once seen a crease on their uniforms, so I felt an affinity to seeing the military uniforms on stage."
Before producing the program, Li had sought advice from some of CCTV's renowned presenters, including Bai Yansong and Neghmet Rakhman.
She recalls that Bai suggested that the show should be relatable to the audience and should draw people in with attractive elements and fresh anecdotes.
In one episode highlighting traditional opera costumes, the show invites master artists to perform the classic Peking Opera show Ding Jun Shan (the Battle of Mount Dingjun), about the legendary battle of a 72-year-old general, and Kunqu Opera's classic The Peony Pavilion, which depicts a bittersweet romance. Richly ornamented opera costumes are demonstrated in the shows, with the artists themselves introducing the history of each one as they perform like fashion models.
As well as re-creating ancient Chinese scenarios, the show also invites several well-known designers from home and abroad, such as Guo Pei, Wang Yutao and Xu Jianshu (better known as Laurence Xu), to showcase their latest collections. For example, fashion designer Guo displays up to 99 wedding dresses on stage.
A giant escalator is set in the middle of the stage for every episode, upon which the fashion designers descend for their curtain calls, Li explains.
"We can show Chinese fashion and culture to the rest of the world through vivid images and stories," Li says. "Additionally, we also expect young Chinese designers to broaden their horizons to create from a global perspective, but with Chinese elements. Through the development and evolution of Chinese fashion design, we can also see how it has contributed to the world."